Chris Stapleton Leads Rugged Country Caravan as The Traveller Comes to Ottawa
Photos by Renée Boucher Doiron
They say never bring a knife to a gunfight but they say nothing about bringing Chris Stapleton. I figure he could disarm even the vilest of outlaws with a single rumble from his guitar, a thunder felt by 10,000 plus inside the Canadian Tire Centre last night.
It would take 31 years, 251 days, 7 hours, 46 minutes and exactly 40 seconds to count to a billion but if you were to count the checkers on the plaid shirts in Stapleton’s crowd last night you could probably triple that number. The country fan masses were out in full force, something they wouldn’t let the bearded wonder forget even in his quietest moments. Tthey cheered the silences, they shouted for the solos, applauded the high notes, clapped for the lows, and, yup, praised the facial hair.
“I love your beard,” cried one flannel wearing fan.
“Well, I love your none-beard,” replied Stapleton who more than a few times during the evening’s country caravan seemed taken aback by the support of the Ottawa crowd.
Of course, kicking off your set with a good ol’ pot smoking breakup tune helps and the Kentucky born Stapleton cranked out “Might As Well Get Stoned” from his chart topping album Traveler right off the bat after a build up of crackling feedback and colour from the canopy of cubes above. It wouldn’t be the last cut from his debut release. In fact, the entire album would be played scattered about a powerful 23 song setlist.
If the son of a nurse and coal miner was just getting used to his newfound superstardom it didn’t show. The musician broke into the business writing tunes for Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, George Strait and even one for English pop/soul diva Adele before riding solo. Stapleton also fronted the bluegrass band The SteelDrivers, a starting point he still has a fondness for harkening back to his early days last night by telling the crowd that “we used to sing songs about unpleasant things and we called it uneasy listening” before playing "Midnight Train to Memphis".
“We’re going to send this one out to all of you who may end up in prison by the end of the night,” the musician joked, going on to show his flair for blending those bluegrass sounds with the blues and Southern 70s style rock that fit well with his gravely roar and powerful guitar playing. He switched between the intense and tender without breaking a sweat.
Those slower moments in the set were often performed featuring syrupy sweet harmonies between Stapleton and wife Morgane making the soft points ones to sit for and enjoy instead of making the usual break for the beer lines. The love between the duo didn’t just shine, it beamed and you could feel it in their cheerful banter and see it in their eyes on the sepia tinted screens that flanked the stage.
“She’s the beauty who tames this beast,” Stapleton said with a smile underneath his cowboy hat.
Stripping down his music to the raw essentials ensured the basics didn’t get buried. Stapleton injected his gruff vocals and guitar with only a small backing band who left him periodically for some solo spotlight pieces that only accentuated the musicians talent beyond his ability to write hit songs. “Whiskey and You”, track 5 from Traveler, touched an emotional chord in the crowd who gave it such an extended applause that Stapleton debated playing it again.
The crowd were treated to a few new cuts from an album soon to come but it was Traveller that filled the bulk of the show with the musician realizing come the encore that he only had two tracks remaining from the release. Extending the show past the 11 o’clock hour, Stapleton completed the remaining cuts from a record Rolling Stone called one of the Best Albums of 215 ending the show with a touching “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore” and the closing track “Sometimes I Cry”.
“We’ve not spent much time in Canada,” said Morgane to a crowd still not ready to cash in their chips for the night even if the buses had pulled away in the arena parking lot.
Husband Stapleton was quick to chime in:
“But were going to be spending more!”
Opening the show was the recently returned to Canada Lindi Ortega who held her own under the massive stage despite her silky croon perhaps being better served by a more intimate setting. Dressed in her trademark veil and a stunning crimson dress, she too shared the stage with a loved one she playfully nicknamed Pablo. He looked like he could have just stepped out of an Eastwood western saloon but his backing voice only suggested sweetness. The couple met in September, Ortega said, danced by a fire and fell in love leading to a December proposal that caused the usual singer of heartache soaked tunes to joke that she’d now get to write a few good love songs.
Ortega’s darker material would not be shelved for sweeter songs just yet as she painted in those blacker shades she sings so well with whiskey dipped songs about strippers, bad boyfriends, and codeine addicts.
Of course, even Ortega couldn’t resist a playful nod to one of Stapleton’s most standout features.
“Doesn’t he just have the best beard ever!”
Lindi Ortega Setlist:
- Til The Goin’ Gets Gone
- I Ain’t The Girl
- Waiting ‘Round to Die (Townes Van Zandt cover)
- What A Girl’s Gotta Do
- Demons Don’t Get Me Down
- When All The Stars Align
- Someday Soon
- Heaven Has No Vacancy
- Blue Bird
Chris Stapleton Setlist:
- Might As Well Get Stoned
- Nobody to Blame
- Midnight Train to Memphis (The SteelDrivers cover)
- Broken Halos
- Outlaw State of Mind
- (Unreleased new track)
- Shape I’m In
- Was It 26 (The Charlie Daniels Band cover)
- Whiskey and You
- More of You
- Last Thing I Needed (First Thing This Morning)
- (Unreleased new track)
- Hard Living
- You Are My Sunshine (Pine Ridge Boys cover)
- Fire Away
- The Devil Named Music (with Tuesday’s Gone (Lynyrd Skynyrd cover) intro)
- Tennessee Whiskey (David Allan Coe cover)
- Either Way
- When The Stars Come Out
- Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore
- Sometimes I Cry