Saving Country Music’s Best Live Performances of 2012

December 31, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  18 Comments

SCMLOGOLAYERSWhere 2011 felt like a high water mark year for live performances and an average year for recorded projects, 2012 feels vice versa. When I look back on 2011, it seemed like there were moments I experienced that I will never top the rest of my life. 2012 is the year that some albums and songs were released that may never be topped. Still there were a quite a few memorable performances worth noting.

Unlike Saving Country Music’s other yearly awards, since omnipresence isn’t an attribute I posses, this is simply based on my own experiences, not meant to capture the overall pulse of the live events that transpired all year. And please consider that even though I may have attended events like Pickathon, The Muddy Roots Festival, or SXSW, I was unable to catch every performance, or enough of certain performances for it to feel fair to include them here. If you feel there is an omission, please share it with the rest of us below.

15. The Calamity Cubes – XSXSW 5 – Austin, TX

Usually in music you get the raw, primal, gut punching experience, or you get the introspective, heartfelt, cerebral experience. The Calamity Cubes are one of those few live performers who can deliver both. They put on a great set at the Muddy Roots Festival in Tennessee as well, but their XSXSW performance in a more intimate, tight-knit setting rose to being something special.

Kody Oh! doing a bass stand in the center of the crowd:


14. Jayke Orvis – Stage 2 – Muddy Roots Festival

Jayke Orvis is always a crowd favorite, and Jayke and the crowd were pretty miffed when the sound crew pulled the plug on them at 2-something in the morning. But sometimes the worst situations breed the most memorable moments, and that’s what happened when Jayke and his Broken Band hopped into the crowd and kicked it acoustic style, sound guys be damned. Other highlights of the set were JB Beverley singing “Streets” with Jayke from his album It’s All Been Said, and Rachel Brooke singing her duet with Jayke “Hold Me Tight” from the .357 String Band’s magnum opus, Fire & Hail.


13. L.C Ulmer – Stage 2 – Muddy Roots Festival

L.C.’s friend Robert Belfour deserves praise for the craziest performance story of 2012. Crashed out on the highway from the torrential rains of the tropical storm that had made its way to middle Tennessee, Robert hopped into the tow truck and told them forget the car for now and point their nose to the Muddy Roots site, he had a gig to play. He showed up late, but he showed up, with the tow truck driver carrying his amplifier and guitar.

Meanwhile during the delay, L.C. Ulmer laid down one of the baddest-assed extended sets of blues music all weekend, chicken hopping across the stage and playing guitar behind his back. It was one of the most surprising sets of music I saw all year.


12. Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band – Stage 2 – Muddy Roots Festival

The first time I ever saw Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band live I straight up walked out. Too much chicken and fried potatoes for me. Granted, I was mainly there to see Austin Lucas who opened the show, and it was at the armpit of Austin music venues–the now condemned and shuttered Emo’s. But nonetheless after 15 minutes, I was done.

Rev. Peyton did something in 2012 though. He figured out the right formula for his music, both recorded and live. And his set at Muddy Roots was sheer madness from downbeat. It culminated in the crowd throwing handfuls of hay up in the air while Washboard Breezy lit her washboard on fire in a mad scene I will never forget, and neither will drummer Aaron “Cuz” Persinger who has an acute hay allergy and had to rush off the stage after the last song to keep his lungs from collapsing.

Audio sucks in the video below, but you get the drift.

11. Lake Street Dive – Workshop Barn – Pickathon

After seeing them perform at Pickathon’s “Pumphouse”–a small shack isolated in the woods where bands go in and make top notch videos for the site Live & Breathing–I made a vow to catch their set on Sunday at Pickathon’s Workshop Barn. Right up there with Thee Oh Sees, Lake Street Dive from Boston was one of the new take-aways for me from 2012 Pickathon. Though maybe a little more polished and jazzy for traditional Saving Country Music fare, their style and musicianship was enthralling and made me a fast fan. After their last Workshop Barn song, they got the biggest ovation I think I have ever seen for a live performance, possibly ever. I was afraid the floor was going to cave in.

10. Thee Oh Sees – The Galaxy Barn – Pickathon

Yes I know, not really country. At all. Though I would say there’s some serious roots influences at play here. Regardless of what you want to label them, Thee Oh Sees are a force of nature in the live context, and it is about time that they busted out of their San Francisco scene to find a place in the greater music consciousness. They are sonic craftsmen (and craftswoman) who seem to understand intuitively how to tickle all the nerves that make your mind and body submit to music and make you wiggle around like an unruly child. Thee Oh Sees are a must see.

9. Bob Wayne – The Continental Club,  Austin, TX & Muddy Roots

Three times in 2012 I was regaled by Bob Wayne and his Outlaw Carnies, but there was something special about the night at The Continental Club. Seeing him in one of Austin’s most legendary venues, and with probably his best Outlaw Carnie lineup yet in Ryan Clackner on guitar, Lucy B. Cochran on fiddle, Elmer on bass, and with a full-time drummer in the lineup for the first time, they laid down an ass whooping of a set. This is where I realized that Bob Wayne had completely separated himself from the crowd of crusty, post-punk screamo bands with banjos to become a professional touring act capable of breaking into the next level. Like his music or not, Bob Wayne has arrived and can put on one hell of a show.

Picture from Muddy Roots:


8. Lucky Tubb w/ Don Maddox – Johnny B’s – Medford, OR

Lucky Tubb is not just another famous name. He’s bursting with authentic, classic talent, and wields one of the best voices in country music by combining cadence and style. Sometimes discipline can keep this from being evidenced in full force, but when he’s on, he’s on. And he was on Halloween night and so was his excellent band, with the added bonus of sharing the stage with the legendary, 90-year-old Don Maddox of the Maddox Brother & Rose. (see videos and full review)


7. Slim Cessna’s Auto Club/Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers/The Goddamn Gallows – Muddy Roots Festival

I can’t say enough about these bands, and at this point I’m afraid to say anything more from fear of coming across as redundant. Every year when I talk about live bands, they topped the list. And they will continue to top the list of bands you must see, except for Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers who at least for the moment are no more, giving you even more reason to make sure you see these bands live any chance you get because you may not get another. Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers, and The Goddamn Gallows are as good as it gets live.

Slim Cessna:


Col JD Wilkes of Th’ Shack Shakers:


6. Joe Buck Yourself – Stage 1 – Muddy Roots Festival

One of those “you had to be there” moments when Joe Buck, surrounded by a sea of his fans chanting every word of his songs, created one of those magical moments of musical camaraderie.


5. Austin Lucas & Glossary – The Mohawk – Austin, TX

This is a touring combination I had wanted to catch for a long time. To hear Glossary is one thing. To hear Austin Lucas is another. And then to hear them together is completely something else. It is two autonomous music acts that you swear were built to compliment each other. There is no better way to experience Austin Lucas than with Glossary behind him, and there’s no better band to hear before Austin Lucas than Glossary. It is because they both build their music from the songs out, but still give such great attention to the live performance, and their styles of roots and rock take the same approach and blend perfectly.

4. Sturgill Simpson – The Rattle Inn- Austin, TX

I’ve been open about my reservations about the retooled Sturgill Simpson following the dissolving of his previous band Sunday Valley. Putting an acoustic guitar in his hands seemed like such a travesty after experiencing Sturgill in the raw with the electric guitar and the country music power trio. But however exciting it was, it was a hollow experience for Sturgill in the long run. Many songwriters covet the idea of being listened to instead of heard, but Sturgill actually has the talent to have one of his best tools taken out of his hands and still command an audience. Now Sturgill is making you listen, betting himself to see if he can hush a room, and winning that bet. (read full review)

3. Anderson Family Bluegrass – Scott Valley Bluegrass Festival, California

“People first, then music” is the mantra on this site, and it is such a blessing when you discover people who are just as inspiring as the music they make. Such is the case with the Anderson Family Bluegrass Band from Grass Valley, CA. Hovering above the fray of most stock family bands and stock bluegrass bands, there is a realness to their music that sets them apart. Yes, their set lists include many standards you would expect from any bluegrass band, but then they’ll completely surprise you with some spice, like Iris Dement’s “Our Town” or Hank Williams III’s “D Ray White.”

I went to the Scott Valley Bluegrass Festival hoping to catch the Anderson Family’s set and shake their hands, and the Anderson Family ended up making me feel like one of the family for the weekend (Trigger Anderson, if you will). The music is excellent, but this is just the excuse to get you to pay attention to the profound warmth and by-gone family strength the Anderson Family conveys. (read full review)

2. Restavrant – Stage 2 – Muddy Roots Festival

There are two types of primary music experiences: visceral and carnal. Uh yeah, this one would be firmly ensconced in the carnal category. A Restavrant set is like a physical, violent assault on your personage that in some weird, masochistic way you addictively crave.  I don’t think I still have fully processed exactly what happened on that stage. But rest assured, if I had another chance to see these chaps perform, I’d blow paychecks and cross state lines to put myself in harm’s way and let them run me over like a barreling Mack truck again and again. Restavrant has always been an amazing live experience, but with the addition of drummer/junk smasher Tyler Whiteside, it’s downright out of control.



1. Ralph Stanley – Stage 2 – Muddy Roots Festival

It goes without saying that any time you get to see a true music deity on stage, it will be memorable. Sometimes when this happens, especially with a performer in their 80’s, you have to go in knowing the performance itself may not be the greatest, that they’ve aged beyond their abilities, which will happen to us all. What made Ralph Stanley’s set at the Muddy Roots Festival so memorable is how his band had really thought out how to take a legendary performer who was probably is no longer fit to put on a full set of music himself, and still make you feel like you were taking in a performance from him in his prime.

But true music lovers live for those extremely rare moments when everything comes together, the sky parts and the world hushes, and the very fabric of human experience bends to the will of a truly magical musical moment. That my friends is what unfolded when Ralph Stanley stood in the center of the Muddy Roots stage looking out across a disheveled, soaking wet sea of rednecks and post-punk refugees who all fell as silent as the day after the end of the world when Ralph Stanley recited “O’ Death.” Your goosebumps got goosebumps. And for that brief moment, all of it, all of the reasons we live and struggle, the importance of friends and family and community, and everything we do to ensure music is a part of our lives, the sacrifices, the money, the travel, all came into full reflection.

18 Comments to “Saving Country Music’s Best Live Performances of 2012”

  • You definitely listed a few there who are on my bucket list. The birth of my little man this year kept me anyway from any festivals but I was still fortunate enough to see Hank3, Ronnie Hymes, Hellbound Glory, and a fantastic show by JB Beverley, Buck Thrailkill, and James Hunnicut. 2013 is already looking great. Happy New Year, yall.


  • Man I feel honored i was able to go to many of those performances this year.


  • Trig, your sharing with us your liver performance highlights the Ralph Stanley experience was magical, thanks. Below are a few of may favorites from 2012. I’m interested to hear others describe there favorite live shows of 2012.
    Early in the new year of 2012 I sit with maybe 20 other music lovers and enjoyed a late night impromptu cruise ship acoustic jam session featuring Mike McClure, Larry Joe Taylorand Dave Perez(Tejas Bros) all play their favorite Guy Clark songs usually with a story of meeting the man himself included.
    Robert Earl Keen and his band singing an acapella version of “The sould of Man Never Dies” in front of a packed Billy Bobs Texas and you could have heard a pin drop. The crowd was truly in the palm of his hand.
    Guy Clark Accoustic at Poor Davids Pub in Dallas music does not get any better period.
    Jerry Jeff Walker at Sams Town Casino In Sherveport LA. At 70 years old he still drew a sold out crowd and had them singing along with every word to every sing along song and listening in complete silence to every ballad. JJW’s voice seems to actually get better with age as the rich low end of his voice gets stronger with time. He even played a new song he just wrote that had never been recorded, amazing night of song.
    The great Chris Wall at the Redneck Rivera Music Festival in Kerriville, TX. His wonderful new record El Western Motel had not yet been released but he treated the 200 or so of us in attendance to a large portion of the record along with some of his other work. Just him his guitar and another guitar player sitting in adding some great lead parts to the songs. Do yourself a favor get Chris’s new record and go see nim play live.
    In the 1990’s the hottest band on the Texas Music scene for a time was Gooder Craw. The went there seperate ways in the early 2000’s. They played one of a handful of reunion dates around Texas in 2012, one of which was a sold out gig at Gruene Hall. For a group of guys who had played 1 other show in six years they were tight and charismatic as always to the delight of the crowd. Sometimes a show is just about the fun and energy exchanged between and band and the crowd. This was one of those nights.


  • Getting out to more live shows is one thing I really want to start doing. I think I only made it to 3 or 4 shows this year and they were all shows with my friend’s band. But 2013 is looking like it’s got some promising shows coming and I’m going to do my best to make it to Muddy Roots. But if anybody’s in the MI area you can’t get a better live show than The Devil’s Cut or Dead Ben Rooster. Check them out.


  • i’m thankful to have seen a couple of those top 15. Trig, you’re spot on with Ralph Stanley’s set. that was an all timer, for me. and Restvrant was out of hand, it was the perfect way to close out Saturday night.

    of the other shows i had a chance to see, Rickett Pass, James Hunnicutt, and Jayke and The Broken Band at PJ’s Lager House in Detroit back in July was cream of the crop. The Rickett Pass guys did an impromptu set with the Broken Band’s gear, Jayke’s dog ran on stage while Hunnicutt was singing his heart out (which made everyone, Hunnicutt include, break down laughing), and it was the first time i had a chance to see Liz and Jared play with Jayke. they are both top-notch players and great additions. that was a kick ass night of music.


  • You are one lucky, hardworking man. I was lucky enough to catch some of those bands but not the performances you saw.

    My favorites:

    Willy Tea at Weber’s deck – Calamity Cubes, Harmed Brothers, and Tom V. played throughout the day when Willy Tea showed up fresh off an airplane just in time to serenade the crowd with a very special set in the summer sun.

    Goddamn Gallows at 1st ave. Minneapolis – I took my girlfriend to this show to formally introduce her to the headliners, Reverend Horton Heat, and to check out a band that I knew Jayke Orvis was playing in. We were thoroughly impressed when Goddamn Gallows broke out into Raise The Moon, a song my girlfriend loves. We instantly started dancing and hollering and you can hear us screaming in the youtube video of that performance. After the show we bought some merch and got the whole band to sign their vinyl Swappin Spit. Twas a baddass night for sure.

    And, my favorite…..Here’s a link to a crappy video I took of Reverend Deadeye at Bayport early in the year. I was one of 6 people in the room including the owner, Chris Johnson, and his kids. The good Reverend played the last song of the intimate show which was a new tune he wanted to “try out” on us. I had a good talk with him after the show. He’s a true genius and its a shame he is not better received by a wider audience. I’ll drive for hours to see this man in the future if I have to. He’s one hell of a performer.

    Good write up. This article made me reflect on all of the fantastic music I was able to be a part of this year. And, though I dislike the direction you take with this site sometimes, we are all lucky to have a simple man like yourself to open our eyes to new, true, good music. Thanks buddy =)


    • I’m really hoping that next year I can do a Weber’s Deck/ Bayport BBQ / Deep Blues junket if at all possible.

      As for your worries about the direction this site sometimes takes, I think you will appreciate this article by NPR. It’s a little long, but it talks in-depth about the issues music websites face.


      • Thanks for the link. Do yourself a favor and watch the link I listed above. And, if you do come around Minneapolis I’d be honored to have you attend one of my gigs, ot just lend me your ear over a beer or two. I just get passionate about this music because its my life, as you can fully appreciate I’m sure.


        • That’s a good song by Deadeye. He’s one of those guys I’ve always been afraid to get to know too well because I don’t want to destroy the mythos behind his music.


  • Trig, could you please explain why “post-punk refugees” are so highly represented in Muddy Roots? What distinguishes post-punk fans from other rock fans? Are post-punk fans attracted to Muddy Roots because of the fast bluegrass vibe that can be found there?


    • “Post-punk” is probably a commonly overused and inappropriately-used term. I put it in this article simply because I thought it fit. I think it is only a partly-correct stereotype that punk and metalheads got into country and bluegrass for the speed of bluegrass or the rawness of Outlaw country. I don’t know that “post-punk refugees” are any more highly represented in Muddy Roots music than they are in indie rock. Really, we are all post punks living in the post-punk era, even people who were not into punk music at any time. Really that term just signifies that for a long time, the majority of independent music was punk music. Now that trend has spread to many sub genres of rock and country.

      This probably won’t help, but that’s the best I can explain it.


  • I don’t get to see much of this kind of music living in Iowa, but I did see Turnpike Troubadours and Hellbound Glory and had a hell of a time. Both bands really got after it. Great year for music!


    • Rob-
      Im stuck here in Iowa, too… but, with a little gas money, and some time to drive Ive caught Jayke Orvis, James Hunnicut, The Goddamn Gallows, The Calamity Cubes, William Eliott Whitmore, Hellbound Glory, The Supersuckers, Joe Buck, Hootin Hallers,St. Christopher, S.S. Web, Filthy Still, and Reverend Glasseye (twice), as well as a good assortment of old punk bands, Willie Nelson, and the Dirt Daubbers. Climb in your car, my good man, and see the highway and some great music!


  • Hank 3’s show for Happy Trails Humane was really cool. It was a little different seeing him somewhere besides a smoky old bar, and having a (somewhat) dialed back set. The opener was pretty solid, and seeing Bob Wayne at The Well in Knoxville was just…fun. There’s no other way to put it. Witnessing firsthand the love he has for his fans just made it that much better.

    Lindi Ortega did a great job with the rock n’ roll crowd while opening for Social Distortion (along with another cool band, the Biters)….I’d say she won the Social D. fans over, but that’d imply they weren’t on board to begin with. 

    I tried catching Lucky Tubb in Knox, but I think there were some troubles within his band…I’m hoping he’ll come back around, if anyone is listening….


  • I’d be willing to bet if you went to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass your list would look a whole lot different.


  • What the hell happened to Larry and his Flask on this list??? These guys are probably the the best live show touring today, combining incredible energy with excellent musicianship, sacrificing nary a note as they jump from the stage to the crowd and back again. They have toured with most of the acts on your list and yet you pass them over. WTF?


    • Tap the brakes man. Maybe it’s because I didn’t see Larry & His Flask this year and that’s why they’re not included. As I said in the intro, this is a completely proprietary list based on my experiences. I completely agree Larry & His Flask is one of the best live experiences out there, and if I’d had any opportunity to see them, it would have happened and they would have been on this list.


      • Thanks man! Didn’t mean to freak out on ya. I really love this site for it’s honesty about the state of commercial country music these days. It is abysmal and it’s great to read your scathing reviews of the likes of Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean and of course, the country music Anti-Christ; Scott Borchetta. Keep up the good work. FYI The Flask head into the studio this week to begin work an another full length album.



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