Saving Country Music’s Best Live Performances of 2013

December 27, 2013 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  22 Comments

best-live-performances-2013The greatest album, and the greatest recorded song will never be able to trump the truly live musical experience where music is shared in real time with both the artist and listeners. It is in this spirit that each year I assemble a list of the Best Live Performances to reinforce that as technology and the busying of life incrementally encroach upon us more and more every year, we must remember that the live music show deserves its own attention and reverence. This year for the first time, I’ve included some television performances and a live stream, because the weight these performances carried make them more than worthy to be included here.

Please understand, unlike Saving Country Music’s other yearly awards, since omnipresence isn’t an attribute I posses, this list is simply based on my own experiences, and not meant to capture the overall pulse of the live events that transpired all year. You are encouraged to share your own favorite live musical experiences from 2013 below.

10. Hellbound Glory – The Empire Control Room, Austin, TX

“Hellbound Glory started with a blistering, amplified version of Hank Williams’ “My Buckets Got A Hole In It” that reinvented and revitalized that tune originally learned by Hank Williams from Rufus Payne in the mid-30′s, and made it feel like an iconic 70′s-era Southern rock anthem. Not 30 seconds into the first song, and you could tell that Leroy had played so many shows in front of so many big crowds in 2013, that being on stage was second nature, and a downright showman had emerged from a man who is known as a songwriter first. Not that Leroy was a stiff before, but now he had a swagger about him—a sway and arm motions—engaging the crowd and carrying songs to another level with his ability to be completely uninhibited with the music.” (read full review)


9. Eric Church & Valerie June – The ACM Awards

Say what you will about Eric Church, he delivered the most memorable performance at the ACM Awards back in April, and he did it while showcasing the up-and-coming musical powerhouse Valerie June.

“Church, who is usually known for his baseball cap, aviator sunglasses, and rowdy country gone rock sound, kept it simple this time, accompanied only by his guitar and one harmony singer–a breathtaking female in a red dress, adorned with a crown of dreadlocks. As much as Eric Church’s performance caught the ACM crowd and Eric’s fans by surprise, so did this virtually unknown singer accompanying him.

“Valerie June didn’t announce her performance on the ACM’s. Her name was not mentioned in the credits or by the announcers. But like she always does, she left an indelible, unforgettable impact on the hearts and ears of the ACM attendees and viewers.” (read full review)

8. Andrew Bird & Tift Merritt – Pickathon Festival Woods Stage – Portland, OR

The Pickathon Festival on the outskirts of Portland, OR every August affords some of the best music moments a year can offer, while broadening the perspective of fans from all corners of the roots music world by assembling one of the most diverse and forward-thinking lineups in the festival realm. Many Picktathon moments could be listed here, but seeing the amazing Andrew Bird perform all manner of beyond-human vocal acrobatics accompanied by the accomplished Tift Merrit was truly something to behold.

“Andrew Bird on the Wood’s Stage was phenomenal. Maybe a little fey for some, but he’s a fiddling bluegrass maestro who has one of the best use of dynamics you will find. You also won’t find a better whistler in bluegrass. Joining him on stage for the set was Tift Merritt…” (read full Pickathon Live Blog)


7. Jayke Orvis & The Broken Band – The Scoot Inn

jayke-orvis“Jayke finally declared earlier this year that he was taking his last tour with the Gallows, and trained his attention solely on a solid, permanent Broken Band lineup that includes guitarist James Hunnicutt, and former Bob Wayne Outlaw Carnies’ Liz Sloan and Jared McGovern on fiddle and upright bass respectively. With stability and a shared vision of making a band around Jayke’s music, but one where all musicians are treated as equal, Jayke Orvis & The Broken Band have re-captured the fervor and spellbinding performance aspect that made the .357 String Band such a force of music nature. If anything, The Broken Band may be taking it a step further with a deeper attention to composition, pushing all four players to the edge of their abilities, and the edge of human capability itself, balanced by slow and mid-tempo songwriter material.

Jayke Orvis & The Broken Band are the underground roots equivalent of the Punch Brothers, and are one of the top tier performers of the underground sub-genre.” (read full review)

6. LeAnn Rimes Patsy Cline Tribute – The ACA Awards

“And at the end of the medley, when LeAnn went a capella, and the tasteful sepia filter that the ACA’s had placed on the cameras to afford a vintage feel on the first part of the tribute turned back to color, a downright evocation emerged during Patsy’s “Sweet Dreams” that even the embattled and valiant LeAnn Rimes eventually couldn’t even fend off, bursting into tears during the final turn of the chorus.

“No video will ever do the moment justice, because it was a moment you had to share in live. At some point you saw LeAnn smile, like she recognized the spirit of Patsy had entered the room, and then the emotion immediately began to well up in LeAnn, and all who were paying attention.” (read full review)

5. The Mavericks -Gruene Hall – Gruene, TX

“Raul Malo is no doubt the rock and heart of The Mavericks, but the addition of guitar player Eddie Perez, who was Dwight Yoakam’s long-time touring guitar player before joining the band, is really what has allowed The Mavericks to give up nothing, and continue to grow in their nearly 25-year existence. From his masterful guitar work to his superhero-like ability to follow Raul Malo wherever he may go vocally, Eddie Perez is 1A to Raul in the Mavericks, with long-time rhythm guitarist Robert Reynolds and keys player Jerry Dale McFadden affording the buoyant vitality that makes The Mavericks’ sound so infectious, and drummer Paul Deacon holding the whole thing together and giving the The Mavericks their communicable groove.” (read full review)

4. Red 11 SXSW Showcase at the White Horse – Austin, TX

Eligibility on this list would normally only be open to single performances by a single band or artist, but the showcase put on by the booking agency Red 11 on Tuesday night (3-12) of South by Southwest at the White Horse in Austin was such a legendary lineup, it deserves its own distinction, beyond all the excellent artists that played it. Yes folks, the gritty, bluesy one man band Lincoln Durham, the Tejano-flavored The Crooks, The Dirty River Boys, The Turnpike Troubadours, followed by American Aquarium, and capped off by Jason Eady is the lineup that held forth at the intimate setting of The White Horse that night. Oh, and it was all free. I’m not sure there will ever be a moment when such a ridiculous amount of talent will be showcased in the same place, and in such a small space again, unless it happens at SXSW 2013.


3. Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires  – XSXSW 6  – Austin, TX

Passing up an opportunity to see Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires live is a borderline criminal offense for any fan of hard rocking roots music. When they lit up the Frontier Bar as part of XSXSW 6, it was by far the most raucous set of music that still had real substance to it experienced in 2013. Later in the year when touring with Austin Lucas through Ft. Worth, Lee Bains got shut down and 86’d by the Live Oak Music Hall & Lounge for playing too loud. That’s how legendary Lee Bains live has become.

“As the room was still filling up with patrons, Lee Bains played like he was feeding of the energy of a packed house. This man sings with as much soul as anyone in rock & roll right now, and this was never evidenced more clearer then when he sang the title track of their latest album There’s A Bomb in Gilliead. For SXSW’s most acrobatic moment of 2013, at one point lead guitarist got on the shoulders of Lee Bains as they both walked out into the crowd with guitars blazing. This set was sick.” (from the SXSW 2013 live blog)


2. Jason Isbell – Live Stream of Austin City Limits Taping – August 19th

I admit, it seems strange to put a streaming event such as this on this list, and so high up no less. But if you witnessed it, you would know why. The technology is becoming such, and artists like Isbell are beginning to receive such recognition, that an online experience can sometimes be just as immersive as being there.

“On Monday night the Twitterverse blew up around the occasion of songwriter Jason Isbell recording an upcoming episode of Austin City Limits. The taping was streamed live online, and drew a remarkable amount of attention and praise from the online participants who took the time to tune in. Usually music confined to the online format is at such a distinct disadvantage, it is barely worth your time, and though Austin City Limits’ production value is world-class, this wasn’t what made the event special. Jason Isbell is quite the capable singer, and since he started out as a guitarist for the Drive By Truckers, it’s hard to denounce his musicianship either. His band The 400 Unit was sensational as well, and so was his wife Amanda Shires who sang and played fiddle for the set. But none of this is why the event became a singular experience for those who tuned in.

“It was Jason Isbell’s songs and his songwriting that made so many online watchers walk away with one of those feelings you get after watching a stellar movie—where your mind gets so immersed in the experience it is hard to return to the real world.” (from 2013: The Year of the Songwriter)

1. The Turnpike Troubadours – SXSW The White Horse – Austin, TX

The Red 11 South by Southwest showcase at The White Horse in Austin, TX was already given proper credit above, but the crown jewel of the night was the performance by Oklahoma’s Turnpike Troubadours, which also was the crown jewel of 2013.

“The Turnpike Troubadours were responsible for one of those once-in-a-lifetime musical experiences. The White Horse that had hovered around 3/4 capacity up to that point in the night swelled to where there was no elbow room, and a strong majority of the people there knew every word to the Troubadours songs and proved it by belting them out at every chance. When the band broke into their most popular tunes like ‘Every Girl,’ ‘7&7′ and ‘Good Lord, Lorrie,’ the crowd would erupt. During the choruses, the singing of the crowd could become deafening, drowning out the band itself. Their high-energy, inspired performance was great in itself, but the camaraderie created by the crowd made it one of those moments hard to forget. The Turnpike Troubadours have no business playing a venue this small these days, and that is the type of unique experience SXSW can create. Their set was one for the record books.” (from the SXSW 2013 live blog)


22 Comments to “Saving Country Music’s Best Live Performances of 2013”

  • These are some great acts, but I was blown away by Larry and his Flask at Muddy Roots more than any other act I saw this year. Their ability to run around stage like Tasmanian devils on meth and still be able play their instruments like they attended Berklee is supernatural.


  • I hope you fine folks in Texas appreciate what you have! I live in an area awash in pop country – I can tune in seven, sometimes eight, country stations at my apartment – but there is absolutely no live scene for original country music. I’d love to have Turnpike Troubadours or Sturgill Simpson get within 200 miles of here.


  • Vince Gill & Patty Loveless’s performance at the George Jones memorial is my favourite performance of 2013. Details here:


    • The memorial service was broadcast via audio, so I will give them that. But not broadcasting video of either the memorial service, or the George Jones tribute concert in Nashville I think was robbing lots of folks from being able to share in those moments, and it’s really a shame, especially seeing how there were full camera crews at each event, and the technology is easily accessible.


  • I know you don’t particularly like him, Trigger, but I really respect your ability to put that aside and give Eric Church credit when he deserves it. About the only disagreement I’d have with your opinions of him revolve around the “arrogant asshole” talk. I think that’s talk blown out of proportion because of a Rolling Stone article and a couple of unfortunate run-ins with fans, who all artists have. He’s known just as much for being good with people, and the way he treats the songwriters he works with has always garnered my respect. Some of his best videos online involve him playing with his writers in small bars. I particularly enjoy him and Casey Beathard singing “Where She Told Me to Go.”

    I also works concerts and have talked with many people who’ve worked with him and they’re all adamant about him “knowing he’s good and being cocky” but not actually treating anybody poorly because of it.

    Anyway, you’ve put together another great list, as usual.


    • Well, I think the “arrogant asshole” talk comes from a much longer list of grievances than the ones you listed, but I think limiting your musical experiences just because you don’t like someone for completely justifiable or completely imaginary reasons is unfair to an artist and yourself. Regardless of how many wrong things Eric Church does, his duet with Valerie June was spot on.


      • Yeah, this is just a disagreement based on two people with different information, but both have their information from reputable sources. Either, much respect for your ability to see good when the mainstream offers it, even it’s just a handful of songs per album or a great performance with a lesser known but great artist.


  • This is hard for me to admit (because she’s disgusting and devoid of morality or dignity), but I watched a bit of Chelsea Lately because Trace Adkins was on it. I was curious to hear him talk about his Celtic Christmas album because he was going on her show to promote it. I spent a lot of time years ago listening to Enya and her family and stuff – love that kind of music.

    Trace started talking a little bit about the LeAnn Rimes performance at the ACA awards because Chelsea was making fun of him for crying over it. He said something about near the end when he was crying he looked around and all the hard core stage hands were crying too.

    Honestly I’d really written LeAnn off. She’s gone so nuts lately at at the last X-Factor series she showed up and sang horrible (probably ruining that one you finalist girls chances and getting her thrown off). I was just shocked LeAnn was still capable of delivering a Patsy Cline song. Bravo.


  • I really appreciate the list. Good stuff. I saw the Trunpike Troubadors and The Dirty River Boys for the first time on the same night at 95.3 The ranges annual Texas Music Revolution concert in March and damn they both blew me away. As well as stellar performances by Jason Boland and The Stragglers and Chris Knight. Truthfully here in Texas we are blessed to have so much good live music so accesable.My favorite performance of 2013 happened back in January of 2013 in a small Tiki bar called Fido’s in San Pedro Belize. a 71 year old Jerry Jeff Walker armed with just his voice and a guitar played 2 hours for about 100 of us and it was magical. Every once in awhile live music is very much a spirtual experience you just don’t ever forget.


  • In chronological order:

    1/15: John Fullbright, a “Living Room Session” at Knuckleheads, Kansas City
    3/2: Robert Earl Keen at The Granada, Lawrence, KS
    3/15: Ryan Bingham at The Granada
    5/28: John Fullbright at Knuckleheads
    6/20: American Aquarium, Jason Isbell and The Turnpike Troubadours at Crossroads at Grinders, Kansas City
    9/10 :The Black Lillies at Knuckleheads
    9/12: The Mavericks at Knuckleheads
    11/7: Micky and the Motorcars at Knuckleheads
    11/14: Will Hoge and Randy Rogers Band at The Granada
    12/7: The Turnpike Troubadours at Gruene Hall (Sons of Fathers opened)


    • That 6/20 crossroads show was great.


  • I know I’m in the minority, but I don’t get the fascination with Jason Isbell. I just don’t get it. His music is so plain and boring. Great songwriter – I don’t know, maybe. But when rubber hits road he puts me to sleep. I read an article somewhere recently that said he was the lead singer to Drive By Truckers. Even people who write about him don’t know what they’re even talking about. Just me I guess, I know a lot of you folks like him, he has just yet to do it for me, live or recorded.


    • There’s something to be said for people having differing opinions, but if Isbell’s music doesn’t move you, then I guarantee you’re missing out on other great music, too.

      I think it’s safe to say that the best country music, regardless of source (Nashville, Texas, Americana, Alt-country, etc), toys with the listener’s emotions. If you take Isbell’s most recent album and just sit down and listen to it, but don’t get anything out of it, then I have to question what you’re looking for when it comes to music. For a lot of us, it’s an emotional escape. I, personally, am a calm and level headed person because I can listen to great music and let go of my worries by getting into a song. Maybe you look for something else.

      As for the lead singer bit for DBT, while “lead” singer might not be the correct term, he did have plenty of the vocal duties. I don’t know if anybody actually thinks he’s the only member who sang.


  • You are a lucky guy to be able to attend SXSW. The closest venue for me is “Down Home” but it is 50 min away in Johnson City, TN – On the plus side, Della Mae, Missy Raines, and Blue Highway will all be there in the next few weeks!


  • The memorial service was broadcast live on both GAC and Cmt. Alan Jackson’s performance of he stopped loving her today was outstanding.


    • I stand corrected. I was unable to see it because I did not have cable, and rather listened on WSM. It would have been nice for it to be streamed. I, along with others, felt once removed. Not making the tribute concert available anywhere was pretty inexcusable in my opinion.


  • Todd Snider’s Friday night show in Gruene this year. Forget the date, late October sometime. He did about a 30 minute medley of Jerry Jeff stories and songs.


  • This is totally off topic, but I said something on another page about how I thought NPR actually did a pretty good job of covering country stuff this year. I noticed NPR rock critic Ken Tucker put out his top ten year end list and I thought it was interesting.:

    1. Jason Isbell, ‘Southeastern’
    2. Brandy Clark, ’12 Stories’
    3. Superchunk, ‘I Hate Music’
    4. Vince Gill & Paul Franklin, ‘Bakersfield’
    5. Kanye West, ‘Yeezus’
    6. Tegan And Sara, ‘Heartthrob’
    7. Ashley Monroe, ‘Like A Rose’
    8. The Mavericks, ‘In Time’
    9. Robbie Fulks, ‘Gone Away Backward’
    10. Kacey Musgraves, ‘Same Trailer Different Park’

    A lot of country and a good bit of crossover with Trigger’s lists.


  • I went to see Austin Lucas solo acoustic at a bar in Baton Rouge and he led everyone outside to the back patio and did a song along of Go West. That was what I consider the best live moment of 2013 of a year where I got to see him, Bob Wayne, Dale Watson, Jackson Taylor, T Junior, and everyone at Muddy Roots.


  • Cody Jinks & The Tonedeaf Hippies at The Snorty Horse Saloon
    Hayes Carll at Mojo’s
    John d Hale Band at The Snorty Horse Saloon

    these were the best live performances of the numerous I attended!


  • Jayke Orvis & The Broken Band, FANtastic live show! Prolly the best “LIVE” performance I saw in 2013. Anybody who has not caught this band live needs to.


Leave a comment

Del Maguey
Old Soul Radio Show
Modern Roots
Best Of Lists