Have you ever been to one of those live performances that’s so magical and surreal that if feels like you’re floating on a cloud and you wish there was some way to bottle that experience for the future? At the least, someone should be there capturing the moments with top quality audio and visual equipment to preserve it for posterity. Snippets on an iPhone will never do it justice.
Lucky for Charley Crockett fans, that’s exactly what transpired when the Texas-born throwback country singer took the stage for his inaugural headlining spot at the Mother Church of Country Music on Monday, November 14th, 2022. With the footlights laid out across the stage and and a crushed gold velvet background, Charley Crockett and his band The Blue Drifters brought the audience back to a time in country music when it didn’t need to be saved.
Charley Crockett’s show at The Ryman felt like one for the ages. Saving Country Music can attest because yours truly was stationed in the audience, though at the time it wasn’t touted as a live taping. With all the cameras on site, you knew (and hoped) something was up. Crockett assembled about the perfect set list to encapsulate the first era of his career to highlight on the night, and went to work.
Just like you want from any live show, there were “moments” that instill the performance with instances that you’ll never forget. The show enacted about the perfect crescendo of energy and emotion. And for some who may still be looking sideways at Crockett’s music and not understanding what all the hubbub is about, his show at the Ryman gives the greatest insight into that magic so many refer to when they see him perform live.
Since you’re often relying on previously-released material, the real key to any great live album or concert film is the quality of the recording. Lucky for us, Charley Crockett’s Live from the Ryman is of top quality, and done right. Even better, instead asking folks to pony up $24.99 for a DVD of the performance, Crockett has released the entire film portion of the album for free on YouTube, at least for a limited time (see below).
Live from the Ryman really helps illustrate that when it comes to the Charley Crockett experience, it’s the full package that plays into his strength as a performer. He’s not the greatest writer of songs, or an especially gifted singer. It’s the way he moves and the mood he sets. Crockett can evoke a different and better place and time through his music, and transport you to it. Even better is to capture this at the Ryman Auditorium where so much country history has transpired.
The album and film also illuminate how Crockett’s Blue Drifters might be one of the best backing bands in the business at the moment. “They know how to make a $10 cowboy look pretty good,” Crockett says during the show. The trumpet blasts from multi-instrumentalist Kullen Fox are the exclamation points on the Charley Crockett experience, and the band is just so smooth and steady throughout. Everything is precise and articulate.
Perhaps most important is the moment in time this album and film captures. Charley Crockett’s sold-out set on a Monday came when his career was finally being codified as a theater headliner. “The alley is just outside, but it’s a long way from here,” Crockett says during the show, referring to the famous alley between the Ryman and the legendary haunts of Lower Broadway like Tootsie’s and Robert’s Western World. It’s where you can feel the ghosts of country legends lurking.
More specifically though, there were moments during Crockett’s set that were rare and important to capture. His cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Tecumseh Valley” that he performed by himself and acoustically coming out of the encore comes to mind. Crockett also toasted James Hand, Jerry Reed, and George Jones during the set.
But it was the moment that erupted after Charley Crockett performed his semi country protest song “Music City USA” in the heart of the very city the song is about that resulted in one of those “moments” for the ages. As Saving Country Music described afterwards,
Rarely or ever do you experience such a randomly generated standing ovation in the middle of a set like that. The only reason people stopped clapping and cheering is because Charley Crockett wanted to stay on time and play the next song. But rest assured—and those in attendance will attest— Charley Crockett and his rendition of ‘Music City USA’ at the Ryman Auditorium on Monday was a moment they will never forget.
You can see and experience that moment for yourself now at the 30-minute mark of the film, which is well-captured and crafted with the various camera angles and perspectives. The only criticism is they didn’t include any “B-roll” type footage of the event, like folks filing into the venue, or Charley and the Blue Drifters warming up backstage, or perhaps a minute or two of Charley answering questions. This leaves the film feeling a little dry.
We’ll have to see where Charley Crockett ends up in the coming years. But Live from the Ryman expertly encapsulates the Charley Crockett experience up to this moment, and from a performer that is helping to spearhead the revitalization of country sounds in country music.
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