For continuing coverage from Under The Big Sky Fest, follow Saving Country Music on Instagram.
On Friday, July 14th, Colter Wall released his latest album called Little Songs via LaHonda Records and his new deal with RCA to early critical acclaim. To celebrate the new release, the Saskatchewan, Canada native headed just south of the border (for him) to the original independent country megafestival, Under The Big Sky.
The contrast between Colter Wall’s wild and improbable popularly, and Colter’s understated and humble disposition couldn’t be greater. “My name’s Colter,” he mumbled into the mic after taking the stage. But even those who might be unaccustomed to the cowboy and Western singer/songwriter didn’t need an introduction. The crowd was wildly chanting his name like he was a hair metal superstar in 1987 as he walked out, and screaming at the top of their lungs at his mere appearance.
The enthusiasm is facilitated by the fact that public appearances by Colter Wall these days are extremely novel. Aside from the Dusty Boots Festival in Denver earlier this summer, Colter Wall has no other scheduled appearances on his calendar. There will be no tour behind the new album Little Songs. He even continues to brush of mega podcaster Joe Rogan’s salivating desires for a sit down interview in front of the largest audience in media.
For sure, Colter Wall is leaving piles of money on the table. But staying grounded to the land and the inspirations for his music appears to be more imperative for Colter than trying to compete in the country music rat race. If anything, Colter is trying to cool his own jets, while still finding the space to create in between being out on the range somewhere on horseback doing the very stuff he sings about in his original songs and Western standards that he’s been so vital to revitalizing in the modern context.
Colter featured many of the songs from his new album during the Under The Big Sky set, including the title track, “The Coyote & The Cowboy” by Ian Tyson, and the Hoyt Axton cover, “Evangelina” (see full set list below). After the 3rd song of his set, something happened to his signature mahogany-topped guitar. After fussing with it for an extended period, he ended up having to go with a backup. In typical Colter Wall fashion, he had to use a piece of blue haybale string to fashion the strap onto the neck.
The performance was interrupted by a couple of issues, including some sort of security situation in the middle of the crowd that had Colter shutting down the music for another 3 or 4-minute interval. You could tell Colter became a little frustrated that here he was playing one of the few shows all year, and he had to cut a song or two due to unforeseen circumstances.
But the set was still excellent, and so was Colter’s band that included the highly-regarded steel guitar player from Texas, Muskrat Jones, best known for playing with Colter Wall duet partner Summer Dean. Jake Groves was also there blowing harmonica, bringing essential parts to Colter songs like the rendition of “Cowpoke” by Stan Jones. Long-time bass player Jason Simpson also made the trek to Montana with drummer Russ Patterson.
Colter Wall live isn’t just like the record. He puts a little more gusto behind his songs, while also taking the opportunity to perform a few songs solo. And despite the rarity of appearances, the backing band is super tight. There are also experiences you can take in by seeing Colter Wall out in the wild. Under The Big Sky Fest has a train track running through the site. It seemed only fitting that a one point during Colter Wall’s set, there were trains going in both directions, adding to the Western ambiance in the reddening sky of the late afternoon.
Colter Wall is a very rare specimen in the music space. 10 years ago, nobody would have ever pontificated that a young kid from Canada could completely revitalize the popularity of Western songs in the country music canon. But with an arresting voice seeming to evoke the old ghosts of America’s rugged past, an authentic and humble disposition, and songs that speak to something real in an era of synthetic and artificial reality, Colter Wall is a rock, and an unlikely, but inarguable, star.
All photos by Kyle “Trigger” Coroneos
2. Rocky Mountain Rangers
3. Western Swing and Waltzes
4. The Coyote & The Cowboy
5. Henry and Sam
7. For a Long While
8. Little Songs
9. Happy Reunion
11. Caroline (solo)
12. Bob Fudge
13. Let’s All Help The Cowboys (Sing The Blues)
16. Cow/Calf Blue Yodel
17. Summer Wages (Ian Tyson tribute)
18. Sleeping on the Blacktop