On The Frustrations with Tyler Childers’ Output and Appearances

At this moment, Tyler Childers is the top artist carrying forward the torch of the country music revolution that was inspired by the Outlaws of the 70s, taken up by the punk-gone-country scene of the 90s, shepherded to a new level by Hank Williams III in the early 00s, and brought to the point of challenging the mainstream by Sturgill Simpson in the 2010s. Yes, there’s Zach Bryan as well, but he’s kind of his own phenomenon. Tyler Childers is the one through the continued success of his album Purgatory who continues to disrupt pop country’s hold on the genre, and represents the unbroken continuation of the insurgent country movement.

Tyler Childers could be selling out arenas across the country right now, and cleaning up in Europe. This was verified by the appeal for the arena tour with Sturgill Simpson that ended up being mostly canceled due to the pandemic. But Tyler’s perfectly content with playing Delfest, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic instead, and spending most of his time off the road. It was the latter event where quite a few attendees got up in arms because Childers did not play many of his most recognizable songs, and instead focused mostly on new songs and covers. A viral Tik-Tok video criticizing Childers raised a lot of discussion after the event.

But part of the problem was that Tyler Childers was only given the time for an 11 song set to begin with. Here is one of the biggest artists in country music at the moment playing opener for Jason Isbell. In truth, Willie’s whole 2022 Picnic was poorly conceived by the promoter C3 Presents. Activating the ugly and inappropriate 02 soccer arena as the venue meant only being able to have one stage, so there were no members of Willie’s extended family performing like Paula Nelson or Raelyn Nelson, no oldtimers like Ray Wylie Hubbard or David Allan Coe who’ve performed so often in previous years, and shorter set times for everyone to go along with $15 beers.

These reasons and many others were why yours truly skipped out on the event, despite it being only 30 minutes from Saving Country Music headquarters. When Tyler Childers played at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival a few weeks ago, he played for 90 minutes, included some of his bigger songs, and everyone walked away happy. Still, would it have killed Tyler to light into a little “Lady May” or “Feathered Indians” at Willie’s 4th instead of Charlie Daniels and Grateful Dead covers? Probably not. But it’s Tyler’s prerogative to play whatever he wants, and he’s at the end of an album cycle when artists regularly work in more covers and trot out new material.

Forget the Bros who only know Tyler Childers through playlists, and expect him to play “Whitehouse Road” at every show, despite Childers rarely or never playing the song since getting sober. How about being more in the moment, and enjoying what’s happening?

But the bigger issue here is that people just want more Tyler Childers, and you can’t blame them for that. If he was playing two hours sets on his own tour, most everyone would be leaving satisfied. But he’s not, even though it feels like he should be. Childers has enough unreleased songs floating out there to release two new albums, yet his last album Country Squire felt short with only nine songs, and was released three years ago now.

There is an insatiable appetite for all things Tyler Childers out there at the moment, and instead of seizing the opportunity, he’s resting on his laurels, and living off the mailbox money from Purgatory. The recent pregnancy announcement from wife and fellow performer Senora May could have spurned some additional activity before the little one arrives, but Childers instead took it as another reason to stick closer to home.

So demand for Tyler Childers is outpacing supply. It’s an issue SCM saw brewing a while back. It’s also an issue that supporters of the independent country music revolution are familiar with. The whole punk-gone-country thing lost its momentum years ago, and Bloodshot Records went belly-up and was sold off amid scandal. Hank Williams III hasn’t really been heard from in years. If we’re to believe Sturgill Simpson, he’s officially retired. Even Shooter Jennings says he’s no longer touring, and will focus on producing.

It seems like every time one of these guys gets to the top, they jump off. About the only top-tier country music revolutionary with his foot still on the pedal is Cody Jinks. We’d all love more music and more opportunities to see Tyler Childers. That’s not being selfish, necessarily. That’s just being a fan. But we would also love to see Tyler Childers continue to hammer on so he can remain a thorn in the side of Music Row, and an inspiration and rallying cry for the country music revolution.

But one of the reasons the appeal for Tyler Childers is so robust is because he’s the real deal, because he’s not taking the big payday even though it’s well within his grasp, and that he values his time back in Kentucky where he’s close to the inspirations, and the language, customs, and characters that go on to be included in his songs. We appreciate Tyler Childers because he’s unspoiled and authentic. Eating catered food in the bowels of an arena for nine straight months may not just sound un-enjoyable to Tyler Childers, it just may injure what makes him cool and important.

And so it’s imperative that we all be a little patient and understanding. New music will probably arrive soon enough, as will hopefully more opportunities to see Tyler Childers perform live, and hopefully for more than 45 minutes, and hopefully with beer cheaper than $15 a swig.

Meanwhile, it’s next man and next woman up in the country music revolution—with the next artist that is hungry, driven, mad as hell, and inspired by their predecessors stepping into the void to continue the work of returning the power in country music back to the artists and to the people of country music.

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