Tyler Childers, A Guitar, A Song, and an Arena

On Sunday (2-28), Tyler Childers released a video of himself performing his song “Nose On The Grindstone” acoustic and alone, standing at center stage at the Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. You can see it below. The video was posted a year to the day that Childers performed at the Rupp with Sturgill Simpson as part of their joint arena tour that was ultimately cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s a cool video for sure, with great audio and multiple camera angles. The lighting is excellent, and Tyler Childers kills the song, standing in front of a backdrop of a barn in a field and a Country Squire pull behind camper. It really puts you in the moment, and wells a bit of nostalgia in you for when we all had ample opportunities to cramp into buildings and enjoy live music as a collective.

But something deeper struck me when watching the video. Though the most dedicated fans of Tyler Childers know the song “Nose On The Grindstone” front to back, and may even claim it’s one of their favorite songs from the Kentucky songwriter, it’s hasn’t even appeared on any of his albums. Instead it’s something fans know from ferreting out live videos online, or from an often-overlooked 3-song OurVinyl Session he recorded live back in 2017.

Nonetheless, the Rupp Arena is singing along to most every word of the song, and not just the chorus, but the verses as well, which aren’t entirely simple lines. The crowd even recognizes what’s coming simply by Childers hanging on the melody before he starts singing.

Sure, some of this is probably due to being on his home turf of Kentucky. Some of it might be the producers of the video pumping up the crowd in the mix, which is emphasized even more due to the fact that Childers is performing alone without the band at his back. But a lot of it also has to do with Tyler’s ability to fill an arena of like-minded folks, in Kentucky and elsewhere. After all, before the arena tour was cancelled, they were having to double up dates all around the country due to demand.

Throughout 2020, I’d been reporting on how Tyler Childers has been breaking barriers and setting benchmarks previously believed to be unattainable in the modern era by an artist that didn’t enjoy mainstream radio play or other major support. It’s started with his song “Feathered Indians” going Gold in February. It ended with the song going Platinum, two more singles in “Lady May” and “Whitehouse Road” going Gold, as well as his album Purgatory. The album continues to be one of the Top 20 most popular albums in all of country music at the moment.

But something about hearing an entire arena singing along with Tyler Childers seems to put it even more into perspective of just how much this young man’s music touches a nerve with people. It’s communion for those lost souls who just can’t understand how others can listen to what’s on country radio and consider it either art, or country, from young to old. There’s a sense of camaraderie captured in this moment that’s hard to quantify.

Who knows when we will get to return to arena shows like before COVID-19. But is there any question Tyler Childers will able to fill arenas, by himself, and perhaps on consecutive nights? And of course people love to complain how they once saw some of their favorite artists in dive bars, and how an arena can suck the energy out of a performance. But watching Tyler Childers perform with some 20,000 fans following along with every word—there’s a magic there in itself no local bar can emulate.

“What the hell does Saving Country Music mean?” is one of the questions I’m asked more and more often these days, as the fervor that first launched an independent country music revolution in the late oughts (and that Tyler Childers is very much a late-era product of) becomes more and more just a memory. I’m not sure I have a solid answer, aside from saying it’s an effort that’s as old as country music itself, and a task that’s never-ending.

But what I do know is that watching Tyler Childers—not live and in-person, but on tape, and a year removed from the actual event—it’s still able to give you goosebumps. And not just because it’s a good performance. It’s not just because “Nose On The Grindston” is very much the story of Tyler Childers, and the story of many of us. It’s because of how far true country music has come to where a young performer can fill an arena full of people who can recite every word of an acoustic song, and the promise of where it all could go from here.

© 2021 Saving Country Music
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