By Ross Jones
"I've been coming to Nashville for just over 10 years", Jake Worthington tells the early risers at The Chevy Vibes stage on Friday morning (June 9) "and I got to play at Ryman auditorium the other night; it was the greatest thing. I can't believe I get to do this for a living".
Such statements are made by many artists trying to leave their mark in the dusty hallowed ground of the country music landscape. But, as Jake Worthington shakes his head in quiet disbelief while he makes such an admission, you genuinely believe this means everything to him.
Having released his self-titled debut album just a few months ago, Worthington's stage-opening set feels like a true litmus test for the Texan to show off his performance chops live. Boy, does he deliver.
Bedecked in a cuffed brown striped shirt, custom initialled belt and guitar strap and his summer cowboy hat, Worthington looked the part for kicking off a honky tonk party, regardless of his 10am set time.
"This is for all the good ol' boys and girls out there, we got some out there tonight?" Worthington motions, all before realising he's playing to a well-caffeinated audience on Friday morning of CMA, "today?" he jokes questioningly, not taking himself too seriously while the groove of 'Good Ol' Boys' kick in.
While his Southeast Texan drawl takes a moment to warm up in the morning sunshine, his voice still sounds rich and wistful, particularly on a slower, more tender song like 'Hell of a Highway'. His band only add to that weight and texture, the pedal steel particularly spritely and warm across 'State You Left Me In'.
Belying his late twenties, Worthington's voice sounds distinctive and worn for his age, noticeably so live as he hollers a honky tonk stomp, as on the opening 1,2 salvo of Hixtape Vol.1 highlight 'Jonesin' and 'Night Time Is My Time'.
The outright quality of those songs is really what makes Worthington stand out live as an artist and a performer - while many of his Texan contemporaries are rooted in the good ole boy fascinations of small-town living, Worthington's sound finds home in the honky tonk, necking a high life and kicking the jukebox till 'I Can Still Make Cheyenne' plays.
If you're ever in need of some honky tonk swing at 10 in the morning, you won't find many better to deliver it than this guy.
Jake Worthington - Setlist
Taken from his set on The Chevy Vibes Stage at CMA Fest 2023 on Friday, June 9th, 2023.