Photography by Laura Ord
With Railbird Festival 2023 less than 12 hours away, the excitement and anticipation for the event reached fever pitch on Friday evening, as Charley Crockett took to the outdoor stage of The Burl in Lexington, Kentucky.
While the show may have been billed as a pre-party for the festivities and music ahead, the concert felt more like a definitive moment in the ever significant story of Kentucky's contribution to Americana as a whole.
As the sun began to set on a hot, prickly day in Lexington, the energy was feverous, right from the moment you stepped out onto the parking lot concrete of The Burl's arcade precinct.
Locals and first-time festival attendees mingled amongst each other as the beer was poured and the stage was set, the rise of noise from the pinball machines out the back and the laughter of friends reuniting encompassing the buoyant mood that was building in town.
This venue has played a storied part in the careers of so many of the state's finest over the past decade; cementing itself as not only a go-to place to find your next favourite Americana artist, but also as the catalyst for what will be a significant chapter in the history of the genre.
It therefore feels fitting that Crockett, perhaps one of the most acclaimed and beloved artists in the genre throughout these past couple of years, would kick off the celebrations ahead at the revered venue. Ever the tailored character, with his tan cowboy hat and elegant burgundy and brown print shirt, Crockett thrived on the Burl stage – like a country institution coming home to play for a thousand devotees.
Photography by Laura Ord
Scorching horns conjured their spaghetti western waltz as Crockett sauntered into view, like The Man With No Name. His band, The Blue Drifters, tuned up the orchestral hedonism for 'The Man From Waco' introduction, before delving straight into one of the many Welcome To Hard Times stand-outs, 'Run Horse Run'.
His set has evolved not only into this whistle-stop presentation of the definitive parts of his discography, but a modern-day representation of the finer moments in the genre. Flirting seamlessly between old-time rock n roll, blues and country, Crockett blasted through a heavy back catalogue and chosen covers with a verve and charm that ensured the songs lost none of their bravado through such immediacy.
Of all his takes on the standards, his tribute to his late friend James ‘Slim’ Hand has become a staple of his live set, taking shape in his covers of ‘Midnight Rider’ and ‘Lesson In Depression’. The songs fit like a glove when played live, slotting in like hits of his own between the 45' bop of ‘Jukebox Charley’ and the jaunty 'Don't Tell Me That'.
The latter whistles and swings, Crockett twisting and jiving as he moans in theatrical defeat; “Something's wrong / Lord I sure smell a rat / Baby, baby, baby, baby / Don't tell me that”.
None of the orchestral emotion and cinematic narrative that was so present on ‘The Man From Waco’ is lost live. That’s all thanks to the aforementioned Drifters, who’ve taken the waltzing feel of the album and injected it with heat, sex and grittiness. On The Burl stage, that’s not lost on the by-now baying crowd, hooting and hollering more than a cat in heat through the hot Lexington night.
There was a real looseness to Charley - the fervency of the evening giving him a real raw quality, whether when putting on the charm or rasping over his fiery band. Simply put, what The Burl has gifted us for nearly a decade is good, timeless music that succeeds regardless of categorisation. That's what the people in attendance here love, and long may it continue.
Charley Crockett - Setlist
Take from his live performance at the Railbird Pre-Party at The Burl, Lexington, Kentucky - Friday, June 2nd 2023:
For more coverage on Railbird Festival 2023, see below: