There’s an old country story, that the great Ernest Tubbs once gave advice to a young Johnny Cash saying that he shouldn’t smile when he played “Folsom Prison Blues.” It became a part of Cash’s persona and stage presence, but there are few people who could walk up on stage and have that stern serious look. You have to have a certain demeanor and Sarah Shook is one of those few people who can pull off a serious and dangerous feel.
North Carolina’s Sarah Shook and the Disarmers took to the stage at the Southgate House Revival in Newport, Thursday night. And although she started the show with a serious demeanor that didn’t last for long. Shook was personable and seemed to love playing the venue in Northern Kentucky.
Many would describe Shook’s music as Americana but this music was purely country and that’s what made her performance so great. Shook is an incredible songwriter and storyteller with clever hooks in songs like, “Fuck Up” and “Good as Gold” that have real stories behind them.
There wasn’t any act with Shook either, what you saw was what you were hearing in the songs. She sings about drowning her sorrows in whiskey and sure enough she had a nearly full rocks glass of whiskey, straight. She sang about growing up in North Carolina and although there was some fondness in her stories, you can see and hear the toughness that it gave her and that is conveyed in every song.
Shook’s songwriting is met with her incredibly talented band, each member seemed to be a seasoned vet in country music and without the Disarmers the songs aren’t the same. They contribute entirely to the tough sound that Shook writes to.
Shook played for an hour and a half with an encore to a decent sized crowd at Southgate. The crowd seemed familiar with Shook’s work, with fans singing along with the songs and even some requests being shouted for some of the band’s deeper cuts.
By the end of the night you knew that this music wasn’t manufactured in a Nashville boardroom. Profane and real is what Shook was selling and that’s what you got. Shook is just another sign that what many are referring to as a return to “real-country,” is here. With artists like Margo Price and Tyler Childers, outlaw country has become popular again, people want something real, not something that is always relatable.