Spring is about cleansing and new beginnings. We shed our coats, begin to clean out our homes, and let the sunshine ease and relieve that seasonal depression. It’s the introduction to warm weather, flowers, and a new outlook on life for many.
In 2020, Alabama singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield, under her name Waxahatchee, released her fifth studio album St. Cloud, an album that encapsulates every feeling of optimism and love that Spring brings out. An instant Americana-Folk classic, Crutchfield received overwhelming praise for her shift in sound, tone, lyrical content, and tempo. I even put it as my number one album of that year, over many incredible albums in 2020. At the time of this record’s release in March of that year, there was no better album to help me, and anyone who listened to it get through the first few chaotic months of the pandemic.
Leaving behind the fuzz and lo-fi-filled sounds of her prior records, Crutchfield embraced the sounds of her childhood growing up in Birmingham, Alabama. Artists like Loretta Lynn, Emmylou Harris, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, and Lucinda Williams. I hesitate to call St. Cloud an Americana or Folk record because it is deeply rooted in its Country music influences. The difference is that Country music can evoke emotion, unlike any other genre. Crutchfield does this on her record—confronting her demons and getting sober in 2018 profoundly affected her sound and allowed her to soften the edges of her sound find peace within that.
Now, a full two years later, Waxahatchee is able to share the live St. Cloud experience with audiences. Wednesday evening, Crutchfield gave fans at the Woodward Theater a night they won’t forget.
As you walk into the Woodward, you immediately see the Edison bulbs hung up across the ceiling and from the stage. Of course, they always have these lights set up, but something about that evening and the music transported you to a party in a barn or in a field somewhere down South. It was a very calming aesthetic that both the artist and the crowd created.
In the opening act, singer-songwriter Madi Diaz provided a beautiful set of originals. It made me want to go home that evening and listen to her entire catalog of heartbreaking clever songs that deserved the attention that the audience gave.
Once the crowd packed in, Big Star’s "The Ballad Of El Goodo" introduced the band and Crutchfield. A pretty perfect band and song to introduce Waxahatchee, the Memphis band is clearly an influence on their sound and desire to write these beautiful southern-rock pop tunes.
The band began with the first track off of St. Cloud, “Oxbow,” an excellent opener that eases fans into the beautiful harmonies of Waxahatchee. Repeating the chorus, “I want it all,” was the first of many highlights of Crutchfield's amazing voice.
“Can’t Do Much” evokes the Laurel Canyon songwriters of the past that really relished in the same optimism that St. Cloud is based on. Artists like Joni Mitchell and Jackson Brown can be heard in Crutchfield’s new sound just as much the aforementioned Country musicians.
Looking up at the balcony, fans of him could see singer-songwriter Kevin Morby poking his head out, watching the show with great enjoyment. Morby and Crutchfield have been partners for some time now, even performing their NPR Tiny Desk show from their home together during the pandemic. So for fans like me, your wish to see them play together came true as Morby joined Waxahatchee on stage for a June Carter and Johnny Cash-ESC performance of two songs.
Morby, who is ramping up to release a new record, was dawning the tasseled jacket he is wearing on the cover of his album. Doing his best Neil Young at the Last Waltz look, Morby picked up Crutchfield's guitar, and the two shared a mic as they played together. It truly was a special night for fans as we don’t know if any other town will be getting this experience. Morby spoke for a few minutes on his love of Cincinnati and how the last time he played the Woodward, Waxahatchee had opened for him, and that’s where the two began to spark a relationship.
A highlight of the show came when Crutchfield performed a cover of Lucinda William’s “Fruits of My Labor.” She introduced the song by saying, “This is a cover of my favorite songwriter…”. The song again highlighted Crutchfield's ability to bounce between the soulful and tender parts of her singing.
Finishing with the lead single from the album, “Fire,” Waxahatchee left fans chanting for more. This was the most enthusiastic encore chant I have heard at that venue. It was authentic, euphoric, and demanding. So Crutchfield and Morby came back out, just the two with Morby on guitar once again. Crutchfield gave a disclaimer that the two had been working on this cover and wasn’t ready yet. But the two went for it anyway, with Crutchfield laughing and saying to Morby, “Just follow my lead.” The two then broke into a sparse and slowed-down version of “It Ain’t Me Babe,” truly giving fans that Cash family band feel. A beautiful, earnest, and authentic display of two artists who love each other and genuinely love playing music with each other.
Waxahatchee is just beginning her St. Cloud tour. If you haven’t listened to the 2020 album of the same name, it is highly recommended as it is one of my favorite records in some time.