• Review

Bringing in the New Year with Tyler Childers and the Food Stamps

Photo Cred: Bonzo Gonzo

In Appalachia, as in many other cultures, there are several New Year’s traditions that are meant to ring in the New Year with good juju if you will. Appalachians are deeply proud people who have to deal with many struggles that a large part of America couldn’t even comprehend. Now that’s a larger socio-economic issue that this music writer doesn’t have time to cover.

However, traditions like staring into a well as the clock strikes twelve, apparently allow you to see into the future year and see your future love, even hear their name. Cooking coins into potatoes and cabbage is supposed to bring wealth and good luck to the family member who finds the coin, that one seems risky. Even taking from an old Scottish tradition of “First Foot,” is used in Appalachia. The idea of being the first to step into someone's home on January 1st is meant to bring that person good luck for the entire year.

So what happens when nearly 21,000 people take their first steps into the New Year in a house that is slowly becoming the home of Appalachian Country singer-songwriter Tyler Childers? Well I don’t know if it means good luck for all but it sure felt like there was magic all around Lexington, Kentucky and within Rupp Arena as the clock struck twelve.

For now the third time, Kentucky-based Tyler Childers and the Food Stamps took the stage at Rupp Arena to bring in the New Year with a sold-out two-night run. The last time Childers played Rupp, was just weeks before the world shut down. That was a much different time for Childers and his band.

They were having a meteoric rise to the top of modern Country music, however, they were opening for Sturgill Simpson on his “Sound and Fury Tour.” Now I was at that show and I absolutely love Simpson and his music. However, you could tell that much of the crowd was there to see Childers. Even many leaving at the beginning of Simpson set as it was definitely a departure from his country sound. For those who stayed though, it was arguably a once-in-a-lifetime performance.

That all being said, Childers blew the roof off the iconic arena home to the Kentucky Wildcats. Leaving that evening you knew that this would be a regular stop for the Kentucky native. Since then, Childers has ventured into my opinion the most fascinating, inventive, and possibly strongest era of music.

Having seen him grow from the small stages of Huntington, West Virginia, you knew the raw talent was there. You knew watching him play at Live on the Levee in Charleston, WV that if he had more at his disposal in the studio and more means to create what he truly wanted he would be making some of the best country music there was to hear.

Even with his modest beginnings, with nearly entirely grassroots backing, Childers still emerged as the premiere country act in his ever-growing strong class of peers. Now in 2023, Childers is at the top of his game, garnering new fans on every album while never shying away from music, viewpoints, and ideas that challenge him and his audience.

With concept albums like A Long Violent History, tackling topics of race, politics, and class disparity. Or Take My Hounds to Heaven, an album that grips with his understanding of religion, what it means to him and its place in Southern and Appalachian culture. Now on his most recent release Rustin’ in the Rain, Childers dives back into his roots of 1970’s Outlaw country, with concepts that once again bucks traditions of today's popular country music. With the video for “In Your Love,” Childers’ vision depicts two Coal Miners of the 1950’s falling in love. A concept that most would never touch today, however showing Childers’ strong held beliefs, his confidence in his fans, and frankly harkening back to viewpoints that many of his predecessors shared and would share today, like Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings.

With all of that confidence in his work and what he and his band are doing sonically, there is almost nothing stopping Childers and the Food Stamps from reaching new heights on each record and in each show.

So that too means no stage is too big for this band. The evening would start with a roaring performance from husband and wife folk duo Shovels and Ropes. The Charleston, South Carolina duo had not crossed my listening too often, however, their stage presence alone got me listening on the way home from the show. With only two members Michael and Cary Ann Hearst did what any great opener does and got fans excited for the evening ahead. They played as if this was their peak, and for a small folk duo like them, it may have been. However, they should be slated for bigger stages from here on out.

With it being New Year's Eve, the band planned to play into the new year. Taking the stage at 9:30 after a short intermission from Huntington, WV, DJ and producer Charlie Brown Superstar, who also collaborated with Childers on the “Jubilee” and “Hallelujah” mixes of Take My Hounds to Heaven, Childers, and company emerged to a roaring Rupp Arena.

Wasting no time the Childers eased fans in with a couple of classics from his catalog, “Her and the Banks,” and “Whitehouse Road.” The latter being one of the songs that catapulted Childers into the national spotlight. With fans already amped up Childers addressed the crowd early on, saying he was so honored that fans would choose to see he and his band over all the other options New Year's brings people. However, it felt like most of the fans thought the same thing, “Where else would we be?” Childers’ shows have grown from Honky Tonk parties to somewhat religious experiences. With no pun intended towards the next song he’d play.

Childers then broke into what has become one of my favorite live songs, his cover of Hank Williams’s “Old Country Church.” An epic and funky reimagining of the country classic that leads with an organ that is reminiscent of Ray Charles’ country era. Childers puts all of his focus into his voice on this tune, even dropping the acoustic guitar to give a performance that almost seems like he could be leading a choir.

After that, Childers would play a slew of fan favorites. From “Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven,” another gospel reimagining of a Honky Tonk barn burner from his earlier years. To tunes like, “Country Squire,” “I Swear (To God),” and then the new rip-roaring title track “Rustin’ in the Rain.” A tune that is reminiscent of the golden age of country music, where elements of different genres met to create some of America’s most popular hits.

Many of those songs came during Elvis Presley’s triumphant return to the stage in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Songs that were luscious in their production, filled with groove, and that flare of passion that comes with Gospel and Country music. Childers told the Associated Press that he made this latest record as if he was pitching songs to the King himself. Once you hear that you can tell where he was going with the concept and sound of the record.

Childers continued to run through hits from his entire catalog, and after “In You Love,” the band departed for what has now become customary, Childer’s solo acoustic set. Sure the hits are what made Childers huge with general audiences but it was his performances from his very early years at the Red Barn Radio live shows that won over the hearts of his most dedicated fans. The sheer rawness of those records allows fans to appreciate the adventurous music he puts out today.

Each time the lights dim and it's just Childers and his guitar it’s like taking fans back to his days of playing at Black Sheep Burritos in Huntington, WV, where everyone simply knew him as the “guy who was going to make it big some day.” Childers uses this time to play some of his most somber, heartwrenching and beautiful tunes like, “Nose to the Grindstone,” “Lady May,” and “Shake the Frost.”

After that, the Food Stamps joined Childers back on stage for an inspired performance of “Angel Band,” and then possibly my favorite song of the evening his cover of Kentucky singer-songwriter S.G. Goodman’s, “Space and Time.” If you haven’t heard of S.G. Goodman, do yourself a favor and listen to her 2022 record Teeth Marks. She is one of the best up-and-coming songwriters in music today. Childers adds to the beautiful rendition with his undeniable and pain-filled singing.

For me it’s not a proper Tyler Childers show with a cover of Kenny Rodger’s “Tulsa Turnaround,” or Charlie Daniel’s “Trudy,” and sure enough just as the clock was getting closer to midnight, drummer Rodney Elkins counted down into “Tulsa Turnaround,” now a staple of his live shows the Honky Tonk tune never fails to energize an audience.

As the clock finally got down to the last few minutes of 2023, Childers decided to burn this proverbial house of Rupp down with, “House Fire.” And like a phoenix, as the house burned down Childers and his band rang in the new year with a quick playing of “Auld Lang Syne.”

As the crowd celebrated and welcomed in the New Year, it was time for Childers to cleanse the audience with the sonic and peaceful sounds of “Universal Sound.” A song I hadn’t heard in some time from the band but was really hoping to hear that evening and it couldn’t have come at a better moment.

For their final song Childers and his band continued to end with the sort of menacing “Heart You’ve Been Tendin’” a song that really only gets me excited to hear more, but as always, “Leave them wanting more.”

As I walked out of the show I was reminded of the importance of artists like Tyler Childers, not only because of his incredible music but his importance for Appalachia. For that part of the country to have a face like that, that understands the people, their struggles, and the importance of their future. You can never really know what the future holds, but if you can step your first foot forward into a house like Childer’s you know you’re doing something right.

You can stream Rustin’ In the Rain, wherever you get your music and catch Tyler Childers on tour this summer.