My freshman year of college, there were few artists I revered more than Nathaniel Rateliff – his music contained such heartache and proverbial verve that my eighteen-year-old lack of experience wrapped itself up in Rateliff’s 20-some-odd years of toiling away at his craft and made it my own (or at least listened enviously).
His journey as a solo folk artist struck me as being intensely desolate – a troubadour of the most forlorn ilk, staring calamity in the eye before another woebegone swig of whiskey – and yet Rateliff endured the drudgery, despite never quite meeting the highest of aspirational ends. He was my emotional blueprint for which to embrace my own misfortune, for better or worse.
Nathaniel Rateliff’s open wound of a solo record, In Memory of Loss, connected me to two of my dearest friends (hey Miles and Zach) my freshman year, while the pensive melancholy also led to a serious (oh to be young) break-up – as my then girlfriend failed to recognize the immeasurable bounty and beauty of Rateliff’s sorrow, and subsequently pronounced my admiration to be wallowing, or how Falling Faster Than You Can Run coincided with the death of an old friend.
In short, I suppose what I’m attempting to illustrate here is that Ratefliff’s visceral emotionalism and devastating howling timbre have managed to score a considerable portion of my formative years, and with each subsequent event, my quiet adulation swelled even further. Even still, the adulation was predicated on the thought that through some unfortunate occurrence, Rateliff had still being deprived of the rightful recognition few others and I knew he deserved.
So, when Nathaniel Rateliff and his Night Sweats were announced to headline Ryman Auditorium in support of their eponymous debut, I could not think of any single artist (group) more deserving and better suited to perform at the Mother Church. Granted, it wasn’t Rateliff’s first time on the former Opry stage (he opened for Dr. Dog and the Lumineers back in 2013), it was the first time a sold out Ryman crowd would have come with every intent of seeing him and the Night Sweats rile themselves up into a howling fury and subsequently apportion it with them.
As soon as Rateliff and his band took the stage, they were met with hooting, hollering, and all sorts of caterwauling as they jumped right into “I Need Never Get Old,” and within seconds Rateliff was boot scooting and grooving around the Ryman stage. With a crowd as wiley and enraptured as Rateliff’s was, he was met constantly by “Hell yeahs!” and loud finger whistles as he’d toss his guitar to and fro the front of the stage as he and the Night Sweats assured any doubters (though I’m sure the sold out crowd had few to be seen) that they deserved to cross that stage.
By the time the set slowed down with “Wasting Time,” the once wild crowd reached a reverential hum as Rateliff and co poured out their souls full of harmony and sonder, filling the Mother Church with the sweetest of sounds, and silencing said raucous crowd. Rateliff’s reverence was oddly refreshing to see at the Ryman, namely from a non-country (technically speaking) artist, stopping at any moment charm the pants off the crowd, either voicing his extreme gratitude – “Once again ladies and gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to be here.” – noting how many times they had played Mercy Lounge in Nashville before tonight, or pull back the veil of mystery that is his stage gambol to preface “Shake” – “This next one is a little slower, but my mom taught me how to do the four corners – its this dance she did when she listened to James Taylor.” Then it was right back into the downright tent-revival spiritual feel of the set, crushing the stunning distortion crescendo of “Shake” (a lot of people don’t realize what a whiz Rateliff is with a guitar amp) and smashed a tambourine during the peak of a powerful new track.
Whatever the rate, Rateliff looked to be right at home during any given moment of his and the Night Sweats’ Ryman set, playfully dedicating “Mellow Out” to his wife on the eve of their 8th wedding anniversary, or tempting (and subsequently taunting) and exuberant crowd with the prospect of “covering some stupid shit, like Skynryd.”
As the set came closer to its end (and the expectedly joyous “S.O.B” anthem) Rateliff continued to opine with the greatest of reverence toward the Ryman and those who helped him and the Night Sweats get there that evening – “Sorry to be yapping so much, but this is a hell of a place to be… You’re not just listening to our songs, you’re changing our lives… our families’ lives…. I’ve not come here to lay my sins down on you, I’m here to share my sins with you.”
Not only had Rateliff set the new bar for veneration at the Ryman, but also certified the ascendance of him and the Night Sweats – forever changed from whence I first came across his music my freshman year of college, celebrating his new found success, but forever maintaining the deepest of reverence for the “same sad fucker as always” (sorry mom).