What a lovely feeling it is when you adore the leader of your movement. Not in the grandiose “Supreme Leader” sense, but rather the whole “I have faith that this person is the best person to lead us onward and upward.” So, thinly veiled political allegory aside, when it comes to the stalwarts of country music, there few others more fit to lead the next “wave” than Kelsey Waldon.
You’re likely well acquainted with the country singer from Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky by this point, as her 2016 release I’ve Got A Way was one of the finest to drop last year. She’s long been identified as one of the country “upstarts,” “futures,” “bastions of hope,” “outlaw rookies,” etc. Regardless of which descriptor serves Waldon best in your mind, what really matters is that all of it is more than well warranted.
So, when Waldon made her way back into town this past Sunday, it made sense that The Basement would be teeming with folks trying to catch a glimpse of Waldon’s superb live set. Following a raucous couple of opening sets from Truckstop Waterfall and Tyler Childers, Waldon and her band opened up with I’ve Got A Way opener, “Dirty Old Town.” It didn’t take long for Waldon’s players to showcase their chops, as the song is prime honky tonk stock.
It should be noted, for Waldon’s relative youth, I’ve Got A Way is not the singer’s first foray into the full-length recorded world. The set featured many a song from Waldon’s previous efforts, The Goldmine and Anchor in the Valley. While I’ve Got A Way is magnificent in its own right, the highlight single of the set was undoubtedly “Not My First Time,” from The Goldmine.
Taking a moment to make a humorous preface of the song – “This next song is not really about what it sounds like its about, but it kind of is. My mom doesn’t like to hear it, so sorry mom. Well, actually, my mom’s not here.” The song itself is a country ballad wonder. Its equal parts George Jones opine meets Dolly Parton heartbreak. Waldon sings of sharing an intimate first “experience” for the first time with someone, but not in the puritanical sense (if you catch my drift). Anyway, the song is – in my opinion – one of the most heart sinkingly beautiful country songs to come out in the past five years, and Waldon’s live rendition cuts to the core.
That’s pretty indicative of all of Waldon’s live set, actually. She manages to keep everyone in attendance involved and invigorated in a number of ways. There’s the music first and foremost, which is virtually impossible not to get caught up in its splendor, and then there’s her band. That band is something special – world class players at Waldon’s behest.
But perhaps the most beguiling and simultaneously subtle aspect of Waldon’s live sets is Waldon’s ability to front a performance. There’s hardly any moment where Waldon doesn’t look like she’s enjoying herself immensely on stage. She’ll scan the crowd slowly but surely mid song, smiling and nodding at anyone and everyone, creating a sense of intimacy between just Waldon and the recipient of her enchanting gaze. All in all, while Waldon’s country music prowess should continue to be celebrated, her abilities as an engaging performer deserve more attention.
All that to be said, there were high expectations going into set at The Basement, and on Sunday, she all but smashed any expectation. With her songs and two exquisite covers of Bill Monroe and Vern Gosdin, respectively, Waldon’s performance set an incredibly high bar for future country shows in 2017. Everything seems poised to continue coming up aces for Waldon, and its with great hope that they do. Needless to say, the country music “youngbloods” are in good hands with Waldon as one of the torchbearers.