On Friday night, August 9, 2019, there probably wasn’t a stage anywhere in the world with more talent on it than the stage of New Jersey’s PNC Bank Arts Center, where Chris Stapleton headlined, with Margo Price and the Marcus King Band as openers.
Stapleton has created his own lane, and it’s a lane that’s unique in country music and any other genre of music, for that matter. He’s a songwriter for other artists (Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, and Thomas Rhett are among the artists who have recorded his songs); he’s also a great interpreter of songs by other artists. He’s an alumnus of a bluegrass band (the Steeldrivers) who plays raging, Neil Y0ung-style electric guitar. Pop stars love to collaborate with him (he’s done songs with Justin Timberlake, Pink, Ed Sheeran and Bruno Mars), but rock and rollers love him too (he’s opened for Guns N Roses and played at high-profile tribute concerts to legends John Lennon and Chris Cornell).
The singer, the songwriter, the guitarist, the performer, the song interpreter, the collaborator; they were all on display at Stapleton’s show. He played his edgy, loud guitar rock jams: “Second One To Know” opened the show, while his rock update on his Steeldrivers classic, “Midnight Train To Memphis” closed. But you could hear a pin drop (minus a few drunken hollers) during the quiet ballad “Whiskey And You.” “Might As Well Get Stoned,” “Traveller” and “Fire Away” inspired huge sing-alongs, the type that most artists would sell their guitar collection for. And his covers – “Tennessee Whiskey” (previously recorded by David Allen Coe and George Jones) and “Millionaire” (previously recorded by soul legend Solomon Burke) are as beloved as Stapleton’s own compostions. A new song, “Minimum Wage,” showed that there’s still gas in the tank.
Another cover, a song called “Friendship” (originally recorded by Pops Staples of the Staple Singers) featured his opening acts, Margo Price and Marcus King, a great moment that pointed out that the support acts were there by Stapleton’s choice. He could have relegated them to singing backup, but they performed the song as a trio, with both Stapleton and King taking guitar solos (a move which pointed out their distinctly different playing styles). Price and King both played their own sets to very enthusiastic responses – but many may have missed them due to the hellish Jersey traffic (the Arts Center is on the same highway that everyone takes to get to the Jersey Shore) or extra long tailgating. It’s fair to say that both artists pulled in new fans from both their opening sets and their collaboaration with the headliner.