Sturgill Simpson’s forward-thinking tradition

Country singer Sturgill Simpson is exactly the kind of artist we like on Austin City Limits: mindful of tradition but with a forward-thinking attitude. Inspired equally by Waylon Jennings and Carl Sagan, the Nashville-based Kentucky native makes hardcore country that comes from another place, as his acclaimed breakthrough LP Metamodern Sounds in Country Music proves.  Aaron Taylor, one of our live stream viewers on YouTube, remarked, “No boots like a fake cowboy, no cowboy hat, just pure country.” So we were thrilled to welcome the recent Atlantic Records signee to his debut ACL.

Simpson and his four-piece band wasted no time once they hit the stage, launching into “Sitting Here Without You,” a high-speed burner with plenty of room for skillet-licking guitarist Laur Joamets to shine. Indeed, Simpson often featured Joamets’ picking, letting the Estonian native rip through the trucking “Long White Line,” the hot-rocking “Life of Sin” and the bluegrass-blazing Ralph Stanley cover “Poor Rambler,” on which Simpson traded licks with his lead guitarist. “Found myself stomping my floorboard,” exclaimed theoskeewhoat on our YouTube live stream. As happy as he was to showcase his band, though, Simpson ultimately is about songs, and he has plenty of good ones. From the philosophical “Time After All” and “Water in a Well” and the angry “Some Days” to the romantic cover of synthpop band When in Rome’s “The Promise” and the pitch-black “Living the Dream,” Simpson gave a masterful performance. He and his band closed the main set with the back-to-back killers “Turtles (All the Way Down” and “It Ain’t All Flowers,” which started honkytonkin’ and ended rockin’.

Of course, it wasn’t quite over, as the audience didn’t want the band to leave. Simpson paid tribute to the outlaw country scene that inspires him with a cover of “I’d Have to Be Crazy” by Austin cosmic cowboy Steven Fromholz, before digging into the repertoire of his old band Sunday Valley for a ripping take on the Osborne Brothers’ “Listening to the Rain,” which incorporated T.Rex’s “The Motivator.” With that, Simpson brought down the house, leaving the crowd wanting more. “Hard to believe how absolutely great Sturgill is!” enthused Chris Durand on our Facebook page. It was a great show and a strong debut, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs on PBS this Fall.