After years of penning others’ hits, singer, songwriter and guitarist Chris Stapleton took the country and Americana scenes by storm in 2015 with his multi-platinum, Grammy-winning debut Traveller. Since then the Kentucky native has gone from strength to strength, releasing the follow-up From a Room: Volume 1 earlier this year to great success, and hitting the road with his “All-American Road Show” tour in preparation for the companion release of Volume 2 on December 1. In the midst of another banner year for the now superstar artist, we were thrilled to host him and his crack band on the ACL stage for the first time.
The singer/guitarist took the stage with drummer Derek Mixon, bassist J.T Cure and his wife and fellow traveler, singer Morgane Stapleton, and wasted no time launching into the bluesy groove of “Might As Well Get Stoned,” showcasing both his stinging guitar and blowtorch soul. Stapleton hit the honky-tonk for “Nobody to Blame” and the ballad box for “Broken Halos.” He then unveiled “Hard Livin’,” a new song from the upcoming Volume 2 that revived classic 70s country rock for the twenty-first century. It was back to Volume 1 for the stoner anthem “Them Stems,” before another brand new tune: the choogling “Tryin’ to Untangle My Mind,” which, from the crowd’s reaction, is destined to be his next hit. Stapleton then really let it all ride, singing the bluesy ballad “I Was Wrong” with raw hurt. He then stripped down musically, dismissing the band and wielding an acoustic guitar to reclaim the Traveller gem “Whiskey and You,” formerly a hit for both Tim McGraw and Jason Eady.
Cure and Mixon returned as Stapleton explained that he wrote “The Devil Named Music” while he fronted the bluegrass band the SteelDrivers. The classic road dog ballad sounded right at home in its current electric arrangement, highlighted by its guitar solo. Gifted vocalist Morgane returned for “Outlaw State of Mind,” a swampy tune that mixed Creedence Clearwater Revival with the 70s country of its title. The song ended in a shriek of feedback that served as a bridge to “Death Row,” a crawl through the heart of darkness. The black clouds parted, however, with “Traveller,” the title track hit from his breakthrough debut and a song that elicited immediate screams from the audience. The Stapletons wrapped their voices around each other for the romantic affirmation “Fire Away,” the couple’s harmony showing in both voice and intimate glances. Things got a little crunchier for “Second One to Know,” a Volume 1 corker that unabashedly rocked.
Stapleton ended the set with another hit. “Tennessee Whiskey” has been recorded by David Allan Coe and George Jones before Stapleton wrapped his pipes around it, but his version keeps the honky-tonk balladry and adds a dollop of southern-fried soul. The band left the stage to rapturous applause, but of course it wasn’t over. Stapleton and company returned to a thunderous reception. “What a treat to play Austin City Limits – I guess I’ll have to find a new dream,” he declared before crooning the delicate breakup tune “Either Way” solo acoustic. The band returned for closer “Sometimes I Cry,” a slow blues burn that pushed his full-throated rasp to its limits. It ended a sharp, powerful set, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs early next year as part of our Season 43 on your local PBS station.