If you’re into independent country music, you may have noticed a lot of recent Internet chatter about Tyler Childers. The 27-year-old Kentuckian recently released his first full studio effort, Purgatory, and it did remarkably well in the charts for a release by an independent artist. It hit #1 on the Billboard Heatseekers Album chart, #17 on the Billboard Country Albums chart, and #4 on the Americana/Folk chart.
Childers had already garnered a regional following in Kentucky and West Virginia, paying his dues as he’s honed his talents. Now, with a well-crafted studio album, and a stamp of approval from fellow Eastern Kentucky native Sturgill Simpson, Childers appears to be ready for takeoff.
Childers and his live band rode this rising tide of popularity into Portland, Oregon’s Doug Fir Lounge on Tuesday, as they embark on a nation-crossing tour to support the new album. Backed by drums, electric bass, and pedal steel, the instrumentation differed from the album, but the songs lost none of their emotional punch. The songs themselves, and Childers’ voice, are the heroes here, dripping with an authenticity that you just can’t find on modern country radio.
Again, Childers has been doing this for a few years now, and he seemed perfectly comfortable up there belting out tune after tune, focused and determined to give these songs the life they deserve. Childers voice holds a youthful exuberance, but there’s wisdom in the words. There’s an old wise man of the mountain encased in this red-haired country boy.
Childers excused the band from the stage for a portion of the hour-and-a-half long set and delivered a few songs with his acoustic guitar and his crisp, sorrowful voice. “Lady May” and “Nose To The Grindstone” were especially well suited for the solo treatment.
With the band back on stage, Childers led them through a few more songs, including “Honky Tonk Flame.” Mentioning that they’d already played past curfew, the encore break consisted of a marriage proposal (congratulations Johnny and Wendy!) before the band played “White House Road” to close the show. For some reason the house lights didn’t come on, and nobody came to start breaking down equipment, so fans were still screaming for an encore even after Childers had come out though the side-stage door and made his way to the merchandise booth.
Speaking of cheering, I have to mention the audience at the Doug Fir on Tuesday. It was one of the more respectful audiences this music fan has seen in awhile.
Kentucky singer/songwriter Senora May (who I understand is Childer’s wife) was the first of three acts on the bill, and the audience gave her their undivided attention as she played her sweet original folk songs. After each tune, the volume of hoots and hollers were that of an audience three times the size, and May appeared truly humbled by the reception. That’s not to say that the cheers weren’t deserved. Her songs were born in the country, and dripped with their own innocent authenticity.
The audience also responded well to Eddie Berman, the second act on the bill. Berman has a quiver full of well-crafted, lyrical folk songs. Recently having moved his family from California to Portland, he mentioned that he came in peace, and brought his banjo along to prove it. Playing that banjo or an acoustic guitar and singing, he engaged the audience, and even joked that at a show full of Kentuckians, the one doing the yodeling hailed from Southern California. Portland might do well to keep this one around.
Finally, the crowd hung on every note that Childers and his band played, singing along like they’d heard all of these tunes performed a hundred times. Of course it’s impossible to say what will happen down the road, but there’s a good chance that in a couple of years, these same folks will be singing along with Childers in a much larger room, reminiscing about when they saw this guy at the little Doug Fir Lounge. What was evident was that for those in attendance, Purgatory has indeed given them a glimpse of Paradise.