Tyler Childers and his band came onstage before their scheduled time on Monday, November 5 at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland, Oregon and played what’s likely his most widely known song, “Whitehouse Road,” right out of the gate. From there, Childers had the crowd in the palm of his hand, playing tracks from 2017 breakout album Purgatory, songs from his Live on Red Barn Radio releases, some choice covers, and even “a new one we’ve been piddlin’ around with.”
Childers’ popularity has been steadily growing and he’s pouring fuel on the fire, touring like he means it. Just 15 short months ago he made his first trip to Oregon and played the Doug Fir Lounge, capacity 299. Last April, his show at the Wonder Ballroom was filled to its limit of 778 people. This time around, Childers turned the 1500-capacity Crystal Ballroom into a can of sardines.
Speaking of fuel on a fire, Childers’ touring band is rock solid. Craig Burlertic (bass), James Barker (pedal steel, electric guitar), Rodney Elkins (drums), and Jesse Wells (fiddle, electric guitar) form a sonic force field around Childers, adding even more punch to Childers’ already poignant songs. This time around, there was a second drum kit, backed by Miles Miller, the man who first introduced Childers to Purgatory producer and fellow Eastern Kentucky native Sturgill Simpson. Miller plays drums in Simpson’s band, and played drums on Purgatory, so it seemed natural that he was there forming a wall of sound with Elkins and the rest of the band.
Childers fans are diehards that seem to hold their country musical heroes to a certain standard of authenticity. The lyrical pictures Childers paints couldn’t be born of wishful thinking. It’s hard to imagine anyone who’s heard Tyler Childers sing, ask if he’s a real country boy. When he talked, he talked quickly, but showed a fairly confident stage presence. He engaged the crowd with a few stories, including one about a good friend and one too many edibles, before the band played Shel Silverstein’s “I Got Stoned and I Missed It.”
The end of the set featured “Honkytonk Flame” and “Universal Sound.” The band left the stage and Childers performed the lovely ode to his wife, and Purgatory closing track, “Lady May,” and that was that. Childers powerful, emotionally charged songs, delivered through a voice brimful of Appalachian yearning, have garnered a well-deserved following. The kinetic energy he’s creating now is bound to carry him to even greener pastures, and larger venues, down the road.