When country superstar Chris Stapleton stopped by a special FestivALL Charleston edition of Mountain Stage on June 28, 2015, he brought songs from arguably one of country music’s greatest debut albums in recent memory.
His performance – full of polish, genius and passion - foreshadowed the fame and fortune that would soon come for the workhorse Nashville songwriter who had only just begun to build a reputation for his own crowd-pleasing performances as an opening act and at bars, clubs and bluegrass festivals.
Hidden in plain view in Nashville, the well-established songwriter, Stapleton, had by then already written six No.1 hits for other artists like George Strait and Kenny Chesney. He had recently released his game-changing solo album Traveller the previous month. That album on Mercury Records would go to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 charts, win three CMA Awards for “Album of the Year,” “New Artist of the Year,” and “Male Vocalist of the Year” and two Grammys for “Best Country Album” and “Best Country Solo Performance.”
Stapleton came barreling out of the gates like a thoroughbred, with his well-rehearsed studio and touring band that includes his wife Morgane, on her trademark harmony vocals, Robby Turner on steel guitar Derek Mixon, drums, and childhood friend and bandleader, J.T. Cure on bass.
In his introduction, Mountain Stage host and artistic director Larry Groce prophesied exactly what was to happen later that year for Stapleton, who grew up across the Big Sandy River near Paintsville, Kentucky, a day-trip from the show’s hometown of Charleston, W.Va. As a proud son of the region, located along the famed Country Music Highway known for such country stars as Loretta Lynn, Crystal Gayle, Ricky Skaggs, and now Tyler Childers, Stapleton donated money for new band uniforms for his high-school about a year after this performance.
“We’ve had him on once before singing with The SteelDrivers,” Groce said, “The last 15 years he has been one of the most successful songwriters in Nashville, and now he is about to become one of the most successful singers in Nashville.”
Well aware of Stapleton’s long-list of barn burners he wrote and sang with The SteelDrivers, this sold-out and rowdy regional crowd was simply electric with waves of whistles, claps and love hollers as Chris and Morgane poured out some hurtin’ on the honky-tonk ballad “Nobody to Blame.”
“I can tell that a few of you might have bought the record we have out and we appreciate it,” said Stapleton, of the album that would go triple platinum and secure him his first musical appearance on “Saturday Night Live.”
One of the set highlights comes from one of the best road songs written in recent times - the title cut “Traveller,” that Stapleton penned on a cross country trip from Phoenix to Nashville in 2013 after his father passed away.
“I couldn't tell you honey, I don't know/Where I'm going but I've got to go/'Cause every turn reveals some other road/And I'm a traveler, oh, I'm a traveler.”
Stapleton sets up two back-to-back 100 proof musical shots with “Tennessee Whiskey,” and “Drinkin’ Dark Whiskey.” The former, “Tennessee Whiskey,” is the David Allan Coe cover that he would sing later in 2015 on the CMAs with Justin Timberlake, forging a musical friendship that saw the two collaborating on three songs from Timberlake’s last album, including the Top 10 hit “Say Something.”
Stapleton’s hidden secret though is that- while he may look the part - he is far from being just whiskey-bent and lonesome, ornery and mean. Stapleton showcases his lyrical versatility and vulnerability, which make him simply one of the best. No wonder he received the Academy of Country Music’s first ever ACM Artist-Songwriter of the Decade Award in 2019. His talents are at their clearest on the teary-eyed set closer, “Sometimes I Cry.” Shedding his burly biker exterior, Stapleton shows there is no shame in the crying game and that everybody needs to let it go.
“There are days that I can walk around like I'm alright/And I pretend to wear a smile on my face
And I could keep the pain from comin' out of my eyes/But sometimes, sometimes/ Sometimes I cry.”
In today’s world, as strange and troubled as it ever was, that’s a message and song worth repeating.
- Nobody to Blame
- Fire Away
- Tennessee Whiskey
- Drinkin’ Dark Whiskey
- Sometimes I Cry
Chris Stapleton – guitar, lead vocals
Morgan Stapleton – tambourine, backing vocals
Robby Turner – Steel Guitar
Derek Mixon- Drums
Jarrod JT Cure – Bass (band leader)
Recorded June 28, 2015, at The Clay Center Charleston, WV during FestivALL Charleston.