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Nothing stops a memorable night of music from Stapleton

Petco Park, San Diego, March 2, 2024

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

Chris Stapleton is contemporary country music's most soulful singer, so his show is fantastic, no matter what songs from his catalogue he chooses to perform. However, his setlist for this sold-out baseball park show was a cut above recent local appearances, primarily due to his - at times - surprising song choices.

Midway through, Stapleton sang three songs accompanied only by his acoustic guitar. And when we say 'accompanied only by his acoustic guitar,' we must note that Stapleton isn't just any guitarist; he's one of the finest string-benders in the business.

Here, he sang "What Are You Listening To," which goes way back, then the wonderful self-examining "Mountains of My Mind" from his "Higher" album and lastly "Whiskey and You," which he introduced as a song he performed early in his career, to audiences much, much smaller than this stadium. He sang it tonight to remind himself just how far he's come.

This quiet subset was met with hushed reverence, revealing just how much this man's music is respected. As an added bonus, he didn't do any of these three songs the night before. You just have to love a stadium performer with so much setlist flexibility.

Stapleton followed this softer section with "Arkansas," which allowed him to flex his equally strong rock and roll muscles. A Stapleton show is mostly a guitar-y one, although the bluesy "Cold" mixed in more overt keyboard elements.

Stapleton said at the outset, as he usually does, that he wouldn't be talking much - focusing, instead, on playing as much music as possible. However, his between song word count was higher than previous appearances, as he read out loud some of the signs held by patrons in the pit area and even stopped in the middle of "Might as Well Get Stoned" and asked the audience up front to allow a presumably ill or injured patron to exit the pit area before resuming performing.

Turnpike Troubadours preceded Stapleton with a set of strongly traditional country music. It must be said first how it was so heartening to hear real country music in such a large venue.

Lead singer Evan Felker may not be the most charismatic performer – he doesn't move much, and basically just stands and sings the songs – but the group sounded so darn good, he didn't really need to sell it visually.

Fiddler Kyle Nix emerged as the instrumental star player, adding great solos to nearly every song. The group also incorporates steel guitar and banjo into the mix of some songs, which left inclusions that also featured electronic guitar solos, still feeling decidedly country.

You may not think of Turnpike Troubadours as a stadium ready act, but the band proved how country music that is played extremely well can be truly enjoyable – even in a huge ballpark.

Elle King was the wildcard first act on the bill. She's had some well publicized bad publicity incidents recently, which likely made fans wonder if she would show up sober and perform well.

Thankfully, King only had bottled water to drink on stage. She also looked better than ever, appearing fit in black pants and a black top. She sang her own twangy "Tulsa" well, with plenty of swampy grit, and simply nailed a cover of Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty's "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around."

King was all business tonight, which reminded us why we'd fallen in love with her music in the first place.

Although the opening acts would have sounded even better with a volume boost, the sound folks for Stapleton did a great job for his set. This was not your father's outdoor concert. No, this performance sounded as good as any indoor venue. Chris Stapleton's fantastic songs sounded sonically fantastic tonight. Even a little pre-show rain couldn't dampen spirits. Nothing, not even Mother Nature, could have stopped this from being a memorable night of music.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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