The Great Lawn in Louisville, Kentucky’s Riverfront Park is just that – a sprawling spit of grass turned a crispy gold by August’s unforgiving heat, stretching expansively at the feet of the Ohio River, the view bookended by long bridges. For the 25,000 country fans gathered Friday night for Chris Stapleton and opener Aubrie Sellers, it was a playground, where cowboy boot wearers clutching cold ones swayed, slow danced, and head bobbed to soulful croonings.
Beer and burger lines ran long and the crowd packed in early as Sellers took the stage at dusk, offering covers including The Beach Boys “In My Room,” which appears as a live bonus track on her debut New City Blues, as well as her own “garage country” stylings. The post-Labor-Day show yielded little in the way of summer relief, but despite the hot and humid night, Sellers looked cool, with a smooth and casual demeanor and a blues-rock-country edge. The Nashville native had the already full house grooving as the sun set on the venue.
Stapleton took the stage shortly after dark, to a home state crowd ready to hear him howl. He and his listeners shared common ground: a love of bourbon, which the Staffordsville, KY native mentioned on more than one occasion, and an affinity for a soulful, throaty wail which Stapleton employed with delicate ease throughout the night. His voice is impressively soul-stirring, a talent which Stapleton employs responsibly, picking select moments to let it shine while deferring at others to a more demure croon or growl. Through a set filled with new and old songs and lengthy jams, including a great deal of his solo debut Traveller, Stapleton was in full force, with a performance that would have won over even the most skeptical of listeners, were there any to be found.
“Tennessee Whiskey,” one of the most covered songs this summer, drew rousing cheers and a resounding sing-along from the audience, but album cuts like “When The Stars Come Out” and “Sometimes I Cry” had the crowd mouthing lyrics as well. “Might As Well Get Stoned” resonated as well, and attendees in shirts bearing its lyrics (“since my whiskey’s gone / I might as well get stoned”) passed on occasion on a quest to refill beer cups. “Fire Away” stole breaths with its chorus.
One of the most magical moments of the night came in the encore, when Stapleton re-took the stage alone to perform “Whiskey And You.” For some attendees, the song was a clear favorite, and the artist’s bare and emotionally brutal performance was 100 proof. To close, he followed with “Parachute” and “Traveller,” a duo that had listeners dancing and singing well after he’d exited the stage and they spilled onto downtown Louisville streets.