At some point whilst pontificating and ruminating the best way to approach Kelsey Waldon’s set at Exit/In this past Friday, I thought it might be interesting to utilize Sunday night’s Grammy Awards as a point of reference for anecdotal aside and topical references. Granted, while that might serve as a click-worthy endeavor, it would ultimately be an utter and complete disservice to Ms. Waldon and her excellent players in the name of momentary “blog-ability.”
Fortunately, the urge to create clickbait subsides just as quickly as it arises (if one doesn’t act on impulse), and instead of pulling from a single night that operates under the facade of representing the whole of music (seriously!?), I figured it would be of more interest to examine the microcosm of what took place at Exit/In this past Friday.
Waldon landed in the opening slot for a bill that touted three of Nashville’s most invigorating artists - the other two being Leah Blevins and Devon Gilfillian. Anyway, to some, the trio might be viewed as “new,” or “unknowns,” but to the informed (and those present Friday night), they’re three artists who had worked tirelessly cutting their teeth in the (at times) slog of Nashville’s perpetual rising.
In the constant swirl of buzzy artists out of Nashville, artists will be championed at one moment by the likes of Rolling Stone Country and American Songwriter, only to be forgotten well within the same year they breached the periodical reading masses. That’s not a dig at RS or AS - they both serve incredibly important roles within Nashville and the greater music community by serving artists by introducing them on a larger scale - but sometimes, that brief taste can warp one’s path.
Unlike those who seem to come and go, Waldon has done quite the opposite, she arrived on the scene and has plugged and plucked her way into the abiding consciousness of Nashville and the “next wave” of country music (whatever that looks like). That’s certainly no small feat, and it’s apparent that Waldon has no intention of falling by the wayside (then again, does anyone ever really have such desires?).
She’s been on one heck of a long leg in support of her magnificent 2016 release, I’ve Got A Way, and somehow managed to squeeze in writing and recording for the follow-up. Not to mention the album that preceded I’ve Got A Way, The Goldmine, has future classic written all over it. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that Waldon’s career-to-date is nothing short of a supremely professional effort. If ever there were an artist to emulate, Waldon would definitely be at the top of the list.
So, that somehow segues into the Exit/In show this past Friday. Not being much of a musician myself, I can’t speak toward any sort of conception of being the opening band. Sure, groups like Blank Range and Bahamas have written some fine interpretations, but obviously, no two interpretation are the same (or so once would assume). The generalization would be that an opener might feel slighted in some way having to kick off the show, but not Waldon. She and her band - Mike Kalil, Alec Newman, and Nate Felty - came out as tight and as in-tune as you’d expect. While running through cuts off of both I’ve Got A Way and The Goldmine, there were moments where you realize the unique caliber of Waldon’s live set.
On paper, one would likely classify Waldon’s music somewhere in the realm of country, and many would probably leave it at that. Well, that’s all well and good, but if a truly concerted effort is made while listening, you’re likely to notice that aspects of Waldon’s music and her band’s live sets seem to feature more soul music than initially thought. Not necessarily soul music in the sense of James Brown or Tina Turner, but more blues-leaning, restrained soul, someone along the lines of Bill Withers. Granted, Waldon and her band actually covered Withers’ “Heartbreak Road,” but that only serves as further evidence to Waldon’s nuanced live sound.
Ultimately, there are plenty of aspects of Waldon’s oeuvre that merit plenty of admiring and rapturous writing, but at its core, what matter most is that Waldon is a local artist of quality repute (along with Leah Blevins and Devon Gilfillian). If ever you find yourself in a situation where seeing Waldon’s live set is an option, let this recap, write-up, whatever you want to call it serve as a glowing endorsement.