Nashville’s Mother Church of country music was the scene of another set of dreams come true Saturday night as Whitey Morgan and the 78’s headlined the Ryman Auditorium for the first time, bringing along with them Alex Williams and Tennessee Jet in support.
Fans converged on Broadway starting early Saturday morning, anxiously awaiting the show. An official meet up was held at Roberts Western World where many congregated throughout the day in the shadow of the legendary Ryman. Nudies Honky Tonk was also a popular stop for those waiting for the show as Cody “Cooder” Bennett was playing onstage over there throughout the day.
As the hot summer day leaned towards the evening time the anticipation in the area began to buzz. More and more fans made their way into the alley between the Broadway bars and the Mother Church, many visiting friends and meeting new ones for the first time. A line started to form out front of the Ryman, and folks started filing in and staging to enter the historic venue. The excitement in the air was raw and real. Everyone knew we were in for something special. This wasn’t just another night, another town, another show. This one was going to be special.
Tennessee Jet kicked off the show with his one man honky tonk band solo performance. His deep songwriting was on display as his set started with himself, an acoustic guitar, and a harmonica. The crowd sat in respectful silence as Jet stood down in the spotlight, pouring his soul into his songs. A guitar change signaled a change of pace as he strapped on his red Harmony electric, grabbed a drumstick, and prepared set out to wow the crowd.
Jet’s latest single, a cover of “Waymore’s Blues” featuring Cody Jinks, is an ambitious take on the old classic. “It sounds like Waylon on acid” remarked Jinks to Jet after hearing it the first time. The song is nothing short of a spectacle live, as Jet plays the guitar with his left hand, a snare drum with the right hand, and kicks a bass drum with his left foot. The rowdy, ferocious tune sent chills of electricity through the Ryman crowd leaving many in awe of just how badass it was. His set also featured a rousing singalong to the iconic “I Saw The Light” that elicited a thunderous ovation from the crowd. Jet finished his set back on his acoustic guitar, and left the stage to a standing ovation for his efforts.
Up next on the bill was the badass Alex Williams with his full band. They came out like a ball of fire, their intensity and excitement undeniable. The band rolled off song after song, a mixture of numbers from his 2017 album “Better Than Myself” and new one’s he’s got for a new album. The crowd popped for numbers like the rowdy “Little Too Stoned” and watched in quiet awe for the deep “Old Tattoo”.
Speaking with Alex before the event I asked about how excited he was. Fighting through the grin on his face he said “It’s gonna be badass, man. It’s an honor to be a part of something that Whitey has definitely earned.” And while Alex has played on the Grand Ole Opry, he didn’t play during
the November/December/January months when the show returns to its Ryman roots, so it was truly a first time experience for him. Talking about his reaction to the news Alex laughed, saying “I thought it was fake at first. My booker shot me a call, and then I got a confirmation from Whitey. I was playing an acoustic show and he was like ‘Hey, wanna play the Ryman?’ and that’s when I knew it was real.”
Williams and company made the most of their opportunity on the Ryman stage, laying it all out playing a set of fire ass hot honky tonk music that left the crowd cheering in appreciation as they left the stage, smiles on their faces.
That left just the evening’s main event to come. The hard edge honky tonk band fronted by the man from Flint, Michigan himself Whitey Morgan and the 78’s. They strode onto the stage as the room began to buzz. Whitey taking a drink gave a quick wave to the crowd, and then turned around counting the band off, and away they flew. The intensity and excitement on display was apparent right from the start. Kicking off with “Me and the Whiskey” they wasted no time turning the Ryman crowd on their head and bathing them in one of the best shows they’ve ever played.
It was another special moment for this outsiders movement in country music, seeing some of the good guys, guys who have spent years and years playing every dive and room with a neon light in this country have a career highlight triumph gracing one of the most prestigious stages in country music. Several times throughout the night Whitey stopped and thanked the crowd for coming out to see the big moment for him and the boys, to which the crowd roared back a thanks of their own, a little louder each time.
Whitey and the boys kept the tunes flowing, including new ones from the upcoming “Hard Times and White Lines” album, playing the first single “Honky Tonk Hell”, and what Whitey said may be his favorite off the new album “Around Here”. (And I’ll tell you already, friends, that is a song we’re gonna be talking about deep in December as a candidate for Song Of The Year. It really is that damn good.) Even though Tennessee Jet had played it earlier in the night, Whitey and the band played their own version of “Waymore’s Blues”, turning it into a badass jam where they all take turns treading licks and loving every moment of what they do.
Towards the middle of the show Whitey stopped between songs to address the crowd, thanking them once again, but he also stopped to talk a little about what it all meant to him, saying “I’ve been coming to this town for years and for a long time no one gave a shit. But you know what? Now we’re winning.” As the crowd roared in approval Whitey kicked off the next song and sent the audience into an even more rowdy frenzy.
It was the perfect summarization for this event. With the likes of Whitey, Cody Jinks, Jason Isbell, Tyler Childers, Margo Price and others all headlining dates at the Ryman it has become a symbol of victory in a battle for honest country music. The Ryman is an honest country oasis in a part of town that has lost sight of true country music. So much of the history of country music lives in that building. It means so much to so many. Whitey himself spent Saturday afternoon just walking around through the pews, taking it all in. In an era of trying to get noticed against the mainstream of country music, headlining a date at the Ryman truly does mean something, and that certainly was not lost on brother Whitey, or anyone else who graced that stage this past weekend.
As the show wound down Whitey moved on to playing “Fire On The Mountain”, a song that is one of his favorites that they play almost every night. At the end of the song Whitey removed his guitar, saluted the crowd, and walked off as the band kept playing. The crowd wasn’t near ready for the night to end, however, and Whitey and the boys didn’t seem to be, either, as they strode back out after a moment, launching into the crowd-favorite hard rocking honky tonk song “Sinner”. Several fans exited the pews and crowded towards the stage in an effort to bask in the honky tonk badassery taking place, and the band did not disappoint. The Townes Van Zant penned “Waiting Around To Die” closed out the evening as once again Whitey waved appreciatively to the crowd, thanking them all for coming out. The standing ovation and roar of the crowd didn’t stop as the band left the stage. Even after the curtain of the stage closed the raucous reaction remained.
This was without exaggeration one of the best shows I have ever seen. Top to bottom. This was a badass night with a bunch of guys who were playing a show that meant the world to them. It was apparent in each performance on the night. The excitement was at a feverish pitch before the doors even opened, and it never let up at any point during the night either on the stage or in the pews. It was another momentous victory for the good guys, and for real, honest country music. It was a show that even just a couple years ago seemed impossible. Last fall speaking of his own headlining dates there Cody Jinks said “There were a lot of years that I didn’t think they’d ever even let me in the building.” But the tide is turning. The years of hard work and struggle for these artists and bands are paying off with nights like this. And for we as fans who have spent years following, supporting, and loving them the way we do it is special for us as well.
“Now we’re winning.”
That we are, Whitey. That we are.