Last weekend I had the pleasure of seeing Joshua Hedley at Dukes Indy, my local Lone Star filled watering hole, in a show that had been on the schedule for months, nearly one of the first announced by the honky tonk joint. I purchased my tickets months in advance in anticipation of the show after several spins of his debut album “Mr. Jukebox” earlier this year.
The album is one of the stronger offerings of this year, a rich blend of traditional country music stylings with a certain amount of modern touch to keep them from seeming to be little more than a throwback tribute. It’s a fresh approach to a classic sophisticated sound that holds enough of it’s own edge to not turn too mellow and get lost in it’s own production. Hedley’s voice shines through starkly as he croons on “Let’s Take A Vacation”, showing a true finesse that coincides with the tracks mellow tunes. Later on there is an undeniable honky tonk swing on “Let Them Talk”, a song that you could almost envision the great Ernest Tubb stopping to tap a toe to. The lone cover on the album is a wonderful rendition of the classic “When You Wish Upon A Star” and Hedley manages to breathe an entirely new life into the decades old iconic tune. There are times it almost feels like it’s your first time hearing the song, and that is a wonderful quality.
It’s the album’s deeper offerings where it truly shines through, however. “Weird Thought Thinker” is an especially well written number in which Hedley stakes his claim on who he is and what you can expect of him, all while being able to relate to it as you listen. The title track “Mr. Jukebox” is a straight up honky tonk number, telling the story of an old jukebox that can play any number of songs to fit any number of situations. “These Walls” is yet another quality offering from the track, telling a story of a bar Hedley frequented before it closed for good.
Yes, to say I was excited to see this show after hearing this incredible album would be an understatement.
And it doesn’t seem that I was the only one as one of the venue’s biggest crowds came out to take in the Friday night show.
Backed up by a 4 piece band behind him Hedley took the stage to the excitement of the crowd, and the band immediately started into their own material. Hedley’s excitement for the show was evident from the start as his grin gave him away. The band was on point and seemed very well rehearsed, firing off the tracks from the album mimicking their sound with an impressive precision while maintaining a spontaneous energy that kept the crowd hanging on every chord. Hedley went back and forth between the guitar and the fiddle, blending an incredible sound with the band behind him.
During the middle of the set Hedley gave the band a break and informed the crowd he was having a good time, and he didn’t plan to stop any time soon. “I’m going to play a lot longer than you all want me to,” he told the crowd, who showered him in approval. During his acoustic set he took some requests from the crowd, shying away from none of them. The finely styled troubadour held the audience in the palm of his hand, eagerly awaiting each next song, whatever it happened to be. The energy in the room and from the stage never waned a bit during the acoustic set, and a special buzz began to permeate the room.
The band was re-introduced and the break, that Hedley himself admitted was extended beyond what they normally do, had no ill effects as they picked right back up where they left off, ticking off song after song with immeasurable excellence. As the set neared it’s two hour mark Hedley again informed the crowd that he was gonna be up there as long as there was someone to listen. After performing “When You Wish Upon A Star” with just his guitar player the band exited the stage, and the night kicked into overdrive. A full night’s set usually wears on those on stage, but Hedley didn’t seem phased in the least, and even kicked into another gear, a rowdy intensity now apparent. Again, he started asking for requests, and filling them as they came.
“All My Friends Are Gonna Be Strangers!” came one from the crowd. “Done,” answered Josh who promptly played the tune that was Merle Haggard’s first top 10 hit. It wasn’t all about requests, though, Hedley dug deep into his database of songs playing several deep cuts, including a Tom T. Hall song entitled “No New Friends” that he said he once played for Hall’s good friend Bobby Bare (Yes, that Bobby Bare, just in case anyone was wondering) to which Bare replied “I’ve never heard that song before”.
For over an hour Hedley stood up there, singing song after song after song, explaining why each one was worth singing. Many in the crowd started to tap out and pay their tabs, but as the crowd shrank it became even more special. Those who stayed experienced something, truly experienced something. Something magic. An incredible bond filled the room as a man who loves to sing songs played his heart out and his ass off to a crowd who loves to listen to songs. He proved beyond a shadow of any doubt that “Mr. Jukebox” is more than just the title of an album, or a catchy nickname. He made it his identity. He lived up to the billing and exceeded it in every way.
This life I lead (or the life that leads me, as it may be) allows me to see a lot of shows. I’ve seen enough to know that they aren’t always special. Sometimes they are just another night in just another room.
But the 14th of September was not just another night in just another room. That was the night Josh Hedley gave us one of the best shows we could have asked for. If I had to sit here right now and name the top 5 shows I’ve ever been to it would very likely be a part of that list. It made me even more a fan of the man, and I can only wish upon a star (Anyone see what I did there?) that all the rest of you that weren’t there that night get to someday experience it on your own.
For upcoming dates, to get that badass album, and keep up with Mr. Jukebox himself head on over to joshuahedley.com/ now!