Hank Williams, Jr. may not have known who Chris Stapleton was before adding him to his current tour this summer, but the Austin crowd at the Circuit of the Americas Saturday night certainly knew the name of the Grammy-award-winning singer.
At the beginning of the show, the crowd’s roar for Chris Stapleton was much louder than it was for Williams, but that’s probably because most of the people who only wanted to see Stapleton left midway through the show.
When this tour was announced, a lot of people, myself included, wondered why Stapleton was opening for Williams. Sure, Williams has the family name and is the larger celebrity, but at this point in time, why wasn’t Stapleton headlining this tour? And yeah, the two artists are country stars, but one plays Americana-tinged traditional music and came up in a bluegrass band; the other may be most widely-known for singing the theme song to “Monday Night Football.”
Watching the two different performances Saturday night at the Austin 360 Amphitheater felt like experiencing two completely opposite ends of the country music spectrum, each with its different and desired effects. Stapleton proved why he is the hot ticket item in country music at the moment with cuts from his award-winning “Traveller” album, and the 67-year-old Junior showed he still knows how to put on a show.
After a surprise appearance from Wade Bowen to start things off in the rain, Stapleton took the stage and launched straight into “Nobody To Blame.”
Stapleton got an assist from the weather. The constant drizzling rain during Stapeton’s set, combined with the earthy, lived-in sounds of “Outlaw State of Mind” and “Was It 26,” created an intimate setting in the 14,000-capacity amphitheater. When it came time to perform “You Are My Sunshine” under dim stage lighting with his wife Morgane, it felt like sitting around a haunted campfire.
Stapleton ended his set with three of his most popular songs to date, allowing the audience to sing along. The hushed reverence the audience reserved for most of Stapeton’s songs gave way to enthusiastic singing for “Traveller,” “Fire Away” and closer “Tennessee Whiskey,” which set the stage for the party antics of Bocephus a few minutes later.
As Stapleton closed down his show, the rain halted, which signaled a bigger sea change than just a drier climate. Even though this whole affair took place after dark, the difference in the crowd for Hank Jr. was like night and day.
A lot of people booked it out of the stands after Stapleton left, leaving all of Hank’s rowdy friends who clearly came over to COTA to party.
Taking the stage to a mash-up of Hank Williams and Hank Williams, Jr. musical name-drops from everyone from Alan Jackson to Kid Rock, Bocephus started his set off with a cover of Waylon Jennings’ version of “Are You Ready for the Country.”
The fans that remained might have been from a different generation than Stapleton’s fans, but their enthusiasm was just as palpable.
Williams covered a lot of ground in his set, from the aforementioned Waylon Jennings cover to “If Heaven Ain’t a Lot Like Dixie” to fan favorite “A Country Boy Can Survive.”
Where Stapleton’s set felt like a meditative, slow-burning candle, Williams’ show felt like a dynamite blast, bursting with energy and stage banter. They might not have known all the songs, but everybody in the audience was ready to party.
Stapleton let his music do most of the talking for him, but Williams spoke freely to the crowd, regaling them with stories of his father’s musical heritage, often launching into cover songs from that era.
He imitated his late father’s voice to a T on “Lovesick Blues,” treated the crowd to a jam session that included “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “There’s a Tear in My Beer” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and included the ode to his father that he performed with the late Waylon Jennings, “The Conversation.”
At times it felt like Williams relied too heavily on jam sessions, medleys (which seemed rushed and haphazard at times) and covers of his father’s songs, but when his father is one of the greatest country artists to ever live, can you blame him?
Plus, Williams made it clear that he doesn’t care what people think about him anyway.
“I’m gonna play where I want to, when I want to, with who I want to, for who I want to, and I’m spoiled because I’ve got the most loyal fans in the business,” he said towards the end of his show.
The night ended with “Family Tradition,” where the famous chorus goes “Why must you live out the songs that you wrote?/Stop and think it over, try and put yourself in my unique position/If I get stoned and sing all night long, it’s a family tradition!”
For Williams, the biggest family tradition is performing, and he certainly carried that tradition proudly. And while at first it seemed odd to have him and Stapleton on the same bill, by the end of the night, it became clear that subverting expectations was another part of the Williams Family Tradition as well.
“God Bless This Town”
“A Battle Won”
“Sun Shines on a Dreamer”
“Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone”/”Mood Ring” medley
“Nobody to Blame”
“I Ain’t Living Long Like This” (Waylon Jennings cover)
“Outlaw State of Mind”
“Midnight Train to Memphis” (Originally by The SteelDrivers, Stapleton’s old band)
“Was It 26”
“Might As Well Get Stoned”
“You Are My Sunshine”
“Devil Named Music”
Hank Williams, Jr.
“Are You Ready for the Country” (Waylon Jennings cover)
“If Heaven Ain’t a Lot Like Dixie”
“Move It On Over/Mind Your Own Business” medley
“Just Call Me Hank”
“Keep the Change”
“All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight”
“Kaw-Liga” (Hank Williams cover)
“Your Cheatin’ Heart/Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” medley (Hank Williams/Jerry Lee Lewis cover)
“There’s A Tear In My Beer” (Hank Williams cover)
“All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down)”
“Dukes of Hazzard” theme song/”Walk the Line” (Waylon Jennings/Johnny Cash cover)
“Lovesick Blues” (Hank Williams cover)
“A Country Boy Can Survive”
“Born to Boogie”
“Family Tradition”/”Hey Good Lookin'” medley (Hank Williams cover)