Celebrating Sobriety and Song: A Concert Review of Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Better Late Than Never

How long do you have after a concert to write a decent concert review? Hopefully it’s about one month because that’s how long it’s been since I saw Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. The concert took place on February 6th at the Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric in Baltimore. Despite the amount of time that’s passed since then, I think I can still write a post that will do the performance justice.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (Photo courtesy of nodepression.com)

In my holy trinity of songwriters, Jason Isbell sits beside Leonard Cohen and John Prine. As a songwriter, few people are able to tap into such a wide range of emotions like Jason Isbell. With songs like “Last of My Kind” and “Cover Me Up,” Jason knows how to articulate the feelings of loneliness, love, and vulnerability perfectly.  I’m not the only person who feels this way- his latest album, The Nashville Sound, was featured on numerous “best albums of 2017” lists (both official and unofficial lists).  Oh !And the album won the Grammy for Best Americana Album just a couple of weeks before the concert. He performed just about every song from this album that night-  “Cumberland Gap,” “Hope the High Road,” “Last of My Kind” (I’m not crying, there’s something in my eye), “Chaos and Clothes,” “White Man’s World,” (the politically charged song we need now more than ever) “Molotov,” “Tupelo,” and a song that I relate to all too well, “Anxiety.” During the encore, he sang a Drive-By Truckers song and “If We Were Vampires,” for which he had also just won the Grammy for Best American Roots Song. The only song from The Nashville Sound that he didn’t sing that night was “Something to Love.” As someone who absolutely loved The Nashville Sound, it was great getting to watch the band perform these songs live.

In addition to his songs with the 400 Unit, Jason also played some songs from his solo albums Southeastern and Something More Than Free. Songs like “24 Frames,” “Stockholm,” and “Something More Than Free.”

A Song of Love and Sobriety 

While his wife, Amanda Shires, who is the fiddler for the 400 Unit, isn’t always at the shows with the rest of the band (she has her own solo career- check her out!), I had the good fortune of seeing her perform that night. One of the highlights of that show was watching Jason sing the love song that he wrote for her, “Cover Me Up,” to her. The rest of the band left the stage for the occasion leaving Jason and Amanda on stage for an intimate performance. I realize how lucky all of us at the show in Baltimore were that night to have Amanda there and to be able to witness this expression of love.

Before the show, my friend that went with me brought up the fact that Tuesday was Jason’s six year anniversary of being sober. Amanda also pointed this out before he sang “Cover Me Up.” I needn’t tell you how moving it was to hear Jason sing the line “but I sobered up and I swore off that stuff, forever this time during “Cover Me Up.” After that line, the whole place applauded in support of Jason’s accomplishment. Thank you Jason for letting all of us at the Modell Lyric join you in celebrating six years of sobriety!

“A heart on the run keeps a hand on the gun
You can’t trust anyone
I was so sure what I needed was more
Tried to shoot out the sun
Days when we raged, we flew off the page
Such damage was done
But I made it through, ’cause somebody knew
I was meant for someone”

Not to criticize Jason, because I would never, but I was upset that he didn’t sing “Elephant“- I was prepared for a good, cathartic cry. I had checked out the set lists of his shows beforehand and saw that he had been including “Elephant” some nights so I thought maybe I’d get to see him perform it. Oh well! From my research, I knew that he wasn’t performing my favorite song of his, “Traveling Alone,” on this tour. That was probably for the best as I most likely would have been inconsolable if he had and nobody, I mean NOBODY, wants to see that!

Concerts on Concerts on Concerts

Since we’re on the topic, I’ll take the time now to talk about some upcoming shows that I’m going to (*) or are interested in seeing:

*3/15– Shane Smith and the Saints (song to check out: “All I See Is You“)
3/16– Nefesh Mountain- a Jewish bluegrass group (yep, you read that right)
*3/23– Lee Ann Womack (song to check out: “All The Trouble“)
*4/7– Colter Wall (that voice though)
*5/23– Margo Price at the Ryman Auditorium-I impulsively bought tickets to see Margo at the Mother Church of Country Music (with Colter Wall opening) and am still debating actually going (it would also be two days before the opening of the new Outlaws & Armadillos exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum so I’m thinking about making a couple days out of it and sticking around to see the exhibit. And I can always use an excuse to go to Nashville!)
6/1– Margo Price and John Prine
10/13– Chris Stapleton, Marty Stuart, and Brent Cobb

If you’re gonna be at any of these shows or are interested in attending any of these, holler!

The Life I’m Choosing 

Are you living the life you chose? Are you living the life that chose you?” asked Jason Isbell as his concert that night. If my life consists of seeing incredible musicians in concert like Jason Isbell and the others mentioned above, then yes, I am living the life I chose, and it’s a great one!

Currently listening to: Bobby Bare- “Streets of Baltimore.” Because it’s the greatest song about Baltimore I know!


New Year, New Music, New Me

Happy Almost 2018, y’all! This post is coming to ya from Nashville where I’ll be celebrating New Year’s Eve!

Be sure to grab your popcorn, hot cocoa, or whiskey (no judgement), and get ready for a long post! Enjoy! 

The Good, The Bad, and the 2017

It’s no secret that 2017 sucked in a lot of ways- Donald Trump was inaugurated and allowed to make decisions that affect our lives, we lost Tom Petty, Don Williams, and Troy Gentry, Donald J. Trump became president, hurricanes devastated Puerto Rico and American cities like Houston, and Donald Trump moved into the White House. BUUTTTTT, this year hasn’t been all bad, especially since this is the year that I really found myself, musically speaking.

When I think about my taste in music and (lack of) knowledge of country music at the beginning of 2017 compared to the end of 2017, it’s like comparing night and day. In the latter half of this year, I really found my musical niche and refined my musical interests. I have this blog to thank for that. Had I not started writing this blog back in June, I’m not sure that I would’ve ever found some of my now favorite artists. I also never knew that I was a fan of Americana music and find myself identifying with the music from this genre more than any other these days. When I finally learned about Americana and all of the artists that are a part of the Americana family, everything clicked into place- this was the musical home I had been searching for. This is where I belonged.

2017 Finds 

While some bloggers have been making their top albums/songs lists for 2017, I didn’t want to do that. Since so much of the music I found this year has been around for a while, only focusing on the stuff from 2017 would be silly. Instead, I’m gonna focus on all of the great artists who came into my life this year.

Have you ever met someone and felt like you’ve known them your entire life? You wonder how you two went so long without meeting and now that you’ve met, you know you’ll be friends for life. Well that’s how I feel about some of the musical artists I discovered this year. I think about how much better my life would’ve been with their songs to guide me through years ago. But instead of dwelling on the past and missed years, I’ll vow to keep playing their music for the rest of my life. This includes artists like Margo Price. She has been one of my greatest finds of 2017. I’ll do an essay on her later (inspired by the book Woman Walk the Line: How the Women in Country Music Changed Our Lives), where I’ll dive deeper into how much of an inspiration she has been to me. Just as I had fallen in love with her first album, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, she released her sophomore album, All American Made in October of this year. What I love about Margo, and her most recent album in particular, is that she sings about political issues like the pay gap and the Iran-Contra Scandal (throwback to the Reagan years!). She’s outspoken about her political views and doesn’t care about losing fans because of it. The world could use more Margos and country music needs more Margos!

Even though I already knew Sturgill Simpson before this year, I didn’t really know him. One day I felt compelled to listen to A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. The rest was history. In just six short months, I managed to fall in love with and immerse myself in Sturgill’s music, see him in concert, and purchase all of his albums on vinyl. In fact, he was my top played artist of 2017, according to Spotify. If you’ve talked to me at all these past few months, I’ve probably manged to name drop him at least once. Hopefully you all were listening to me and then decided to check out “The Sturge” for yourself! What I love about him is that he makes a record when he has something to say, not just to stay relevant. He wants to make records that people will still be playing 30 years from now. You don’t make records that stand the test of time by putting out album after album with nothing of substance on them. And if I have to wait ten years for another Sturgill Simpson record, I’m happy to do it. It’ll probably be the best damn album of all time!

“I’m just trying to constantly improve and become a better artist and then hopefully make records that people—I mean it’s great if they buy them today—but I’m more interested in making records that maybe people will still talk about in 30 years. That’s the goal for me. You can go crazy if you let yourself think, “How do I remain relevant?” or you can just go and try to make great music and the fans will react to it and it takes care of itself.”
-“The Final Interview with Sturgill Simspon, According to Sturgill Simpson,” Noisey, November 30, 2017

I don’t remember what the first Jason Isbell song was that I listened to (maybe “Elephant?” or “Speed Trap Town?”) but I’m eternally grateful that the universe pointed me in his direction and had me press play. In a “Walking the Floor with Chris Shiflett” podcast interview with Jason, Chris brought up the fact that Jason is considered by some to be the “go to reference guy for songwriters in Nashville.” Just listen to one of his songs and it’s easy to see why. Though I’m glad it’s a part of my life now, I think about how useful a song like “Traveling Alone” could have been to me years ago. While Jason’s songs may not have had the opportunity to have been part of my past, they’re very much a part of my present, and I’m already making plans for them to be a part of my future. IF (please note this is both in bold and italics) I ever get married, I already know that “If We Were Vampires” will be on the playlist.

Something that the three artists mentioned above have in common is their politics. If you follow Margo Price and Jason Isbell on Twitter, you know how they feel about current events. And just last month, Sturgill Simpson decided to busk (verb; meaning to play music or otherwise perform for voluntary donations in the street or in subways) outside of the CMA Awards and talked crap about Donald Trump.

Sturgill Simpson busking outside of the CMA Awards on November 7, 2017. All donations went to the ACLU. (Picture from Rolling Stone)

Another artist that I discovered this year is Cody Jinks. According to Spotify’s calculations, Cody’s song “Loud and Heavy” was my most played song this year (Sturgill’s “Sea Stories” was second). Unlike the artists mentioned above, Cody Jinks is less Americana and more actual country. To me, he’s what real country music should sound like. Instead of calling country that ventures from the mainstream terms like “alt-country,” I think we should be calling the mainstream stuff a different name. After all, they’re the ones who have done more to change the music from its original sound, not guys like Cody Jinks who have a more authentic country sound. Some people might call Cody’s Texas county or “Red Dirt” country. While “Loud and Heavy” may have been my most played song this past year, it was “Somewhere in the Middle” and its simple message that being “somewhere in the middle is just fine” that resonated most with me. And if Cody finds himself somewhere in the middle of Texas “Red Dirt” country and alt-country, well, that’s just fine!

John Prine is pretty good!” At least that’s what one of the stickers I purchased at this concert back in November says. But if you ask me, I think John Prine is really good! If writing songs is a craft like woodworking then John makes songs like the best cedar chest you’ve ever laid your eyes on. When I listen to his songs, I’m always impressed at how clever he is. In fact, one of my favorite lyrics of any song ever comes from a John Prine song. The song is “Spanish Pipedream” and the line is “I knew that topless lady had something up her sleeve.” I’ll say that line is pretty good!

While the five artists featured above really won me over this year, there were plenty more that also found their way into my heart. This year’s honorable mentions (who are not all country, not all Americana, but all pretty dang good) include: Dan Auerbach, Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett (wait! Am I also now a fan of Indie music? Who am I even?), Lori McKenna, Tyler Childers, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley, Nikki Lane, Aaron Lee TasjanSam Outlaw, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, and Paul Cauthen.

A New Appreciation for the Old Stuff

It wasn’t just finding new artists that made this past year so exciting but it was also rediscovering artists from my past, learning more about country music legends, and gaining a deeper appreciation for the trailblazers who made all of this possible. One of those people is Jerry Reed. The man is a national treasure we should all be thankful that Jerry Reed songs exist. His songs are a surefire way to put a smile on my face. The Oak Ridge Boys are another example of feel good country music that I got into this year. And don’t forget Bobby Bare too! 2017 is also the year that I fell in love with Emmylou Harris. Her Pieces of the Sky album is the first brand new (not used from a record store) record I ever bought, which also took place this year. Fun fact about this lady is that she was discovered in DC by Gram Parsons- at Clyde’s in Georgetown.

This year also saw my love of Waylon Jennings grow deeper as I explored more of his music. Some other classic artists that I spent time getting to know better this year include Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and Dolly Parton. 

I’ve always loved her but this year I seemed to love Kacey Musgraves even more! Maybe it was because I realized how little credit she gets. She sings backup vocals for some of the bigger stars (Zac Brown Band’s “All the Best” and Dierks Bentley’s “Bourbon in Kentucky“) and does duets (Josh Abbot Band’s “Oh Tonight“), which is fine, but I really wish she got more credit for her solo stuff. To celebrate her, I’ve created a “A Very Kacey Playlist” on Spotify for her. She also has an album coming out early next year, Golden Hour, which I am stoked for! My appreciation and respect for Miranda Lambert also grew this year, which can be credited to her album The Weight of These Wings from 2016. There’s also been talk about a new Pistol Annies album, which can’t get here fast enough!

A Year of Concerts

This year my list of concerts attended grew substantially. Some of these concerts were for artists whose names I didn’t even know at the start of this year. People (who I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know sooner) like Ray Wylie Hubbard, John Prine, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, and Nikki Lane. I even attended my first all-day music festival in Camden, NJ this year when I drove up for the Outlaw Music Festival. It was there that I got to see Willie Nelson for the first time and Eric Church for the seventh time. Other concerts that I attended this year included Sturgill Simpson, two different nights on Eric Church’s “Holdin’ My Own” tour (Pittsburgh and Washington, DC), and Mashrou’ Leila (a Lebanese band that has nothing to do with the rest of this post but they’re amazing and I love them!)

One really cool thing that happened to me this year was that I won free front row seats to a John Prine and Dan Auerbach concert at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, DC. I remember entering the contest for the tickets but I never win anything so I didn’t hold my breath on getting them. Funny thing is that the week leading up to the show I almost bit the bullet and bought a ticket for a nosebleed seat just so I could go. Well, good thing I didn’t, because a couple of days before the show, I got a call letting me know that I had won two tickets for front row seats along with a $50 merchandise voucher. Thanks to that voucher I am now the proud owner of a John Prine poster (painted to look like Ben’s Chili Bowl- a DC landmark) and The Missing Years on vinyl. I didn’t really know Dan Auberbach before that, aside from the fact that he is one half of The Black Keys, but after hearing him perform his solo stuff live, I became a fan. And how was that concert, you ask? “Pretty good, not bad, I can’t complain!” 

John Prine and Dan Auerbach at DAR Constitution Hall on November 10, 2017. (Photo from my crappy iPhone camera)

And since we’re on the topic of cool concert experiences this year, I just want to mention that at Ray Wylie Hubbard‘s concert at Hill Country BBQ in DC this past August, he mentioned the name of this blog while on stage. Now that’s pretty damn cool!

Keeping Up and Catching Up

There are some people out there that listen to every new album that comes out in its entirety and can break down each track while talking about the album as a whole. Many of those people get paid to do just that. I, however, do not. Also, that’s not me. I feel like there’s always new music coming out so I’d just stress myself out trying to do that. It also takes a while for me to really get into songs sometimes. So if it’s two months after an album has come out before I really listen to it, so be it. I’m happy being late to some parties.

With that being said, I do try and listen to some of the new stuff as it comes out when I can. Some great stuff that’s just come out is Neil Young and Promise of the Real‘s The Visitor. This album combines Lukas Nelson’s band Promise of the Real with the iconic Neil Young. The 2016 presidential election is a theme that you can hear on this album in songs like “Already Great.” Why are people trying to make America great again when, as Neil Young says, it’s already great? If I were gonna go back and rewrite my post on liberal country music, this song would definitely be on that list.

Lots of other albums came out this year that I haven’t spent as much time with as I should have- Travis Meadows‘s First Cigarette is one of them. Though I will say that “Long Live Cool” is in fact a cool song. I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for this guy because he’s the incredibly talented songwriter behind one of my all-time favorite songs- Dierks Bentley’s “Riser.” (He’s also mentioned twice in my post about Eric Church’s songwriting, “Eric Church: An Outsider, A Songwriter,” since he was a co-writer on both “Dark Side” and “Knives of New Orleans.”)

I also liked Chris Stapleton’s “From a Room: Volume 1” but admittedly haven’t given “From a Room: Volume 2” as much attention as it probably deserves. Sorry folks! The same goes for Lee Ann Womack‘s new album The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone, whose title track I love but I haven’t really ventured too far past that.

Some artists that I want to spend some more time getting to know better in the coming year are Rhiannon Giddens and Turnpike Troubadours.

Photographs and Memories

If I had to sum up 2017 in one picture, it would be this one:

(Photo from Vinyl Ranch’s Instagram)

I also just wanted an excuse to post this picture!

Looking Ahead to 2018

It’s hard to say what 2018 will hold. Only time will tell what other great artists I’ll find in the coming year. Perhaps I’ll be talking about a completely different genre of music in 365 days. Here’s to hoping that 2018 leads to many new discoveries- both musical and in general!

Here’s to also hoping that Eric Church releases some brand new music next year- that’s not asking for too much, is it?

You can find all of my favorite songs from the artists mentioned in this post on the beltwayboots Spotify account. My “Best of 2017” playlist can be found here.

Currently listening to: All of the great music that I discovered this year!

A Honky Tonk Holiday

Hey y’all! I’m back from my blogging hiatus (at least for now)! With work being busy these past few weeks, along with the madness of the holidays, plus a trip to NYC, there wasn’t a whole lot of time to sit down and write. But with Christmas coming up (in like 7 days!), I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to talk about some of my favorite country Christmas songs. While I’m not a HUGE fan of Christmas music like some people are (especially the more religious stuff), I realize the season wouldn’t be complete without it, especially these next songs I’m about to discuss.

Dolly Parton- “Hard Candy Christmas.” Deck the halls with boughs of Dolly! Like most of the songs on this list, I’ll listen to this one year round. Like if it comes up on my Spotify shuffle in June, chances are I’m not gonna press skip. This song is so relateable because we’ve all had a hard candy Christmas at some point in our lives. Hey, they can’t all be Reese’s-peanut-butter-cups-in-the-gold-and-green-and-red-wrappers-Christmases! This song comes from Dolly’s movie “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” which if you haven’t seen, you should! I know I’m long overdue for a re-watch!

Alan Jackson- the entire Honky Tonk Christmas album. I should probably just do an entire album review for this one. This album has been the soundtrack of many a Christmas for me. It’s not only Christmas-y, it’s quintessential 90s country, so you better believe it’s gonna be great! I can remember my mom owning this one on cassette tape in the early days of my youth. With guest appearances from Alison Krauss and Alvin and the Chipmunks, this album has got it all. There’a also a cover of Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It Through December” (Merle’s version gets its own spot below). One of my favorite Christmas songs also comes from this album- “Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas).” As I mentioned before, I found this song hilarious as a child but later came to learn that for many people with alcoholics in their family, it may not be so funny. Another favorite off this album is “I Only Want you for Christmas” (watch the video below). But honestly, I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the songs off this album!

Merle Haggard- “If We Make It Through December.” If there’s one thing country music is good at it’s serving you up a big dose of reality. One thing about reality is that it ain’t always pretty, or rather, at Christmas time, it ain’t all ribbons and bows and a tree overflowing with gifts. For some, getting through the month of December can be a struggle financially, as Merle details in this song from 1974. The heartbreaking story about a dad who’s been laid off from his factory job and can’t afford to buy his little girl some Christmas cheer should serve as a reminder to all of us to be grateful for the things we do have because there are many who do without. Leave it to The Hag to keep it real and remind us of this!

“I got laid off down at the factory
And their timings not the greatest in the world
Heaven knows I been workin’ hard
I wanted Christmas to be right for daddy’s girl
Now I don’t mean to hate December
It’s meant to be the happy time of year
And why my little girl don’t understand
Why daddy can’t afford no Christmas here”

Kacey Musgraves- A Very Kacey Christmas album! Forget red and green, it’s all about pink and green this year! (#pinkisthenewred) Seriously- the album cover is pink and the vinyl itself is GREEN! I just love it! Top tracks from this album include a “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” “Ribbons and Bows,” and a duet with Willie Nelson appropriately titled, “A Willie Nice Christmas.” I don’t know about y’all but I’ll be having me a very Kacey Christmas (and a Willie Nice Christmas) this year and for many years to come!

You can catch Kacey performing tomorrow (12/19) on “A Home for the Holidays” Christmas Adoption Special on CBS.

My own A Very Kacey Christmas record along with my other pink Christmas decorations! And yes, that is a John Prine sticker on my turntable!
Did I mention that the album is GREEN? So festive!

Willie Nelson- “Pretty Paper.” Since Kacey and Willie inspired me to have a “Willie Nice Christmas,” I’m doing just that! And it wouldn’t be a “Willie Nice Christmas” without some pretty paper and some pretty ribbons of blue. Every occasion could use a little Willie and Christmas is no exception. This song comes from his first Christmas album released in 1979. Other songs on that album include “Frosty the Snowman,” “Jingle Bells,” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

John Prine- “Christmas in Prison.” While I’m sure that being in prison is awful every day of the year, I imagine Christmas is the worst of those days. If you find yourself behind bars on Christmas Day (I hope you don’t!), perhaps hearing this song can provide you with some sort of comfort. I was lucky enough to see John in concert last month at DAR Constitution Hall in DC where he played this song. The best part about that show? The FREE front row seats! Just kidding- it was the crush I developed on Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys) who opened for John.

I hope these songs help to add a little holiday cheer to your Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Shab-e Yalda, New Years, or maybe just to your December. Have a honky tonk holiday, ya’ll!

And now, just to piss off the Christian Conservatives, Happy Holidays everyone!

As always, you can find a Spotify playlist on the beltwayboots account for all of my posts, including this one! Find my “A Honky Tonk Holiday” playlist here.

Currently listening to: A country song about Hanukkah. Just kidding, there isn’t one! But someone should get on that. Kinky Friedman- I’m looking at you!

The Spooky, Scary Tracks I’m Playing

Happy All Hallows Eve and first day of Day of the Dead a.k.a. Dia de los Muertos to all y’all! On the occasion of these two celebrations, I wanted to shine a spotlight on a couple of songs that I think are appropriate for these two holidays.

Zac Brown Band and Dave Grohl- “Day For the Dead” (from The Grohl Sessions, Vol. 1)

So Zac Brown Band made an album with David Grohl. That’s right- Dave mother f**king Grohl! “Day For the Dead” is one of four songs from that joining of forces, released in 2013. I have a ton of respect for Dave Grohl, as a musician and as a fellow Virginian (though he was technically born in Ohio his formative years were spent in V to the izz-A). Everything this guy touches turns to gold- from Nirvana to Foo Fighters, so naturally when he teamed up with ZBB, they made some pretty darn good songs, including this one about the “day for the dead to dance among the living.” You can watch their performance of this song from the 2013 CMA Awards here.

I would like to know when The Grohl Sessions, Vol. 2 is planning to come out. Seriously, I’m waiting!

“I see them rise
From beneath the ground
Life was lost but now it’s found
The ghosts want somethin’
To take their turn
To dance around the stone
Work the fingers to the bone
Hold on to nothin'”


Ruston Kelly- “Black Magic” (from Halloween)

I wrote about this song back in June on my first “The Tracks I’m Playing” post but it’s perfect for Halloween so I’m posting it again. Do I need any more proof that this is an ideal Halloween song besides the fact that it’s from an album titled Halloween?? No, I don’t. But I’ll give you another reason anyway- the first line in this song goes like this, “Halloween is here with me you left it in this home, stitches on my body, closets full of bones.” Pretty spooky, huh? While the song isn’t actually about Halloween, it’s about black magic (kinda) and love, which seems fitting enough for me for today.

I also want to take this opportunity to say congratulations to Ruston Kelly and Kacey Musgraves on their wedding, which took place earlier this month! The pictures are gorg! See for yourself here. Congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Kacey Musgraves!

“Halloween is here with me you left in this home
Stitches on my body, closets full of bones
Blood that won’t stop running ‘cause this wound won’t ever clot
Like the ringing in my ears that don’t ever seem to stop”


Other great Halloween and Day of the Dead songs include:

Eagles- “Witchy Woman
Jason Isbell- “If We Were Vampires
Willie Nelson- “Gravedigger
Michael Jackson- “Thriller
Creedence Clearwater Revival- “I Put a Spell on You
Ruston Kelly- “Halloween (Downstairs)”

You can find all of these on my “All Hallows Eve” Spotify playlist here. While these songs may not hold a candle to Monster Mash in the category of Halloween anthems, I think they’ll make a perfect addition to your Halloween playlist. Also, does anybody really know how to do the Monster Mash??

I hope everyone has a great Halloween and Dia de los Muertos! And if you don’t celebrate either, Happy October 31st!

Currently listening to: Werewolf Bar Mitzvah. Because I can’t think of something being spooky, scary without this song coming to mind! If you watch 30 Rock, you get the reference!

Erica Church: Finding Your Inner Chieftess (A Halloween Post)

Halloween is for Erica Church 

If Sundays are for (Eric) Church, then Halloween is for Erica Church. Who is Erica Church, you ask? Well, she’s the female version of Eric Church and my finest creation to date. She made her debut on Halloween in 2015 and has only come out a few times since then. Much like her male counterpart, Erica enjoys wearing black leather jackets and American flag scarves and keeping her sunglasses on inside. On occasion, you can find her recreating one of his album covers (see below).

Halloween 2016. Erica Church recreating the Sinners Like Me album cover. (Shout out to the bartender at Right Proper Brewing Company in DC who took his photo!)


Erica Church’s Debut (Halloween 2015). Recreating the Chief album.


Erica Church 101

With just two days left until Halloween, you might still be trying to decide what you’re going to be. Or, if you’re like most people, you probably went out last night, in which case, you can use these costume tips for next Halloween. Well, might I suggest Erica Church for the ladies? (Sorry fellas, this post is mostly for the ladies.) If you’re not sure how to compose your own Erica Church costume, don’t worry, I’ve got you covered! It’s a pretty simple costume and you probably already own some of the pieces.

First things first, you’ll need a pair of sunglasses. Try not to go with heart-shaped lenses or any funky colors. A simple pair of aviator glasses will do the trick. Be sure to wear these all of the time. Yes, even when you’re inside. Yes, even if it’s not bright where you are. No, I don’t care if you can’t see. Keep them on (or at least try to!)

A rare sighting of Erica Church in Pittsburgh (April 2017).

This next piece might cost you but I promise it’s a worthwhile investment. It’s a black leather jacket and it’s a great addition to any wardrobe. Not only is it perfect for crafting your Erica Church look but can be worn on many different occasions- a night out on the town, a biker rally, a wedding, you name it. You can pretty much wear it anywhere. If you prefer a different color leather jacket, like burgundy, that will also work as Eric has been known to rock this look himself.  Underneath the jacket, I would go with a black t-shirt. In past years, I’ve worn a Johnny Cash t-shirt but I think a plain black t-shirt will work well.

Pledge allegiance to the American flag scarf! Though not absolutely necessary for this look to work, you’re gonna want it. Trust me. It really completes the look and gives it a little more Church-y feel à la “Springsteen.” It can also double as a blanket on those cold late-October nights.

Tip your ballcap! Again, not totally necessary. Since Eric himself can be seen both with or without his hat, you can feel free to do the same. Especially if you wanna avoid hat hair! BUT if you own a Von Dutch hat then you MUST wear this. Those are the rules! See picture below for the explanation as to why.

Eric Church in a Von Dutch Hat (picture from Rawhide and Velvet)

If hats aren’t your thing, or you don’t feel like buying one, you can also feel free to wear a black snow cap like the one he wore in the “Springsteen” video. But again- hat hair! Or I guess cap hair in this case.

These Boots! No other footwear will do. It’s gotta be boots! And if the soles are worn out on ’em, even better! This is probably a pretty easy one for most of us ladies. Good thing Halloween takes places in the fall so it’s already boot-wearing season! If you don’t already have a pair (really ladies- who doesn’t own a pair of boots?!), you can order some from Eric’s boot line, These Boots (online store here.) But I’m gonna warn ya, these will cost you a pretty penny!

Mad Props! The best way to give your costume a little something extra is to add some props. If you want to carry around a bottle of Jack, that would be totally acceptable, though probably not allowed by a lot of establishments. It might be a good idea to empty out some of the mini plastic bottles of Jack and carry these around. Either way, if you really want to be in character, you must drink some Jack, otherwise how else will Jack Daniels kick your ass?

A chief badge necklace would also be a nice finishing touch on an Erica Church costume (you can find one on Eric’s website for $20 here.) I don’t own one of these but have considered making the investment.

Have a record year! Another great prop, especially if you’re having a record year, would be some of the records he sings about in his song “Record Year.” A few weeks ago I found a used copy of Songs in the Key of Life at my local record store and picked it up as I thought it would be perfect for this occasion. It’s also a classic Stevie Wonder album that I now own so a win-win for me! Bonus points if you’ve got Red Headed Stranger or are getting down with old James Brown and finding New Grass Revival (and their albums!)  Another great Erica Church prop is a guitar. Though my reservation with this is carrying it around it public. Not only would you get tired of toting it around but you would probably keep hitting people with it and you don’t wanna be that person!


Erica Church 2015. The guitar did not come out with me. Neither did the bottle of Jack Daniels. 

If you wanna switch up this look and add a few extra things to customize it to tailor to your inner-Erica Church, by all means, go on right ahead! Just remember to always keep “WWECD?” in mind. What Would Eric Church Do? If it doesn’t scream “Chief!” then leave it!


I know some of you ladies might be thinking that this doesn’t sound like the most feminine costume. So if you wanna make this costume a little female (more Erica, less Eric), I suggest wearing a black mini-skirt, maybe with some tights if it’s cold. The skirt will also look great with the boots!

The most important part of this costume is not a piece of clothing like a leather jacket or a prop like a record, but it’s your personality. If there’s a specific Eric Church song or album that you’re trying to channel, be it Chief or Mr. Misunderstood, go with it! Embrace your inner Chief! Or rather, your inner Chieftess! Be Mrs. Misunderstood! Have a record year! Catch yourself a round here buzz! Put a drink in your hand! You get what I’m saying!

I realize this costume is for women but men can also try this look out if they want to be Eric Church. But gentlemen, I’ve got to warn you, if you’re trying to be Eric Church, you’ve got a lotta boot left to fill!

Other Church-inspired Halloween costumes include:
Chattanooga Lucy – another one for the ladies
Hungover and Hard Up” – this one does not require an actual costume, just simply wake up the morning following your Halloween celebrations
Country Music Jesus” – for all you long-haired, prophetic types

My own Erica Church hasn’t come out for this year’s Halloween but we’ve still got a few days left. Even though Halloween is on a Tuesday, she’s got nothing against having the club going up on a Tuesday!

Happy Halloween, y’all! No matter what you dress up as, have fun and be safe!

Currently listening to: Eric Church- “Lotta Boot Left to Fill

The Tracks I’m Falling For (Week of October 9, 2017)

Happy Fall to All Y’all! 

Since we’re now in the second week of October, and pumpkins and Halloween candy are everywhere, I think it’s safe to say that are definitely in the fall season, even if the weather in Washington, DC hasn’t received the memo yet. Seeing as this is my first “The Tracks I’m Playing” post this season, it makes sense to write about the songs I’m fall-ing for. Here they are!

The Tracks I’m Fall-ing For 

Paul Cauthen- “Saddle.” When I first saw Paul Cauthen (on the picture on his album cover) I thought he was Amish, or a mobster, or an Amish mobster (which is totally a thing- Amish Mafia was an actual show on the Discovery Channel which means it must be a real thing.) Come to find out he’s actually from Texas and as far as I know there are no Amish there (though there may be mobsters.) Not that any of this matters, so I’ll quit my mindless rambling. In an article from last September on “10 New Country Artists You Need to Know,” Rolling Stone recommended Paul Cauthen to people who are fans of Waylon Jennings and seeing as how Waylon is one of my faves, it makes sense that I’m also now a fan of his. In fact, Paul and Cody Jinks (another one of my recent favorites) cover Waylon’s classic “Luckenbach, Texas” here, if you want to take a listen and decide for yourself how Waylon-esque he is.

Chips off the Old Blocks

Shooter Jennings- “Outlaw You.” Aside from having the greatest Fourth of July song of all time, titled, well, “Fourth of July,” I hadn’t really listened to much (or any) Shooter Jennings. Why? Well I’m not really sure, especially considering that his dad, Waylon Jennings, is one of my all-time favorite artists (you may remember me saying this in the paragraph above.) And together with Jessi Colter, his parents are my favorite country couple of all time. It would only make sense that I would also love their son’s music and well, from what I’ve heard so far, I do. “Outlaw You” addresses the current state of country music and how many of these so-called country singers should be outlawed. They wear baseball hats but they couldn’t hit country with a baseball bat and they wear boots but they’re only from their record label’s image group. He ends the song by talking about his dad and his struggles to make it Nashville, referencing two of his records, This Time (1974) and the Wanted! The Outlaws (1976), which I very much appreciated as this is my favorite album. Like if I were stranded on a deserted island and could only have one album to listen to for eternity, it would be this one.

“Hey pretty boy in the baseball hat
You couldn’t hit country with a baseball bat
Country ain’t just about where you’re at
It’s about bein’ true to what’s inside
You say you’re an outlaw with your perfect boots
That you got from your record label’s image group
Sing another man’s song with a big drum loop
Listen, son, you ain’t got a clue
You can’t buy true, tell you what they should do
They should outlaw you”

There is one line in this song that I’m a little confused by: “Those old boys with long hair and braids (Waylon, Willie, and Tompall Glaser, obviously) stayed true to their sound and freed the slaves.” What slaves exactly, Shooter? Maybe I’m missing something here.

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real- “Find Yourself.” The first time I ever heard a Lukas Nelson song was also the first time I ever saw Lukas Nelson perform. That performance was at the Outlaw Music Festival, which I wrote about here, this past September. Lukas and his band, Promise of the Real, played several songs from their self-titled album which just dropped in August. This song stood out to me from that performance because Lukas had the crowd join him in singing the chorus- “I hope you find yourself before I find somebody else to be my love.” I also just learned that Lady Gaga is the woman singing the backup vocals on this song! I’m a big fan of Lady Gaga (or Mother Monster, if you prefer) so I was stoked to learn that was her in the background. There are several other songs on the album that I really enjoy- “Forget About Georgia,” “Four Letter Word,” and “High Times.” Don’t be fooled by the fact that Lukas Nelson is Willie Nelson’s son because he’s got a sound that’s all his own! The hair is pretty much the same though, just needs some braids!

I’ll be seeing them in Baltimore next month and am excited to actually know the songs that they’ll be singing this time around!

Rodney Crowell, Roseanne Cash, John Paul White- “It Ain’t Over Yet.” I’ve included this song under “Chips Off the Old Blocks” because Roseanne Cash if of course the daughter of Johnny Cash. Chips off the old blocks aren’t always sons, sometimes they’re daughters! Looks like we’ve got the kids of three quarters of the Highwaymen represented this week.

On this award-winning song, Rodney Crowell is joined by his ex-wife Roseanne Cash and one half of The Civil Wars, John Paul White. I found out about this song last month after it won “Song of the Year” at the Americana Music Association Honors and Awards. Everything about this song is beautiful- from the way Rodney sings with so much truth in his voice, to Roseanne Cash and John Paul White adding their voices; from the lyrics, to the melody of Rodney’s guitar and the harmonica that comes in at the end of the song. You don’t win “Song of the Year” by not having these things!


I Keep on Fall-ing…

Ray Wylie Hubbard- “Lucifer and the Fallen Angels.” I can’t find a video for this song but if you go on Spotify (you can find the Beltway Boots Spotify playlist here), you can have a listen to Ray Wylie Hubbard singing about one of his favorite topics- The Devil. I wrote about Ray’s song, “Conversation with the Devil” a few months back in this post. Much like that song, which takes you through a conversation he has with the devil in a dream, in this song he is also conversing with the Lucifer, or Lou, as he’s given permission to call him, and his fallen angels after picking them up on the side of the road. Ray Wylie is heading to Nashville to get a publishing deal and Lou and the fallen angels are heading to Mobile. Along their drive, Lou tells Ray Wylie that nobody is going to want to publish his songs- he might be cool but he’s old. They also stop to pick up some Seagram’s Seven and Lou winds up robbing Nervous Charlie’s Fireworks and All-Night Liquor Store, after which he asks, “how do you think that clerk likes take your sons to work day now?” (This is why I never pick up hitchhikers!) He also tells Ray Wylie about getting thrown out of heaven and delivers the best line in the song, “it’s better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.” You got that right, Lou (if I may)!

This song is off Ray Wylie Hubbard’s latest album, Tell The Devil I’m Getting There As Fast As I Can. As I already said, this man loves singing about the devil.

Aaron Lee Tasjan- “Little Movies.” Just looking at Aaron Lee Tasjan, you might think he’s a bit eccentric with his big sunglasses and sparkly suit (as he wears in this video). This look would not fly in mainstream country but seems to work just right for him in Americana. It’s because of artists like Aaron Lee Tasjan that I now listen to Americana and have really stopped listening to mainstream country. In fact, Rolling Stone featured a story on how he’s breaking the mold in this genre. This same story also discusses how some of the material from his album Silver Tears, which features this song, was compiled while he was micro-dosing LSD. Far be it from me to judge how an artist gets their inspiration, I mean, after all, some great music has been made through the help of drugs- have you ever heard of The Beatles or Fleetwood Mac? I thought so.

Nikki Lane- “Right Time.” I’m hesitant to write that this song has gotten stuck in my head because I don’t think that’s necessarily a sign of a good song. Just because a song is catchy doesn’t mean it’s got substance. In fact, the problem with so many “hit” songs today is that they are only hits because they’re catchy and tend to get stuck in your head, not because the song actually has an important message. Thankfully, while this next lady may get stuck in my head, she’s also got something to say, so I’ve got no qualms about including her here. For example, in this song, she’s saying that “it’s always the right time to do the wrong thing.” Here’s to hoping that Nikki Lane gets stuck in my head again this week…even if she is a bad influence! 

Nikki will also be performing with Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real next month and I can’t wait to see her perform!

Amanda Shires- “You Are My Home.” Amanda won “Emerging Artist of the Year” at this year’s Americana Music Association Honors and Awards. And with songs like this, there’s no doubt that she deserved this achievement. When collecting her award, Amanda said, “Thank you to the Americana fans, because, without you, there might be no other place for me.” I’m also thankful for the Americana fans for providing a home to so many wonderful artists like Amanda Shires and her husband, Jason Isbell. These two are becoming one of my favorite couples in music right now though I doubt they’ll ever reach Waylon and Jessi status. Sorry but those are tough boots to fill!

“Your six-one frame
My address is your name
High ceilings, grand halls
Walls are just walls
You are my home”

I hope everyone enjoys listening to these songs and fall-ing in love with them like I have.

Currently listening to: John Prine- “Picture Show” featuring Tom Petty. Since many of us are still mourning the loss of Tom Petty, I thought this song made sense for this week. It’s featured on John Prine’s The Missing Years album which was released on Friday as a double LP 180 gram vinyl and features Bruce Springsteen and Bonnie Raitt in addition to Tom Petty.

Two Empty Seats: Eric Church Pays Tribute to Las Vegas Victims

We Won’t Back Down!

I usually start these posts with a cheesy pun about Church but this Sunday is different. Given the horrific attack that took place exactly one week ago in Las Vegas at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival, this week’s “Sundays Are For Church” post is taking a more serious tone. My heart goes out to everyone who was the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival last Sunday and to everyone who lost somebody because of this heinous attack. My heart also goes out to the artists who were part of this festival, especially Jason Aldean and his band members who were performing when the shots began. Despite my changing musical tastes as of late, Jason Aldean will always hold a special place in my heart. I saw him in concert (with Eric Church as one of his openers) back in 2011 and his songs are still on the iPod I’ve had since 2008. (Not that my feelings on Jason Aldean matter- I wouldn’t wish this type of thing on anyone no matter what place they held in my heart!) Jason opened Saturday Night Live last night by saying, “This week we witnessed one of the worst tragedies in American history. Like everyone I’m struggling to understand what happened that night and how to pick up the pieces and start to heal.” He then played Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” which I think relayed an important message that Jason, and the country music community, won’t back down to the hatefulness that led to this attack. Well, I won’t back down either!

Two Empty Seats

On Wednesday, October 4th, Eric performed at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, giving a moving speech about the attack in Las Vegas before his performance. Forty-eight hours before the shooting last Sunday, Eric performed at The Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas. He spoke about how the people in that audience were his crowd- they held up their records during “Record Year” and they held up their boots during “These Boots.” During “Springsteen” he even went out into the crowd and shook people’s hands. A place that had brought Eric and his fans so much joy witnessed carnage just 48 hours later. Despite not wanting to perform on Wednesday night, Eric did so anyway, because of a video that someone sent to him of Heather Melton, the wife of Sonny Melton, who died protecting her on Sunday night. The video was Heather’s interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN, in which she is wearing a Church Choir t-shirt, and talking about her husband Sonny. When asked what brought them to Las Vegas, Heather replied that they were there to see Eric Church because he was Sonny’s guy- he was “his guy.” She then mentioned that they were supposed to see Eric that very night at the Grand Ole Opry. Eric then pointed out two empty seats in the audience meant for Heather and Sonny. The reason that Eric showed up to play on Wednesday, despite not wanting to, was because of Heather and Sonny, and all the people that were in that crowd. Eric saw those people, he saw them with their boots in the air, and said “what I saw, that moment in time that was frozen, there’s no amount of bullets that can take it away.”

“Why you and why not me?” 

Eric ended his speech by saying, “That night something broke in me, on Sunday night, when that happened, and the only way I’ve ever fixed anything that’s been broken in me is with music.” He then played a song that he wrote for the Las Vegas victims called “Why Not Me.” When tragic events like this happen, we often find ourselves asking questions like “why did this person die?” and “why not me?” It’s those types of questions that this song touches on.

“Why you from Tennessee did life capture, And me from Tennessee get away?”

You can listen to Eric’s speech below along his performance of “Why Not Me” at the Grand Ole Opry.

The lyric video for this song can be found here.

A Call for Gun Control

Last Sunday, this country witnessed its largest mass murder by a firearm- 58 people were killed and nearly 500 were injured. The fact that people were killed and injured at a concert, an activity that many of us participated in, makes me sick! The fact that people are killed in movie theaters, elementary schools, college campuses, nightclubs, etc. because of mass shootings in this country makes me sick! Something needs to be done about gun control in this country. We are way past the point of needing to have a conversation about these types of acts because every time something like this happens we talk and talking gets us nowhere. Actions and real legislation involving gun control and access to guns needs to happen. In this day and age, when we are constantly bombarded with news, it’s easy to forget these types of events as our attention turns to the next big news story. But we have to remember these events, and how we felt hearing about them, because if we keep forgetting them, nothing will ever get done. And sadly, until something gets done, another mass shooting is right around the corner. And as we’ve seen, these things can happen anytime, any place, and to anyone. The people attending the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival were just going to a country music festival, the parents who sent their kids to school at Sandy Hook thought it was going to be a normal school day, and the next mass shooting that happens will also be talked about in this same way.  I’m glad to see members of the country music community speaking out about gun control like Roseanne Cash (Roseanne Cash: ‘The NRA Funds Domestic Terrorism’) and Caleb Keeter of the Josh Abbott Band. Caleb was there on Sunday night and spoke out saying, ““I’ve been a proponent of the 2nd amendment my entire life. Until the events of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was.” In a genre that so often glorifies guns, I hope that more country artists speak out like Roseanne and Caleb have.

Currently listening to: Tom Petty- “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” from his album Wildflowers. This week, the world lost one of its most iconic singer-songwriters. Tom Petty influenced musicians across genres, including Eric Church. In a 2012 interview about his most influential albums and songs, Eric named Tom Petty’s Wildflowers, saying ‘”Seriously — the first record I made out to in high school. ‘Nuff said.”

“Let me run with you tonight
I’ll take you on a moonlight ride”

R.I.P. Tom Petty!