By K.D. Norris
Margo Price and band, April 6, at St. Cecilia Music Center, Grand Rapids, Mi.
Diving blind into the deep end of Margo Price’s music, as myself and many in the audience did Thursday night at the St. Cecilia Music Center’s Acoustic Café concert, there were expectations, uncertainty and, ultimately, satisfaction — an experience not unlike first dates.
The expectations? That comes from pre-concert research revealing Price has not only played with Jack White (White Stripes) — and is the only country act on his Third Man Records label — but just last month was a prominent presence at Willie Nelson’s Luck Reunion alt/outlaw country concert in Austin during SXSW (South by Southwest). … Is there two more diverse musical mentors that White and Nelson?
The uncertainty? At St. Cecilia, Price comes onto the stage wearing a pretty pink little dress perfect for the stage of the Grand Ole Opry but with her exposed shoulders showing off a big ole tattoo. Then she kicks off the night with three songs off her newest recording, 2016’s “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter”: the beautifully modern sound of “Hands of Time”, the classic country sound of “About to Find Out” and the definitely oldie sound of “Tennessee Song”.
The satisfaction? Just watching Price and her five-piece band breeze through an 18-song, 90-minute set with a setlist equally leaning on her 2016 debut solo recording — a rough-edged if not intentionally alt-country collection of often introspective, intimate songs — and covers of the who’s who of classic and outlaw country.
The songs off the new recording were clearly the focus of her music, including my favorite, “Since You Put Me Down” — “I killed the angel on my shoulder with a bottle of the Bulleit, So I wouldn’t have to hear him bitch and moan, moan, moan” … Dylanesque lyrics and my favorite bourbon; what’s not to like?
But she also paid tribute and high compliment to classics such as Loretta Lynn’s “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven”, Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” and even Waylon Jennings’ honky tonk anthem “Ain’t Living long Like This”.
Price, clearly, is not backing down from her past or her future.
May I have more, please?
Price, coming up to her 34th birthday on April 15, is one of those classic country music tweeners, immersed and comfortable in the past but bringing a fresh sound to the genre — sort of a female version of Jason Isbell, whom I also really like. And, if there is any justice in the world, Price will be following Isbell into the world of bigger audiences and sales.
She was also greatly aided at St. Cecilia by the solid sounds of her band; especially deserving note were Luke Schneider’s work on pedal steel and dobro and Micah Hulscher’s keyboard sounds — especially perfect was the honky-tonk piano sounds on several numbers.
The only complaint I have with Price’s concert was that I did not have a beer in my hand. There is something about a great country music concert that just begs for a hot summer day, a impending farmer’s tan line, and a cold one in one’s hand. But considering it was snowing earlier in the day in Grand Rapids, I was glad for what I did have on hand.
St. Cecilia’s Royce Auditorium was not full, but as evidenced by a show of hands asked for by music center director Cathy Holbrook, there was a large contingent of fans who had never been in the theater. Already known as an outstanding chamber music venue and a fine jazz stage, the Acoustic Café may have the makings of a up-and-coming country music destination.
Price certainly liked it: she pointed out at one point at the concert that her current small venue tour has seen a lot of big drinking establishments and it was nice to play to a little more focused audience.
Of course, I reiterate, the next time I see her I want it to be 80 degrees and a beer in my hand, maybe with Isbell.