“I started playing songs on street corners, which I guess makes me a folk musician” Charley said between songs, gently strumming his guitar “But now people call me country, and Im okay with that.” Country is an apt label for Charley’s music, whose songs have roots in classic country and western, while still fitting in amongst his contemporaries in “Western Revival” like Tyler Childers and Orville Peck. All of them share the same fate of being ignored by Nashville radio, all while selling out venues across the country.
Thats not to say that Charley is a novelty act, or is just another honky tonk touring musician. He’s worked diligently to prove both are far from truth. Case in point, Charley is touring behind his latest release, and his second album of 2022, The Man from Waco, His 12th album since 2015. That’s a hell of a catalog for any musician to aspire to in their life – let alone just seven years. Last night he made sure we were well aware of his efforts with a 30 song setlist, including a three song encore.
It was easy to see the visual inspirations Charley’s music. Most of his album covers look like old 45 Vinyls kept in your uncle’s old Budweiser beer crate. The Man From Waco channels a spaghetti western both sonically and visually. His stage was set like a cross between a bandstand and a mid century ballroom, with golden velvet curtains and massive vintage lightbulbs along the bottom of the stage. His band, dubbed “The Blue Drifters”, dressed in bowling shirts and cowboy hats, mostly standing well backstage of Charley. He wore his guitar high up on his chest, often leaning his head over and narrowing his eyes down the neck of the guitar as if he was looking down the sights of a rifle. To much applause, he pulled out sixty year old dance moves hardly seen anymore. He kicked, duck-walked and spun around the stage in his songs, now that he’s had room to do so. He steamrolled from song to song with little time in between, kicking off one song after the next. (With a 30 song setlist, there is not much time to lose.) His past shows on street corners, and at smaller venues like the Turf Club didn’t give him much space (or time) to do that before. But at First Avenue, we finally got to see the showman side of Charley Crockett.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Minnesota show without a tribute to one of our musicians, but in the case of Charley Crockett, this one was rather unique. He performed Turkey Tom off of The Man From Waco, which features a writing credit from our own Bob Dylan. The song, a deep cut Charley completed from a fragment from Dylan’s Pecos Blues collection, outtakes from Dylan’s soundtrack for the 1973 Western Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid proves that he’s a Dylan aficionado “When I was playing on street corners, I never thought I’d get to have my name on a song next to Mr. Bob Dylan.” he said before performing.
On account of it being the latest release, The Man From Waco took up the majority of the setlist, with a handful of songs sprinkled in from Charley’s previous releases, and covers that the audience may or may not have been familiar with, depending on their knowledge of western and folk music. Magic Sam’s 21 Days in Jail came toward the end of the set, Tanya Tucker’s The Jamestown Ferry , and Three James Hand covers, who Charley revered and made a tribute album for after his death in 2020, Midnight Run, Lesson in Depression, and Don’t Tell Me That.
To the uninitiated, Crockett may look like he’s head-deep in nostalgia, mimicking the Kerouac-ian, Transient lifestyle and sounds of folk musician past. But his story and his songs prove he’s the purebred definition of Americana, and sold out shows across the country show that the revival of this music is stronger than ever. Crockett doesn’t play the part of a cowboy. He’s one of the real ones.