In Tahoe, Chris Stapleton smooth as Tennessee Whiskey

Kurt Johnson / Tahoe Onstage

Grammy winner Chris Stapleton’s authentic sounds waft across the Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys at a sold-out concert on Thursday, July 26, 2018.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Kurt Johnson

There was neither a fiddle nor a pedal steel on the stage – no props, and for damn sure no country pop.

On a perfect Tahoe summer night, a driving rhythm and a resonating guitar twang set forth “Nobody to Blame.” A baritone voice offered lyrics in a gospel cadence. Through the smoke, underneath the cowboy hat and behind the beard, Chris Stapleton appeared.

Hardly any of the 7,000 who attended Thursday at Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys sat during the 21-song, 115-minute concert. The audience was rapt, and undoubtedly many were reminded of Merle Haggard and Tom Petty as they witnessed the new star who plays old-time country.

Happenstance seated two like-minded strangers side by side. They’d both recently returned from respective trips to Nashville, where they’d soaked up music and history. They savored each song Stapleton and his band played. There were no skinny jeans, just tight sounds.

“He can put on a good show, without putting on a show,” said Bobby Robertson, who has traveled from Modesto for every country concert at Harveys. This one was different from the others, he said: “He gets up there and sings. And I listen to the words that he sings.”

The man next to him, who also is going to tonight’s show in Sacramento, said, “There are no weak songs in his catalog. Stapleton plays rock and roll and he plays blues. He sings about whiskey and he does love ballads. Who doesn’t love that?”

Stapleton, 40, had won the crowd before he even stepped onstage, thanks to the openers, Brent Cobb, a bluesman with a Southern accent and a brilliant songwriter, and the incomparable Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives. When Marty Stuart is an opener, you know you are really big.

Stapleton has such command of an audience that he can introduce his anthemic “The Devil Made Music” with an authentically heartfelt rendition of “Free Bird.” And he can extend a guitar solo to ridiculous lengths and somehow not play too many notes.

For all of Stapleton’s talent, his charisma sets him apart. He delivers a show with some humor and humility and he’s not afraid to smile.

Music fans have caught on to Chris Stapleton, who won three Grammy Awards this year. He didn’t mention that on this night. His only self-aggrandizement came as he introduced one of his songs: “I hear they named a strain of weed after me.”

— Tim Parsons

Related story: Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives, indeed!

  • Chris Stapleton
    Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys, Thursday, July 26, 2018
    1 – Midnight Train to Memphis
    2 – Them Stems
    3 – Nobody to Blame
    4 – Hard Livin’
    5 – Millionaire
    6 – Fire Away
    7 – Might as Well Get Stoned (with Brent Cobb and Fuzzy)
    8 – Last Thing I needed First Thing This Morning
    9 – That’s No Country (with Marty Stuart)
    10 – Honky Tonkin’s Is What I Do Best (with Marty Stuart)
    11 – Whiskey and You
    12 – Broken Halos
    13 – Second to Know
    14 -Traveler
    15 – I Was Wrong
    16 – The Devil Named Music (with Free Bird intro)
    17 – Parachute
    18 – Tennessee Whiskey
    Encore
    19 – Outlaw State of Mind
    20 – Death Row
    21 – Sometimes I Cry

    Kurt Johnson / Tahoe Onstage

    Legendary hillbilly rocker Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives captivated Lake Tahoe.

    Kurt Johnson / Tahoe Onstage

    Brent Cobb has written several hit songs for others and at Tahoe he was onstage.

About Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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