Sturgill Simpson Performs Bluegrass Concert At The Ryman

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Sturgill Simpson performed at an empty Ryman Auditorium on Friday night. The singer-songwriter and guitarist delivered an entire bluegrass set for the internet audience via nugs.tv.

Simpson began the show detailing his COVID-19 experience — Sturgill tested positive in April — and his “Dick Daddy Survial School” t-shirt fundraiser, which led to a promise from Sturgill that if they hit $200,000 he would do a livestream at the Ryman. He then talked a bit about his band, ”the greatest bluegrass band on the planet,” he said, and also detailed the livestream concert’s three beneficiaries: Special Forces Foundation, The Equity Alliance and Musicares COVID-19 Relief Fund. And without further ado, Simpson got into the music.

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Sturgill kicked things off with “Living The Dream” from his 2014 solo sophomore LP, Metamodern Sounds In Country Music. The song was faster and quite different from the original in the bluegrass format, the constant being Simpson’s golden baritone backed up by vocals from longtime drummer Miles Miller. After introducing the band — which included banjo master Scott Vestal, up and coming mandolinist and singer-songwriter Sierra Hull, bassist Mike Bub, guitarist Mark Howard and fiddler Stuart Duncan along with Miller on the snare — Sturgill and company would continue with more Metamodern material in “A Little Light,” with some great three-part harmonies, and “Life of Sin” featuring Hull dueting with Simpson on the chorus.

Sturgill then switched gears and introduced a song he wrote when he was “25 years old playing in a punk rock band in Lexington, Kentucky” called “All The Pretty Colors.” It had a breakneck speed that must have seeped in from all the punk rocking and also featured vocal backing from Hull as well as a sharp mando outro from Sierra as well. Sturgill then revealed that he and the band had been in the studio reworking material from his past albums in the bluegrass format for two new records. He remarked how the songs were originally written as bluegrass tunes and that after “climbing the ropes” of country music and then making a rock record, he was ready for “a life of gravel parking lots and porta-potties” as a bluegrass musician, the music of his “heart and soul.” The band then continued with “Long White Line” from Metamodern which saw Duncan take flight on the fiddle.

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Next up, “Breakers Roar” from Simpson’s Grammy-winning 2016 album, A Sailor’s Guide To Earth. Sturgill then played a tune from his solo debut album, High Top Mountain, “Sitting Here Without You,” which contained a great call and response with Hull as well as a sweet mando solo, and back to Sailor’s Guide with “All Around You.” Simpson then paid homage to his old band Sunday Valley with “Sometimes Wine” followed by “Time After All.” The first cover proper of the evening came in the form of bluegrass legends The Stanley Brothers’ “Pretty Polly” ahead of Mountain Top’s “Railroad Of Sin.” Sturgill closed out the livestream with more Stanley Brothers in “Sharecropper’s Son.”

Watch Sturgill Simpson’s entire bluegrass performance at the Ryman below:

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Setlist

Sturgill Simpson at Ryman Auditorium

  • Living the Dream
  • A Little Light
  • Life of Sin
  • All the Pretty Colors
  • Long White Line
  • Breakers Roar
  • Sitting Here Without You
  • All Around You
  • Sometimes Wine  
  • Time After All
  • Pretty Polly  
  • Railroad of Sin
  • Sharecropper's Son  

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