Chris Stapleton talks ahead of the Academy of Country Music Awards on Saturday, April 2, 2016. Larry McCormack/The Tennessean
Two songs into his Friday night show in Des Moines and Chris Stapleton paused.
He took a moment to thank everyone in the room, smiling behind his heavily bearded face. He let the onlookers know he felt at home in Iowa’s capital city and that he knew the night’s concert would be a great one.
He then turned to a topic not far from anyone’s mind in country music.
“There’s a lot of terrible things going on,” he said. “We had a bad week in country music, in Las Vegas.”
Dedicating his next song, “Broken Halos,” to the victims and families of those impacted by a mass shooting in Las Vegas, he said: “Thank you for showing up. When you show up ... we don’t let things like that win.”
Performing at Wells Fargo Arena less than a week after the mass shooting at Route 91 Harvest country music festival that left 59 dead and around 500 others injured, Stapleton brought passion and vibrancy to his first Iowa arena show. The tour stop comes as part of Stapleton's fall edition of The All-American Roadshow, which kicked off Thursday night in Moline.
Backed by two bandmates, bassist JT Cure and drummer Derek Mixon, the Kentucky-bred star delivered about two hours and 15 minutes of rock ‘n’ roll-influenced country hits while atop Des Moines’ biggest indoor stage. A total of 12,519 attended the show, organizers said.
Outlaw state of show: Performing early in the set tracks pulled off his newest record, “From A Room: Volume 1,” the trio established an explosive country-meets-rock-meets-blues sound that carried throughout the night.
The Grammy Award-winning star opted out of optics for this arena run, sticking to a simple stage set-up and big sound. His show excelled in its simplicity; off-stage explosions and flashing lights aren’t needed when the musicianship is that good.
Stapleton weaved through original numbers, covers and renditions of tracks from his former act, The SteelDrivers. Covers from Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Charlie Daniels Band and the late Tom Petty all found a place in the show, as did originals like “Nobody To Blame,” “Them Stems,” “Parachute,” “More of You” and “The Devil Named Music."
A mid show highlight? The extended, sludgy jam of 2017 track “I Was Wrong.”
“We like to have a little fun,” he said, leaving behind “I Was Wrong” to begin a rendition of “Whiskey and You.”
“Seems like you guys do, too.”
All-American opener: Midwest-born, Tennessee-based songwriter Margo Price and her six-piece band provided main support for Stapleton. Price stops in Des Moines two weeks to the day before the Oct. 20 release of her sophomore album, “All American Made” and spent the first half of her set introducing her new music to the Iowa audience.
Price took a moment mid-set to honor Petty, who died Monday of cardiac arrest, by leading her band through a cover of “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” Show opener Brent Cobb also paid tribute to Petty, covering “American Girl.”
“We lost one of our favorite writers and performers this last week,” Price said prior to the cover.
Her 10-song, 45-minute set wrapped with a pleasing cover of Waylon Jennings’ “I Ain’t Living Long Like This," followed by two of Price’s best: “Tennessee Song” and “Hurtin’ (On the Bottle).”
Firing away: Stapleton's set hit a high point when the songwriter brought out back-to-back-to-back numbers from his breakout 2015 solo album, “Traveller,” including "Fire Away” and fan-favorite cover “Tennessee Whiskey.”
The 39-year-old and his band went through “Fire Away” in full, only to reprise the chorus, giving the crowd a chance to freely belt the words.
“I want you to sing this chorus so loud it’s gonna drown out all the hate,” he said.
The trio delivered a three-song encore, starting with SteelDrivers track “Where Rainbows Never Die.” Ahead of the number, Stapleton offered a final word of thanks.
“I spent a lot of time in little ol' clubs,” he said. “Doing this because I love it. [I’m] still doing it because I love it but there’s a lot more of you here. It’s overwhelming … how much you invest in the music. It’s one of the greatest treats of my life. Thank you.”
From “Rainbow,” Stapleton brought out “Barely Alive” — a track from his former rock ‘n’ project The Jompson Brothers — before closing the show with 2015 number “Sometimes I Cry.”
Echoing the words “we love you,” he waved a final time and exited the stage.