I showed up to Austin City Limits Live late Friday night, just in time for native Texan Cody Johnson’s set. I had just finished working a shift at work updating the American-Statesman’s Hurricane Harvey coverage. In addition, the day brought with it the news of a missile launch in North Korea, the president’s ban on transgender military recruits and the president’s pardon of Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio.
I mention all of this not to get political, but simply to say: It had been a long work day. Lots of updates. Lots of storm tracking, from me and everyone I work with. It had been a long work week, actually. (It’s hard to believe that the solar eclipse that the nation was talking about just happened on Monday.)
And it had been a long week for personal reasons, as well. Some car troubles, minor health concerns (nothing too serious) and worries about my Gulf Coast friends and family in advance of the coming storm were also weighing on my mind. Those worries probably weren’t unique to me; I guarantee at least one other person in the audience was thinking the same things.
But a good country music show was just the sort of thing I needed Friday night.
“I should be there to let you have a relief for a few hours, just listening to good music,” Johnson recently told me about his performing philosophy.
For me, and for the rest of the sold-out ACL Live crowd (including many police officers and first responders, sure to be hard at work as I type this), Johnson’s show was a relief. For Austinites, it was a relief from the impending storm. For people like me, It was a release from the work week. And for country music fans, it was proof that there’s still artists who thrive by keeping the sounds of traditional country music alive.
Johnson’s independently-released album “Gotta Be Me” debuted at No. 2 on Billboard’s “Top Country Albums” chart last year and birthed a Top 50 single in “With You I Am,” all without a record label deal. The album stays true to the traditional country genre while also being ridiculously accessible to casual fans, and Johnson's show Friday night was no different.
Mostly playing songs from “Gotta Be Me,” Johnson lended a worksmanship qualiy to his no-frills set. Light on stage banter (save to recognize the police, first responders and veterans in the crowd) and heavy on the songs, the show was 90 minutes of cowboy songs, love songs for adults and classic covers.
No gimmicks, just a man, his band and some songs, here to put on a show for working people and to keep the worries of the world at bay for a little bit. Sometimes that’s all you need. And then you go back to work, your first responder job or whatever it is you do. And that, to me, is what country music at its essence is all about.
“I Ain’t Going Nowhere Baby”
“Half A Song”
“Ride With Me”
“Dance Her Home”
“Diamond In My Pocket”
“Wild as You”
“Gotta Be Me”
“The Way I Am” (Merle Haggard cover)
“Only One I Know (Cowboy Life)”
“Cowboy Like Me”
“Me and My Kind”
“Long Haired Country Boy” (Charlie Daniels Band cover)
“Never Go Home Again”
“There Ain’t Nothing To It” (New song; Johnson said a new album should be out next year)
“Sad Songs and Waltzes” (Willie Nelson cover)
“Gentle On My Mind” (Glen Campbell cover)
“With You I Am”
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