I was driving ten miles an hour below the speed limit on the way to New Braunfels to see Chris Stapleton as the rain pounded the car windshield. Halfway there, I got an email saying the concert was still on but if you couldn’t make it, you would be reimbursed. The event was going to be outside at the River Road Ice House but instead the sound crew had to work mercilessly to move everything inside to give Stapleton and his fans the show they deserved.
Still a naive honky-tonk-goer, I rounded up my buddies to get to the Ice House at 6:00 immediately when the doors opened because why not show up early to get good spots to see Chris Stapleton?
I’ll tell you why.
When you buy a ticket, make sure you look at the number of opening bands. There were four. That’s four separate hour-long sets that you have to sit through before the main act goes on. For a brief moment, we questioned our commitment to guarding our spot with a perfect view; however, once the first band started playing, we knew the five hours of waiting for Chris Stapleton wouldn’t be too bad. The highlight of the openers was when Jason Eady and Adam Hood joined to form the Southern Brothers band. By the end of their set, the house was packed. People were shoulder to shoulder and the crowd was so massive that up people were watching from the outdoor patio in the rain.
Okay… Finally it was 10:00 and they began readying the stage for Chris Stapleton. We stood in the same spot for 4 hours. We were hot. Our legs were tired. And our heels ached from standing in our uncomfortable boots. It took another hour of setup and although our patience wavered, our excitement for Chris Stapleton didn’t. Did I mention that I was standing next to Jordan Shipley who also waited like us?
Almost exactly when the clock on my iPhone hit 11:00, a burly figure with a majestic beard and a perfectly weathered cowboy hat appeared to the side of the stage. You could tell he was an introvert as he kept his eyes steady on his feet as he walked onto the stage. His wife and background singer, Morgan Stapleton, strutted onto the stage after him, carrying a glass of red wine. The drummer and bass player followed. It was clear that Stapleton wasn’t much of an entertainer. He was going to let his music do the talking.
Stapleton kicked off the show with his attitude-filled “Nobody to Blame.” Immediately you could feel the chemistry between Chris and his wife as they held eye contact for half of the song. Next, he played his title track, “Traveller.” At this point in the show, you could tell that Chris and Morgan were shocked at the crowd response. They were wide-eyed a giggly. It was like it was the first time every single person in the audience knew every word to each song. Then came the song I was waiting for, “Fire Away.” The world stood still as Mr. and Mrs. Stapleton had me in the palms of their hands. I could’ve left after those three songs and the five-hour wait would have still been worth it.
By the end of the night, it was clear that all the critical acclaim Chris Stapleton has received this past year was truly deserved. I feel incredibly sorry for the people who decided not to fight the rain and come to the concert because they missed out on one of the most intimate concerts they’d ever see.