5 Standout Performances – Billboard
Written by GRB on 08/01/2023
Americana artists gathered Saturday evening (Jan. 7) at Nashville’s City Winery for the fundraising concert Hello From the Hills, which supported a range of nonprofit organizations dedicated to addiction and substance abuse recovery, restorative justice work, and residential recovery/transitional living.
Held by The Hello in There Foundation (which launched in 2021 to remember singer-songwriter John Prine and aims to support people who are marginalized or discriminated against) and Tyler Childers’ Hope in the Hills, the show featured performances from artists including Childers, Jason Isbell, Sierra Ferrell, Amythyst Kiah, and Margo Price with Jeremy Ivey.
Oh Boy Records leader Jody Whelan welcomed the crowd, while singer-songwriter Kathy Mattea served as host for the evening.
“I wanted to thank all the artists who quickly said yes to this show,” Whelan told the crowd. “The Hello in There Foundation would not exist without the fans who love John’s music and the artists community that has come and lifted us up.”
The ongoing love and admiration for the late Prine was palpable throughout the evening, as numerous artists spoke of the songsmith who melded elements of folk and country to build a enviable song catalog that includes “Illegal Smile,” “Sam Stone” and “Angel From Montgomery.”
The bill also included performances from Arlo McKinley, Kelsey Waldon and Tré Burt, artists signed to the Prine-co-founded Oh Boy Records. Waldon offered up “Season’s Ending,” the first song she wrote following Prine’s death in 2020.
Waldon then joined labelmate Burt for “Dixie Red,” and he wielded both harmonica and acoustic guitar for “Sweet Misery.” Other artists on the bill include Buffalo Wabs & the Price Hill Hustle, William Matheny and Darrin Haquard.
The event was presented by Oh Boy Records and management company WhizBangBam (which represents McKinley and Childers, among other artists) benefiting the Prine Family’s The Hello in There Foundation as well as Childers’ Hope in the Hills. The Hello in There Foundation and Hope in the Hills each selected two organizations to receive $10,000 grants, with the donations benefiting the residential recovery program Healing Housing, the restorative justice program Raphah Institute, the substance abuse recovery program the Keith Dixon Foundation, and the transitional living facility Recovery Community Inc.
Here, we recap five standout performances:
Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, “Cover Me Up”
Americana luminaries Isbell and Shires brought raw, emotional storytelling to their performance of “Tour of Duty,” from Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s 2011 album Here We Rest.
“At concerts, people will say, ‘This next song has been very good to me,’” Isbell said. “I think that’s really funny. That makes me laugh every time. I’m gonna tell you right now, I have been very good to this next song, because before I came along, it wasn’t a damn thing,” he said, drawing laughter and cheers from the crowd. He then introduced the intimate, vulnerable love song “Cover Me Up,” from his 2013 album Southeastern. The song, written during the early days of the couple’s relationship, also nods to Isbell’s own recovery journey. A key line, “But I sobered up and swore off that stuff/ Forever this time,” drew hearty cheers from the audience.
Sierra Ferrell Performs Two Unreleased Songs
Clad in a cowboy hat, old-timey dress and with fiddle in hand, Ferrell showed off the undeniable musical prowess and onstage charm that earned her the emerging act of the year win at the Americana Music Association’s Honors & Awards in 2022.
But onstage at City Winery, she didn’t regale the crowd with songs such as her signature “In Dreams”—instead, she introduced two unreleased songs from an album she is currently working on. For the first, she wielded her fiddle for the charming “I Can Drive You Crazy,” before trading her fiddle for an acoustic guitar to deliver another unreleased song, this one a tribute to a string of broken hearts. Host Mattea praised Ferrell’s throwback look and sound, noting it feels like she “lives outside of time.”
Accompanied only by her electric banjo, the Grammy-nominated artist’s smoky, evocative voice silenced the crowd as Kiah brought the audience into the emotionally complex lyrics of “Firewater” (from her 2021 album Wary+Strange), followed by the classic old-time Appalachia song “Darlin’ Corey.” Kiah’s searing, full-bodied vocal proved a perfect match to convey this tale of a fearless, gun-toting, moonshine-making woman. Kiah’s two-song performance made such an impression on the crowd–and host Mattea–that Mattea welcomed Kiah back to the stage to embrace another round of applause from the audience.
Tommy Prine Honors His Late Father with “Ships in the Harbor”
Nashville native Prine, the son of John Prine, launched his two-song set with “This Far South.” But it was Prine’s potent performance of his debut single “Ships in the Harbor” that hushed the intimate crowd, as he musically acknowledged inevitable change, and sang of loss, pain and acceptance. In a full-circle moment of sorts, it was Isbell’s Southeastern album that inspired the younger Prine to begin writing music at age 17.
Tyler Childers Holds Court
Childers, whose song “All Your’n” was nominated for a Grammy in 2020, closed out the evening with an acoustic set that kept the focus on his well-crafted storytelling, and his full-throttle vocal—which drew numerous cheers and shouts from the crowd.
He also shared how learning fiddle helped him overcome his own struggles with alcohol, noting that he became passionate about learning to better his craft on the instrument. “I can tell you that you spend eight or nine months playing eight hours a day and get alright and then you can not play for about two weeks and [you’re] off. You can put a guitar away for awhile and pick it up and be okay…over the last three or four weeks, I’ve rededicated my life to the fiddle,” he noted. In 2020, Childers released the surprise album Long Violent History, an album largely made of traditional fiddle tunes. His set on Saturday evening included “Creeker,” “Matthew,” and “Lady May.”