We headed over to Fiserv Forum for Chris Stapleton's sold out All-American Road Show with special guests, Elle King and Morgan Wade, this past Saturday. Check out our recap and photos below!
After an introduction by our very own Ridder, Morgan Wade takes the stage with her small band. She doesn't seem nervous or uncomfortable playing a sold out Fiserv, but she's a more reserved performer, getting lost in her emotionally heavy setlist. She starts with "Don't Cry" and "Last Cigarette" from her 2021 album, Reckless.
Wade's music is jam-packed with her journey of addiction, and it's impossible to miss the depth in her performance--they're not easy songs to perform and she feels every word. Compared to Elle King and Chris Stapleton, she's darker, broodier. But it's not unfamiliar territory for a crowd who's listened to Chris Stapleton's endeavors with alcohol, and she's an artist difficult to turn away from.
Check out Morgan Wade on her own 'No Signs of Slowing Down' Tour in 2023, making a stop in Madison at The Sylvee on March 8.
Elle King, simply put, is a force. She's vocally untouchable, a stunning performer, smart opener and clever as hell.
Much like her music, King is confident and not easily phased. She balances the line between being a party girl (she takes casual sips from a clear cup filled with, according to her, pure tequila throughout her set) and parent, prioritizing playfulness and acceptance above all. Her set is full of powerful moments, from hoards of laughter at her punchy dialogue to jaws open from her effortless vocal range. She's another well-versed performer, giving context to her songwriting headspace while making sure the crowd is entertained during instrumental moments.
Elle also has a very recognizable setlist; even a non-country fan could wail along to "Ex's & Oh's" or "Drunk (And I Don't Wanna Go Home)." And when she never misses a note? She's addictive.
The most memorable piece of her performance, however, is when she acknowledges her parental claim-to-fame: "Before I come out, everyone likes to yell 'Rob Schneider' at me." Her comedian-actor father is a fairly well-known piece of King's background, and she's obviously unafraid to address it. Despite making a joke about her parents earlier in the night, she encourages kindness, reinstating her stance as a mother and the kind of legacy she wants to leave in the world for her daughter. It's an easy stance to get behind, especially with a storyteller like King at the mic.
Despite having sold out the biggest arena in Wisconsin (and many other arenas across the country), Stapleton keeps his performance humble. He doesn't have pyro or lasers, and even the stage is on the small end for Fiserv. The set design stays true to the intimacy of Stapleton's music and performance. His wife, Morgane is a part of the band, singing background and providing tambourine for a handful of songs. Their performance is endearing and loving; we watch Chris look directly at Morgane for the sweetest ballads--she smiles back at him. It's hard not to grin at their warmth.
Stapleton also keeps a rooted band; his introductions indicate that they're a tight group that has spent many years together. There's a moment during "The Devil Named Music," where they go full jam-band, getting lost in solos. They play from mic'd up amps and handmade pedal boards--not something you commonly see from an eight-time Grammy winner. But with a guitarist like Stapleton who is so down-to-earth and hyperfocused on the music itself, it's not hard to imagine that he likes to keep things hands-on and classic.
They begin and end with songs from Traveller, the introspective cowboy album that rocketed Stapleton in 2015. Most of the set is upbeat and jangly, but there's much more toe-tapping than full-body dancing with a discography like Stapleton's. He's a still performer, much more focused on the difficulty of his guitar riffs than being busy dancing around the stage. It's the traditionalist in Stapleton that makes his shows feel timeless, sticking to live band sounds and raw vocals. In the middle of the set, the band walks off stage and we're left with three perfectly executed solo songs: "What Are You Listening To?," "Traveller" and "Whiskey and You." It's these moments that prove how captivating Stapleton can be on his own.
The 2020 album, Starting Over, takes a similar feel to his previous work but with a heavier ear for rock and blues. "Cold" is one of the biggest songs of the night vocally, with a cathartic whaling chorus: "Why you got to be so cold?/Why you got to go and cut me like a knife?/And put our love on ice?" It's also in this album where we get moments like "Joy Of My Life," that cement the sweetness and gratitude ever-present in his performance. He's confident in front of the crowd, but Chris Stapleton is very aware of how sweet his life is these days, and his gratitude is shared amongst the crowd.
The second to last song of the night is the timeless "Tennessee Whiskey," a cover that has a permanent place in wedding playlists and country bars. The crowd screams the chorus at Chris, who sings it directly to Morgane. The hundreds of lightbulbs on stage light up to the sickly-sweet lyrics--Stapleton steps away from the mic to let the crowd belt hook to him instead.
He ends with "Outlaw State of Mind," a song tucked into his 2015 album. It's the perfect high-energy exit that lets him and his band get lost one more time before they say their goodnights.
Photos and words: Jenalee Emmert, 2022