As a sold-out Crystal Ballroom filled to capacity you could sense the anticipation of the crowd, anxious to see their outlaw country hero Jamey Johnson. With nearly eight years gone by since Johnson’s last Portland show, fans were more than eager for this show to begin.
Up first was roots singer-songwriter Brent Cobb, with his laid-back style and a voice that was full of Southern soul. Cobb and his band (bassist J Kott, drummer Steve Smith, and lead guitarist Mike Harris) made the most of their opening set with perfect harmonies, great melodies, and songs from his South Georgia roots. My favorite’s were his album's title track “Shine On Rainy Day,” the fun “Diggin’ Holes,” the swampy “Black Crow,” and a righteous cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd's “Swamp Music.” Deservedly so, they received a strong response from the Portland crowd.
Next up was one of country music’s rising and best stars: Margo Price. With her enchanting stage presence, classic sound and throwback vocals Price and her band (Jamie Davis on lead guitar, Kevin Black on bass, Luke Schneider on pedal steel and dobro, Dillon Napier on drums, Jeremy Ivey on harmonica and guitar, and Micah Hulscher on keys) hit the stage in full stride as they launched into “About to Find Out.” Her band, while incredibly tight, has such an easygoing manner about them that you are just pulled into the soul of their music. Her songs are life-telling stories that resonate her real-life experience. A stunning rendition of Kris Kristofferson's "Me and Bobby McGee" brought down the house, and the classic country sound of “Hurtin' (On the Bottle)" was as good as it gets live. Margo Price and her band soared on this night.
The stage was cleared and readied for Jamey Johnson, and I took my spot in the photo pit. As the band was setting up, the crowd was raucously singing along to the classic country songs blasting over the PA—enough so that members of the band came to the front of the stage with phones in hand to record video of the moment, and drawing an applause from everyone on stage. Clearly beer drinkin’ and hell raisin’ was in the air as Johnson’s 12-member band set-up.
Enter Jamey Johnson. Casually strolling on to the Crystal stage, he looked more like a Grateful Dead roadie than a country music star. With the crowd chanting his name as he strapped on his guitar, Johnson opened this night with the intense “High Cost of Living,” the beginning to a set of pure country and an adventure in country music history. With his gravely voice, calming presence, and very little talk, the songs just seemed to flow with Johnson letting the lyrics and music tell the story for his two-plus hour set.
Playing a generous collection of songs that the audience had come to hear, including “Can’t Cash My Checks,” “Heartache,” “Lonely at the Top,” and "Mowin’ Down The Roses"—the latter of which was played on a B.B. King-autographed Gibson Lucille guitar. Johnson took the Crystal Ballroom crowd on musical journey, performing a set that included a healthy portion of iconic covers during the second half of the set including a smoky version of the Elmore James classic “It Hurts Me Too” (also played on the Lucille guitar), Johnson burning with an intensity that few will ever match.
The highlight moment of the night had to be the performance of the classic “In Color.” As Johnson strummed the first chords the crowd was clearly ready for the moment, singing along throughout the entire song and drawing a huge smile from Johnson—one of those moments you’ll never forget. My take away from this show: Jamey Johnson is “one of the greatest country singers of our time,” and displayed it during a show filled with emotion and heartfelt ballads that just grabbed you by the soul. Jamey Johnson represents the best in country music.
High Cost of Living
Place Out on the Ocean
The Door Is Always Open (Waylon Jennings cover)
Lonely at the Top
Can't Cash My Checks
Set 'em Up Joe (Vern Gosdin cover)
That Lonesome Song
My Way to You
Mowin' Down the Roses
It Hurts Me Too (Elmore James cover)
It Makes No Difference (The Band cover with Margo Price)
This Land Is Your Land (Woody Guthrie cover)
Willin' (Little Feat cover)
Give It Away (George Strait cover)
Kicked Outta Country (George Strait cover)
God’s Problem Child (Willie Nelson cover)
Tulsa Time (Don Williams cover)
I Saw the Light / I'll Fly Away / This Little Light of Mine / Will the Circle Be Unbroken / Uncloudy Day / I Saw the Light (with Margo Price)