An aspiring hip Hollywood screenwriter could not have come up with a better script. Young teen from a good home recovering from years of substance issues, takes a sober stand in a tiny Nashville apartment. On a blank sheet of paper, this self-proclaimed “teenage dirtbag” writes down his goals which include at the very top, making an album that gets him to play on the stage at the Ryman Auditorium with his father.
Well, last year, Ruston Kelly’s hard work paid off and goal #1 came true when he won worldwide acclaim for his stunning debut LP, Dying Star. And young Ruston’s recovery goal #2 came to pass just the other night when he made his debut on the stage of the sold-out Mother Church with his band member father, Tim “TK” Kelly, on pedal steel guitar.
After a well-received set by Lucy Dacus, Kelly and a few anonymous backing vocalists started the show hidden in the dark with an acapella number, likely called “Hallelujah Anyways.” Likely from his sophomore full-length record, he would later tell us against his label’s wishes that we would get to hear it in July.
Kelly’s super-sized band included two extra guitars and two family members creating a full sound and a welcoming vibe. TK is a fine steel player and a fan favorite whose nickname was chanted in appreciation by the crowd more than once. Stylish sister Abby Sevigny was quite handy on backing vocals and is forever in our debt for her moving to Music City eventually luring her brother here.
This celebratory evening would of course not be complete with some special guests. The first was the anticipated appearance of Ruston’s wife, Kacey Musgraves. (Perhaps the scriptwriters could improvise that Kelly’s list of goals would have also included marrying a beautiful recording artist that he admired.) Kacey shared vocals with Ruston on “Just for the Record.” This was just like it was on the record as was the later guest backing vocal duo of co-writers Natalie Hemby and Joy Williams on “Jericho.”
Something that wasn’t like the record was the lively treatment for “Mockingbird” with several horn players scattered about the floor and balcony of the Ryman. Nothing like having a trumpet player sounding off just a few feet away from you!
When all was said and done, we heard all but three songs from Dying Star and three new ones from the forthcoming record. Ruston also did a few of the covers from his recent EP Dirt Emo vol. 1. Originally a digital-only release, you can now grab one on vinyl at Ruston’s website or wait for a special Record Store Day edition (different color vinyl with a poster).
This was the last night of the Dying Star tour and according to Kelly, the only show in a theater-sized venue. It won’t be long before that doesn’t happen only in his hometown.
PS Here’s a link to something I wrote about Ruston five years ago.
- Hallelujah Anyways
- Cover My Tracks
- Paratroopers Battlecry
- Black Magic
- Hurricane in My Head
- Just for the Record (with Kacey Musgraves)
- Teenage Dirtbag (Wheatus cover)
- Dying Star
- Jericho (with Natalie Hemby and Joy Williams)
- Big Brown Bus
- Son of Highway Daughter
- All Too Well (Taylor Swift cover)