What a difference a week makes.
Before Chris Stapleton won three major CMA awards and made genre-jumping jaws drop by duetting with Justin Timberlake at last Wednesday’s awards show, he was selling a few thousand albums a week and probably thanking his lucky stars for that. But post-CMAs, his album Traveller has become the land’s top-seller — and what a bay that crosses in a town like Seattle.
A few songs into his set last night at the Emerald City’s sold-out Showbox, Stapleton sang “Tennessee Whiskey,” the George Jones staple from Traveller that he and Timberlake covered on the CMAs. The ensuing impact from that televised performance has been profound. On the tube, Stapleton was backed by what seemed like a hundred-piece band, with N’Sync’s most respectable graduate attracting tons of eyes as Stapleton stood sentry in a badass black duster. In Seattle, women screamed for his vocal flourishes as though he was Teddy Pendergrass during one of the late R&B star’s famous “women only” concerts.
But while Timberlake may have been Stapleton’s secret weapon on the CMAs, last night his strongest ally was wife Morgane, whose harmonies continually elevate her husband’s shows. Her contribution to the Traveller standout “Fire Away” in particular made the song soar. For his part Stapleton came across as a generous musician, tossing in inventive covers like Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels” to make a crowd that was likely made up of a lot of new converts and the curious (plenty of them in cowboy hats that had never seen the inside of a barn) feel welcome.
Even so, the bulk of the audience already knew Stapleton’s songs — no doubt a result of the Traveller sales surge last week — and when he stopped singing the chorus of his album’s title track to give the crowd their moment, some 1,000 strong stepped in to finish. Stapleton seemed endearingly humbled by the commercial rocket ship he’d recently been strapped to, mumbling expressions of gratitude between tunes.
Like the most outlaw of country’s traditional artists, the Kentucky native sings often about drink and smoke — from “Tennessee Whiskey” to the devilish “Might As Well Get Stoned” — which sometimes doesn’t square with his sturdy stage persona. Stapleton may be country’s newest badass, but as he proved onstage in Seattle, he’s more than just a bottle of 100 proof.