Sturgill Simpson made his first appearance at the Grand Ole Opry in four years on Tuesday night, nodding to his Kentucky roots by playing a bluegrass set with an all-star band of pickers that included Sierra Hull on mandolin and Stuart Duncan on fiddle.
With his longtime drummer Miles Miller on a single snare, Simpson launched into “Long White Line” off 2014’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, offering a back-porch rendition that suggested this performance would differ greatly from the electric guitar-skronk of his last tour. The traditionals “Pretty Polly” and “Long Journey Home” followed, before Simpson delivered his version of When in Rome’s “The Promise,” another Metamodern Sounds track. “One for the ladies,” he quipped. “They’re all for the ladies.”
A version of the Stanley Brothers’ “Sharecropper’s Son” was poised to wrap up the headlining set, before Simpson and the band reprised “Long Journey Home” with its “lost all my money/but a two-dollar bill” refrain.
The Grand Ole Opry appearance marks the first live performance by Simpson since he performed at a Willie Nelson tribute concert at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena in January. His last performance with his own band was in October at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.
Since then the songwriter branched out into acting, co-starring in the CBS All Access series One Dollar. He’s also been working on the follow-up to his last album, 2016’s Grammy-winning A Sailor’s Guide to Earth.
“We’ve been working on a new one now for over a year,” Simpson told Seth Meyers in September. “I’m well burnt-out on it already because I’ve had to hear it so many times with [my son] in the car.”
John Prine and Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky, songwriter Kelsey Waldon also appeared on Tuesday evening’s Opry, teaming up to sing a version of Prine’s “Unwed Fathers.” Waldon, one of Rolling Stone Country‘s Artists You Need to Know, recently signed to Prine’s label Oh Boy Records, which will release her upcoming album.