"How the fuck can you guys possible be thinking about fighting when we're singing this song?"
So began Sturgill Simpson's heated dismissal of two fans who'd begun arguing during his cover of Roy Orbison's "Crying," halfway through his sold-out Halloween homecoming at the Ryman Auditorium.
Like Jason Isbell, who wrapped up a four-night stand at the Ryman early last week, Simpson had landed multiple shows at the Mother Church of Country Music. The Halloween gig was the second of three concerts that celebrated not only the tail end of Simpson's promo cycle for Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, but also his ascendance to the ranks of Ryman headliner. Few songwriters can pack the venue's 2,362-seat church pews. Even fewer can do it three times in a row.
Understandably, the mood was celebratory on Saturday night. Attendees crowded the beer vendors in the lobby and roared their approval inside the concert hall, where Simpson and his top-shelf road band mixed their own originals with a handful of covers. Some, like Lefty Frizzell's "I Never Go Around Mirrors," were expected. Others, like a slide guitar-fueled update of Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks" and a slow, steady "Crying," were less common. . .which may explain why Simpson was so peeved at the interruption during the latter tune.
Arms folded, Simpson stared down the pair of unruly fans while drummer Miles Miller banged out a quiet beat. A moment passed. Then another. When the fight erupted once again, Simpson uncrossed his arms, pointed his finger and spoke up.
"Hey," he barked. "Hey! Fuck that. Now you're fucking with my time. Get them all out!"
While security officers escorted the ejected fans out of the venue, Simpson and company kicked back into the song's second verse, with Simpson transitioning from reluctant bouncer to country crooner. The show rolled on from there, topping out at 26 songs and eventually spilling its 2,362 concertgoers back into the Nashville night, where the party-heavy vibe of Lower Broadway on Halloween seem likely seemed like the perfect afterparty.