Ashley McBryde rounded off her 2022 energetic eight-night headline UK and Ireland tour with her first visit to the West Country city of Bristol. A repurposed factory alongside the River Avon housed 1600 music fans in front of the McBryde Eleven (to be a fly on that tour bus, if there was room).
Support act Austin Jenckes arrived on stage at 8 o’clock, unassuming and self-assured as he belted out eleven songs in 45 minutes, starting with ‘American Nights’ which garnered early, genuine, applause from the audience.
‘Bet You’d Look Good In It’ generated an audience sing-along for Jenckes, as did ‘Never Left Memphis’, while ‘Fat Kid’ and ‘If You’d Been Around’ held that perfect sound of a three minute stillness and thirty seconds of rapture. The Voice S5 contestant played his latest song ‘River Jordan’ inspired by Johnny Cash and with one hell of a hook, showcasing Jenckes’ awesome vocal talent. I could only imagine the music produced if he hooked up with Sean McConnell or Tim Prottey-Jones (just saying, Nashville).
Jenckes finished his set with a cover of ‘Landslide’ (Fleetwood Mac/The Chicks) and helped bring a medic’s attention to someone struggling in the heat.
Just after nine o’clock, McBryde, grinning, swaggered out with her band and the unsuspecting ‘Martha Devine’ to deliver a hell of a performance, wielding her classics with her new record and her first number one single.
Now, maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the beer, maybe not everybody in the room knew who Ashley was, but I was disappointed with the crowd in Bristol, many of whom were as still as the May night, seemingly unaware it was more than okay to dance. McBryde and her band made a promise to “leave it all” in Bristol, as it was their last night. And they absolutely did, and left us wanting more, like record three, which she teased us they’d just been listening to upstairs (in my mind she was classed out on a green room sofa listening to her new vinyl with fellow May artists John, TJ, Keith, Midland…). Not. Even. Going. To. Wonder. About. Kip. Album. Collaborations.
The fifty or so of us in the room who really moved, applauded and wolf-whistled like it was Ashley’s last night in the UK, to ‘Radioland’ ‘American Scandal’ and ‘Dahlonega’ as well as yelling out the chorus’ on ‘Shut Up Sheila’ and Ashley McBryde’s first number one song, ‘Never Wanted To Be That Girl’ (one day I’ll see Carly step out on stage to complete the duet) more than made up the general lack of noise in the room. There’s polite, then there’s too polite.
But I do love that unique gig moment, when a familiar song takes on a new depth. Girl Goin’ Nowhere, which has always stilled a UK crowd, since its debut at C2C in (only) 2018, reached the gut even more so with the lyric, “and I hear the band” because of the lads’ strings and percussion beautifully amplifying McBryde’s wavering powerhouse vocals. We’re with you, the girl with impeccable GPS, as tears soak our hearts.
The Bristol crowd appeared to have missed McBryde’s 2022 C2C performances, when phone torches lit up the main stage; very few gleaming dots glittered the Bristol room. Maybe we need more country music moments in Bristol, to understand the dance between having a good time and listening for the artist to drop a pin?
McBryde tours 250-something days of the year, a calling she has thankfully taken on. She’s astutely aware of the familial sacrifices, on ‘Home Sweet Highway’ and ‘Sparrow’, but knows ‘Voodoo Doll’ and – yes! – ‘El Dorado’ (McBryde’s best uptempo live track) are just two very good reasons for boots to hit the floor night after night after night. I love that Ashley takes the time to introduce her band, with Chris Harris taking to the mic for a stunning performance of ‘Tomorrow I’m Going To Break Her Heart’. Decent of Ashley to help out on background vocals.
By the time McBryde was reaching ninety minutes, though, I’d never wanted to throw something on stage so badly – a scrunchie to wrap up the beautiful hair; the heat was insane, with even Ashley reminding us to rehydrate. I finally figured out what artists get up to just before an encore though; everyone left the stage for a couple of minutes, and Ashley returned with her tresses tied back for ‘Sparrow’ and a rousing ‘One Night Standards’.
Catch Ashley McBryde on her US dates in May, and on tour with Dierks Bentley and Travis Denning.
Setlist: 1. Martha Divine 2. Radioland 3. Hang in There Girl 4. Whiskey and Country Music 5. American Scandal 6. Women Ain’t Whiskey 7. Girl Goin’ Nowhere 8. What If We Don’t 9. Tomorrow I’m Gonna Break Her Heart (Chris Harris) 10. Never Wanted To Be That Girl 11. Never Will 12. A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega 13. Shut Up Sheila 14. Voodoo Doll 15. Home Sweet Highway16. Tired of Being Happy 17. El Dorado 18. Livin’ Next to Leroy 19. Midnight Rider Encore: 20. Sparrow 21. One Night Standards Venue: Marble Factory, Bristol, UK Date: 10th May 2022