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Two Stars at Winstar

Anticipation can hinder a concert in a heartbeat.  Waiting too long can create an unreal expectation of an event that can only falter under the weight of reality.  Luckily that was not the case on Saturday night at the Winstar Casino.  Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell both played terrific sets, each about an hour, which was not near enough time for either; however, all said and done, it was a remarkable show.

There is no doubt that Sturgill Simpson’s voice is able to attract a great number of fans who do not follow whatever-music-scene you would categorize Simpson into.  But on Saturday night, the man behind the voice showed he was much more than just a voice.  He entered the stage in blue jeans and a plain grey sweatshirt and played at a rapid pace, one song after the next, but still managed to connect with the crowd on several different occasions.  The most poignant statement of the night was almost a side comment to himself.  He said if you are going to gamble after the show, hit the wheel of fortune slot machine.  Followed by “if you are going to play, play to win…or at least that is what I found out last year.”  And play he did.

His guitar playing skills were on display as was his love of bluegrass, as he wove in and out of his own songs and old bluegrass standards.  Sometimes mention of the word bluegrass was off-putting to the crowd, but it was played at such a rapid pace, it sounded almost like any number of rock songs.  Early in the set, he asked for requests, which surprised the crowd, and after they responded, he shook his head and murmured to himself with a smile, “How do y’all even know that song?”  And commenced to playing it.  He closed out the set with “The Promise” and “Turtles All the Way Down” which were crowd favorites and sent Sturgill off the stage leaving the crowd begging for more.

After a quick break, Jason Isbell took the stage.  He briefly talked about new music he was in the process of writing and hopefully putting out this year and then he tore into his set.  Again, like Sturgill, he played one song after the next at a rapid pace, hopefully trying to get as much in as he could before his hour was up.  Whereas Sturgill is deep rooted in country and bluegrass, Jason Isbell roots are firmly planted in the Mobile, Alabama sound that can encompass all genres.  And although Jason is definitely known for his guitar playing skills, his voice is what stood out the most.  The power of his voice and the emotion of the songs together with the band took over the crowd, many of them lost in song themselves.  When Jason finished singing “Cover Me Up” in the middle of the set, most of the crowd up front rose to their feet in the first quasi-standing ovation of the night and the whole place should have if they didn’t.  It was by far the highlight of the night.  For an hour and ten minutes, Isbell’s performance put on display not only his songs and his musicianship, but the power what great music is.  It was over in the blink-of-an-eye.

Before the show, there was a lot of discussion about the two artists.  Who was opening? Who were more people there to see? Who was better?  Sturgill Simpson seemed to have the buzz of the mainly Texan crowd (even in Oklahoma) before the show, but there were a lot more people singing along with Isbell than with Simpson.   Either way, there is no way you walked out of that venue not being a fan of both.  If anything, the show made you want to see them again.

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