Chris Stapleton brings the thunder to Wrigley Field, even if Mother Nature doesn’t
After a storm threat moved up his set and wiped out two opening acts, the country rebel delivered a wide-encompassing set of Southern rock songwriting swagger with a guitar-shredding rock sensibility.
Chris Stapleton weathered the impending storm the best he could at Wrigley Field on Saturday night. The country rebel was finally able to stage his All-American Road Show at the historic park after two pandemic-failed attempts (in August 2020 and July 2021), but Mother Nature wasn’t exactly playing ball.
Heat alerts greeted early comers to Wrigley, reminding people decked out in their sweaty leather boots and cowboy hats to drink water and take breaks from the sun. But by 5:45 p.m., event organizers decided to push up the schedule of events to get ahead of a severe system forecast to move through the area. Billboards were updated to let patrons know the show was now set to begin at 6 p.m. with two of the four opening acts canceled and Stapleton taking the stage at 7 p.m., an hour and 40 minutes ahead of time.
The singer-songwriter posted the memo to his social media, as did presenting station US-99, with tour producer Live Nation re-tweeting it and sharing it on Facebook, in an attempt to fill in ticket holders not yet inside the ballpark about the abrupt changes.
There was a large crowd by the time Stapleton did take the stage at 7:20 p.m., and he still managed to deliver a wide-encompassing 18-song set accompanied by his cohesive six-piece ensemble (including talented harmonica player Mickey Raphael, known for his work with Willie Nelson).
The 90-minute, rain-free affair pulled from all of Stapleton’s heralded albums, including 2015 debut “Traveller,” 2017’s double whammy “From a Room” Volumes 1 and 2, and the genre-bending 2020 Grammy winning album “Starting Over,” which really propelled him into the mainstream.
“We’re going to play as much music as we can and have as much fun in the time we are given,” Stapleton said to the crowd as he rushed against nature, no doubt with memories swirling in his head of that 2017 appearance at Wrigley Field opening for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers when a literal deluge poured down throughout his set.
Stapleton gave a shadow reminder with a guest spot from the great Mike Campbell, the former guitarist in the Heartbreakers who now leads the Dirty Knobs, one of the night’s opening-act casualties. The two paired up on a Southern rock-fueled cover of the Heartbreakers’ “I Should Have Known It” with Campbell’s funky swagger adding spades to the track alongside Stapleton’s natural twang. Campbell also guested on the honky-tonk classic “Arkansas” that he co-wrote with Stapleton.
The other support sacrifice of the night was none other than Chicago soul/gospel queen Mavis Staples, whose nixed set was a huge disappointment for many wanting to see the national treasure gracing the Wrigley Field stage in her hometown. (It was just announced she can next be seen as the special guest appearing at Bonnie Raitt’s Ravinia show this Wednesday.)
Staples did get a brief moment on stage, invited out for a gut-busting showdown of the feel-good song “Friendship,” giving all her soul-stirring gusto to the track while decked out in her own custom Cubs jersey.
The Highwomen also were part of that number; they were notably the sole support act who did get their promised set and were a total showstopper in the process. The matching denim-clad supergroup — made up of Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, Amanda Shires and Natalie Hemby — were synchronized harmonizers whose rich voices interwove with each other beautifully on songs such as “Redesigning Women,” “Loose Change” and a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” with Morgane Stapleton (singer-songwriter and Chris’ wife). The Highwomen were also joined in their set by the great artist Jason Isbell (and Shires’ husband).
“We’re all family here, and this is legendary,” said Maren Morris at one point. And most of the night felt that way, such as when Stapleton brought out his “hero” for a one-night-only appearance: frequent songwriting partner Mike Henderson, a quintessential part of the bluegrass band the SteelDrivers in which Stapleton got his start.
Their performance of “Midnight Train to Memphis” showed Stapleton at perhaps his most comfortable on vocals and guitar, still so tethered to his roots even as he has expanded into newer crossover territory in the past few years working with pop stars like Adele and Justin Timberlake.
But as Saturday’s weather-hampered show proved, Stapleton is a great example of adaptability. His penchant for bringing guitar-shredding rock sensibility, Southern rock songwriting swagger (an abbreviated cover of “Free Bird” melded perfectly with his “The Devil Named Music”) and still keeping his country cool aesthetic has gone far in widening his fan base to one that now fills up ballparks, come hell or high water (or even just the threat of it).
- “Nobody to Blame”
- “Second One to Know”
- “Starting Over”
- “Friendship” (with the Highwomen and Mavis Staples)
- “I Should Have Known It” (cover of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, with Mike Campbell)
- “Arkansas” (with Mike Campbell)
- “You Should Probably Leave”
- “Midnight Train to Memphis” (cover of the SteelDrivers)
- “Free Bird” (cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd)/”The Devil Named Music”
- “Fire Away”
- “Broken Halos”
- “Outlaw State of Mind”
- “Tennessee Whiskey”
- “Whiskey And You”
- “I Was Wrong”