photo by Aaron Cordell
Marking the end of the Artist in Residency 3-night run at Southgate House Revival in Newport, KY, Arlo McKinley and the Lonesome Sound brought along singer/songwriter John Clay for a night of nostalgia and noticeable anticipation for the band’s future, Wednesday night. It was recently announced that the band signed with Whizzbang Booking and Management, joining the likes of Kentucky’s recent phenom, Tyler Childers. The Cincinnati native didn’t hesitate to call Southgate home, but the show clearly brought out all stops, worthy of a proper thank you and goodbye.
Opening the night with just his acoustic guitar, John Clay began to fill the room, no doubt enticing those patrons hanging out in their local bar to take notice with his powerhouse voice and coming-of-age story telling. Clay’s music not only resonates with many in rural Kentucky, but anyone who has ever found themselves dreaming of escaping the town they grew up in. After introducing it as the first song he’d ever written, Clay delivered a jaw-dropping performance of “Running Away” from his EP Now It’s Time. With lines like “Jesus don’t love me, this much I know. So, I’m runnin’ away from this place I call home,” Clay touches on life growing up in the bible-belt in Pikesville, KY. The song is no doubt a testament to Clay’s writing ability because it began here, but also a great showcase of his vocal range. The song’s ending seemed to shake the walls even more than the post-hardcore band performing in the next room of Southgate. Artist, Brent Mathis later joined Clay on stage for a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Black Jack Mama”. The two played this classic flawlessly, easily making it one of the highlights of the night. Clay announced Mathis is releasing a new album, and I’d suggest everyone keep an eye out for it.
After a small break, Arlo McKinley took the stage, inviting John Clay and Sarah Davis, former keyboard player and backup vocalist in the Lonesome Sound, for a few tunes from McKinley’s former band The Great Depression. The trio belted out “Whiskey and Rose” bringing the room to a standstill, until they hit the last note, eliciting roars of applause and screams of approval from the audience. Though the song itself was beautiful, the harmonies alone gave me chills. This short set felt like a bit of history, as though McKinley was giving us a glimpse of where he’s been, because he won’t be back there anytime soon.
When Arlo McKinley and the Lonesome Sound filled the small stage and surrounding areas, the crowd slowly filtered in from outside just in time to hear the band open with a cover of “Shake the Frost” by Tyler Childers, but McKinley truly shines when singing his own songs. The new album Die Midwestern is coming out this Fall, and it will likely mark the last time you can see this band in a venue as small as the lounge at Southgate. With each song he sang, McKinley’s voice captivated the room. The barroom chatter began to die down, and people really began to take notice. During his performance of “We Were Alright”, a familiar song to fans that will be released for the first time on the up-coming album, I couldn’t help but look around and take in the fact that this theatre-worthy band had the attention of every patron in the bar. It could have been the incredibly heartbreaking lyrics, McKinley’s insanely powerful vocals, or the tightness of the band, but this seamless performance encompassed all things exciting about the future of it. McKinley and the Lonesome Sound also performed several tracks off their 2014 self-titled album, which is nothing short of remarkable.
Davis again joined the band on stage for “I’ve Got Her”, a crowd favorite, and reminded me that an Arlo McKinley show is an experience. You can almost feel every heart in the room begin to crumble under the weight of honesty and emotion in McKinley’s lyrics. He’s in the company of some amazing songwriters, but he can hold his own. This show will be one to remember, for both the deep-cut performances, and the likelihood Arlo McKinley is about to set out on a whirlwind career in the spotlight, instead of the dark stages of the local bar. The anticipation for the new album is at an all-time high. Seeing tears well up in the eyes of many, and having to choke back a few myself, there’s no question Arlo McKinley is the next buzzworthy name on the Americana circuit. Check out Arlo McKinley’s music, here: https://arlomckinley.bandcamp.com/ Find out more about John Clay, here. https://johnclay.bandcamp.com/