Thursday’s show at The Shrine in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was like getting two sides of the same coin. Both Ryan Culwell and Will Hoge can be found in the Americana genre and both are talented songwriters. Both artists also recently released albums in the last few months and both albums are insight into these artists and their current view of the world. Opener Ryan Culwell has a quiet, laid back vibe, while headliner, Will Hoge, came crashing out of the gate with songs that could be compared to those of Woody Guthrie, in the spirit of social and political commentary. From Culwell’s startling honesty in the tune, “Last American” to Will Hoge’s calling out of Donald Trump in “Gilded Walls”, neither shy away from what weighs on their consciences.
Even with his unassuming appearance, a baseball hat pulled low over his eyes, clad in tan work boots, leaning against the bar making conversation with others, it’s obvious Ryan Culwell has the “it factor.” That observation was substantiated when he took the stage. Singing songs that speak to our every day feelings and actions, while touching on love, family hardships and hope, Culwell intros his songs with a few words and sometimes longer stories that give the audience some insight on what he was thinking or feeling when the song was written. Having just released his latest album, The Last American, in August, the majority of the set was pulled from that album. However, there were a few songs from Culwell’s highly acclaimed 2015 album, Flatlands. My favorite song of the set was “Moon Hangs Down” a song, Culwell explained, that was written as a bedtime song for his four daughters. Its hushed lyrics were a contrast to other songs in the set, such as the song “Dog’s Ass,” which is based on Culwell’s family and the oil bust in the 80’s that left them on the hook for a large sum of money and consequently, led to them driving semis for a living. One of the most memorable parts of the evening came when a particularly loud member of the audience disappeared and Culwell quipped that, “maybe everyone could hear his songs now that the loud lady had left.”
Will Hoge is not a man for an introduction, other than jumping right into his set with the song, “Illegal Line,” which addresses what migratory workers face when coming into the United States to work for low pay in order to support and better their families left behind in Mexico. With a curly mohawk, tinged purple in the stage lights, Hoge looks more punk rock than Americana artist. Will Hoge’s career spans an impressive seventeen albums, both studio and live and his packed setlist included songs off many of them, including his latest, My American Dream, as well as Anchors, The Wreckage, Number 7, Draw the Curtains, Blackbird on a Lonely Wire and Small Town Dreams. Although the venue wasn’t crowded, enthusiastic fans clustered close to the stage, swaying and singing along. Switching from electric guitar, to acoustic to keyboard, Will took command of the stage, rolling from one song to the other, touching on politics in songs like “Thoughts and Prayers”, love, like in the song “Cold Night in Santa Fe,” and the dreams of a small-town boy in “Little Bitty Dreams.”
Will is touring through the end of the year, both with Ryan Culwell and other artists, like Lucero. You can find his tour dates here: https://www.willhoge.com/tour/. Ryan Culwell has a few dates through November, opening for Will Hoge, his upcoming dates can be found on his website here: https://www.ryanculwell.com/tour