For the second night during the 3rd week of January, Wooly’s in Des Moines, Iowa hosted another night of some of the best country music has to offer. I again packed up my lenses on Thursday the 22nd and headed back out for the 4 hour round trip drive to shoot 3, yes 3, amazing singer songwriters currently blazing trails across the American highways. Clint Park, Josh Morningstar, and Ward Davis put on a hell of a show and if you haven’t caught a show yet, here’s what you can expect.
Clint Park not only plays a mean bass in the Ward Davis band, but has also spent a number of years performing with his father, Johnny Park, and then out on his own. He’s a multi instrumentalist who plays both guitar and piano during his set. Clint runs through almost all the songs on his self titled EP that include “Why Can’t it be raining,” “Love/Hate thing,” “One Track Mind,” and “Nobody Cheats on Me.” He also plays a new track titled “Even Texas Ain’t Big Enough,” soon to be out on his next album, before coming off stage to spend time chatting and taking photos with fans.
As I sit next to the green room, just offstage, I greet Clint and it’s just a matter of minutes before Josh Morningstar emerges, guitar in hand and heads for the back stairs to get ready for his set. I quickly run to the other side to set up and catch him as he walks on stage. The crowd here is definitely familiar with Josh and his wide body of work and while, at most shows, the supporting act doesn’t command this kind of reverence and respect, Josh is no ordinary singer songwriter and he never puts on an ordinary show.
Josh plays a number of the songs from his EP The Plea, including the title track, “Damn These Birds,” Pulling Weeds,” and “Wishing Well.” The audience sings along at times and at other times during his set, they give Josh the space he needs to pull some real emotion out of his music. Josh also plays a few songs he wrote that were recorded by his friend, and sometimes writing partner, Cody Jinks. “Must Be the Whiskey” is always a crowd favorite as well as a great performance of “Which One I Feed” which was on Cody’s album The Wanting and hit #1 on Billboard, and spent 11 weeks on the charts. As Josh finishes up, the audience makes its way back to the merch table to help support Josh’s music by grabbing CD’s and t-shirts as Josh is more than generous with his time for his fans.
It’s not long before the lights go dark and Ward Davis and company takes the stage. Ward has a real cool Honky Tonk vibe and this crowd came to soak it up. To me, Ward’s music is a call back to the “Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound” style of country that I loved growing up and is as authentic as they come.
The band kicks off with Papa & Mama, “No Goin Home,” and a great version of Tom Petty’s “Time to move On.” After a few more songs, Ward slides over to the piano and plays “I’m not the Devil,” “Live a Lie,” and “Good and Drunk.” He plays a favorite of mine, the Ed Bruce tune “Old Worn out Cowboys,” which I discussed with Ward at a pre-show interview that will be posted here on Americana Highways.
Ward is 18 songs in before the band heads offstage for a quick break, and then comes back out to put a exclamation point on this already amazing set. He’s joined by Josh Morningstar for what has become a standard for a Josh Morningstar/Ward Davis show, which is both guys belting out a killer version of Josh’s “Jerry Lee.” Ward on piano makes their duet version smoke and the audience absolutely loves the collaboration.
Earlier in the night someone shouted out “Free Bird,” to which Ward laughs and says, “Freebird, nobody plays Free Bird anymore.” Well, that was tongue in cheek as Ward hits the first few notes of the classic Lynyrd Skynyrd closing tune and the audience erupted in applause. Done well, and done right, it’s a hard tune not to sing along with and all the guys on stage know how to do it right.
Guitar player Coleman Murphy nails those signature slide licks and absolutely crushes his own version of the incredible close out guitar solo as Josh keeps the rhythm chugging along on acoustic guitar. Clint Park on bass, and Josh Birkhimer on drums, are driving the signature beat, and breaks, and keeping the music on track, as they have all night. Ward does the iconic song all the justice it deserves on both vocals and piano and is a great example of why these guys pack the house from venue to venue.
As the light go black and the crowd begins to head out the door, all of the guys come out from backstage and spend much of their time chatting with fans and taking photos. It’s a hard life on the road and even through the show ends, these guys still have hours to go before they can rest. Knowing that doesn’t dissuade them from thanking every person that’s still there before the final load out and getting back on the road to the next show.
You can keep up with Clink Park here, Josh Morningstar here, and Ward Davis here.