Located in Alexandria, Va., the Birchmere is known for its outstanding acoustics and seats in the 500-seat main hall that allow you to get close to the artists and the stage. It is a terrific place to sit and listen to music.
But after 18 months of being cooped up, a significant portion of the crowd that came out to see Reckless Kelly on Friday night was in no mood to sit. Midway through the 100-minute show, several pockets of people — mostly women — stood up and started dancing and grooving to the music. By the end of the show, most of the audience was standing.
That’s the vibe the band, led by brothers Willy and Cody Braun, has cultivated since moving from their native Idaho to Austin in the mid 1990s. The group, which started out playing in Austin’s famous Sixth Street clubs, released its first album Millican in 1997 and didn’t look back.
At least not until recently.
In 2019, Reckless Kelly released Bulletproof Live, in which they performed their 2008 album in its entirety for a faithful Idaho audience. Earlier this month, they released The 9/11 Demos, 16 songs recorded in between trips to the television to watch coverage of the attack on the Twin Towers. In between, the group released a double album American Jackpot/American Girls, its first set of originals in four years.
Seven tracks from the American albums, which came out in 2020, were part of the 20-song set that featured a nice mix of covers and originals that spanned the band’s two decades. The show’s first and third songs (“Lost Inside the Grove” and the lovely “Thinkin’ About You All Night) were new, while the second song (“Back Around”) was from “Millican.”
After covers of Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” and Joe Ely’s “All Just to Get to You,” Willy Braun told a story about opening for Robert Earl Keen at the Birchmere when Reckless Kelly first started out. “I remember thinking, ‘This is the kind of venue we need to be playing. We could have some good nights at a place like this.’”
It was a good night indeed. At some point during “I Only See You With My Eyes Closed” (another outstanding “American” track), audience members started standing and swaying to the music. The next song, “Wicked Twisted Road,” wasn’t about to sit them down.
“The thing we missed most was a live audience singing along with a song we wrote,” Willy told the audience.
The final three pre-encore songs — “Nobody’s Girl,” “Crazy Eddie’s Last Hurrah,” and a cover of Alejandro Escovedo’s “Castanets” — left everyone standing. Willy came back out and told the story behind the new cut “Tom Was a Friend of Mine,” noting the irony in the title given that he’d never met Tom Petty. The show closed with a raucous cover of Petty’s “Running Down a Dream,” in which the group brought out opener Tylor and the Train Robbers to join them.
Audiences love it when they can connect with their favorite musicians. In some ways, that connection feels almost familial. The last time I saw Reckless Kelly, back in 2019 at City Winery’s Washington, D.C. location, they brought along Jeff Crosby and the Refugees with them. Crosby’s brother is featured in that group, while Tylor Ketchum’s group consists of his father-in-law and two brothers. (Their new album, “Non-Typical Find,” was produced by Cody Braun.)
Family ties obviously are important to Reckless Kelly. And for Tykor and the Train Robbers, the family ties were evident both in the energy and enthusiasm they brought to their songs as wel. Audiences like the one Friday are the beneficiaries.
Find more Reckless Kelly info here: https://recklesskelly.com
Find Tylor and the Train Robbers here: https://www.tylorandthetrainrobbers.com