Charley Crockett

Show Review: Charley Crockett at The Rave in Milwaukee

Show Reviews

Charley Crockett transforms Rave into honky tonk saloon
The Rave, Milwaukee, Wisconsin June 20, 2023

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Charley Crockett and his band, The Blue Drifters, rode into Milwaukee this week at the top of their game. Crockett’s 2022 release The Man from Waco has received critical acclaim and plenty of radio airplay. Honestly, I don’t listen to the radio much anymore, but the album’s title track, along with “Trinity River,” “July Jackson” and “I’m Just a Clown” continually pop up in my Spotify playlists. All of them also found their way into Crockett’s setlist Tuesday night before a packed room that felt less like a concert hall and more like a 19th century honky tonk saloon.

If you’re familiar with Crockett’s music, you know it transcends time and genre. It seems unfathomable that the Texas singer is only 38 years old and that he has released 12 albums in just eight years (four of them tribute or cover albums). He’s lived several lifetimes in those 38 years, however, spending a good share of it hitchhiking, stowing away on freight trains and busking on the streets from New Orleans to New York City to Paris, France.

“They call me country and I’m proud of that,” he told the Milwaukee crowd Tuesday night. “But when I was playing on street corners and hoboing around this great nation, I would have thought of myself as nothing but a folk singer. These days, if you want to know how I see it, I don’t think I’m anything but a blues singer.”

And while the sentiment of the blues comes through in Crockett’s lyrics, he leans heavily into the country and western balladeers of the 1950s and 1960s. Tuesday’s set at The Rave included songs by Johnny Paycheck, Buck Owens and Jerry Reed — all of them blending seamlessly among Crockett’s catalog of originals (what Crockett affectionately refers to as “gulf and western”). The set also included three songs from Crockett’s 2021 tribute to James Hand, “10 for Slim.” Hand died of heart failure in 2020, the same year Crockett was diagnosed with a congenital heart condition that required surgery. The two became friends prior to his death and it was Hand who inspired the title and mood of The Man from Waco.

“Waco” was the first of Crockett’s records to feature his touring band the Blue Drifters — Kullen Fox, piano, trumpet, accordion; Colin Colby, bass; Nathan Fleming, pedal steel; Alexis Sanchez, guitar; and Mayo Valdez, drums. All are dependable and talented musicians, but it was Fox who received the loudest applause whenever he brought the trumpet to his lips and blew.

Crockett and company ended the set with two songs from 2016’s “In the Night” — “Silver Dagger” and the title track. By now, everyone knows that unless the house lights come up, there will be an encore; but that didn’t stop the frenzied chants of “Charley! Charley! Charley!” Milwaukee had not had enough of Crockett.

He returned to the stage alone to perform “The Death of Bill Bailey” and “July Jackson” with only his acoustic guitar. Halfway into “July Jackson,” however, he stopped. “Shit, I forgot that one.” He then switched into “Time of the Cottonwood Trees,” before the Blue Drifters rejoined him for a well-received rendition of “What Made Milwaukee Famous” (a nod to the city’s brewing industry) and “I’m Just a Clown” to end the night.

Crockett packed a lot into his 90-minute show, just as he’s packed a lot into the eight years since his 2015 debut “A Stolen Jewel.” I encourage you to listen to the original version of “Trinity River” from that album and then the 2022 version from “The Man from Waco.” You’ll realize that while his sound is certainly more refined, Crockett hasn’t changed his approach much. He remains tied to a music that is timeless and ageless. If the audience Tuesday night is any indication, Crockett has connected with listeners of all ages and demographics who will likely continue to chant “Charley, Charley, Charley” as they beg for more.

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Enjoy our previous coverage here: Show Review: Charley Crockett at Brooklyn Bowl 9/10

Run Horse Run / 5 More Miles
Cowboy Candy
Jukebox Charley (Johnny Paycheck cover)
Midnight Run (James Hand cover)
Lesson in Depression (James Hand cover)
Baby, Baby, Don’t Tell Me That (James Hand cover)
$10 Cowboy
Music City USA
The Man from Waco
Act Naturally (Buck Owens cover)
Just Like Honey
Tom Turkey
Paint It Blue
Welcome to Hard Times
Jamestown Ferry (Tanya Tucker cover)
I Feel for You (Jerry Reed cover)
Traveling Blues
Instrumental interlude
Sharecropper’s Son (Larry Sparks cover)
Round This World
Trinity River
Solitary Road
Silver Dagger
In the Night

The Death of Bill Bailey
July Jackson
Time of the Cottonwood Trees
What Made Milwaukee Famous
I’m Just a Clown

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