Last night, Stacy and I went to the West End of Nashville to see Frankie Ballard at Exit/In. Normally, she writes these, but we had a momentous event in our life and had our first granddaughter and is spending the day with her, so here I am writing.
Every year Stacy has one, yes just one, CD, that she WEARS out. Literally, we had to buy new copies one year because she repeated it so often (at least now everything all digital). For 2016, that CD is Frankie Ballard’s El Rio. If she in the car, it is on. We had seen Frankie open for FGL and earlier this year at Highway Finds stage, but hadn’t seen him headline since El Rio came out, so we jumped at the chance to see him in Nashville.
We had never been to historic rock bar Exit/In before, but was easy enough to find right off Vanderbilt’s campus. Had the advantage of not being downtown with the attendant people and vehicular traffic mess. Easy to park and line outside was relatively short with the doors opening promptly at 7 PM.
Once inside, it is a big open area. Sound board was towards the back, on a bit of a riser, where we choose to de-camp for the night. The bathrooms were tiny and right off the stage, in fact for the guy’s room you actually walk on the stage to get to. The tall ceilings and the lack of any obstructions other than a support beam in the center, gave the whole place an airy feel even when all 500 fans were in there. We never felt hot, or packed in, and everyone, fans and staff, were very polite and friendly. By far the best small bar venue we have ever been to, I hope they do more country shows so we can go back.
Just after 8 PM, Brooke Eden, her guitarist, and a drummer with a cajon went on stage. Brooke had previously been featured as a Highway Find (back when there really was such a thing) and we had briefly seen her in the past; although honestly didn’t remember that was at Dierks’ Ascend show last year. She has a new EP, “Welcome to the Weekend”, with lead single “Diamonds” which she explained she wrote was about growing up and heading out for fun with her girlfriends in the town she grew up in. She kept her set moving along, telling stories about some of the songs, about her Ex that she wrote a few about, and her mom. Being that is was a kind of a stripped down set, she really let her voice shine and all but one song was uptempo.
John Marks, formerly the program director for country at Sirius, was at the show and stood in the back as Brooke performed her first ever song to radio, American Dreamin’. She said Sirius played it back before she was signed (currently to Broken Bow) and knew what she was going to do in music city. Her strong voice has a bit of a raspy tone with a good stage presence and was a fun 30-minute set.
Where we parked there was a huge semi backed up to the stage door of the bar and we wondered what all they would need for a small bar show. Well, at 9, the house lights went down and we found out as these lights from behind the band came on and flashed nearly blinding us. The bar may have been small, but Frankie was going to come and do a full show for the next 75 minutes.
He came on with a bright red jacket on to play El Camino, off of El Rio. He later explained the guys in the band found the jacket at a thrift store and it said “Ballard”, not from him, but from the school the jacket came from (I wonder if it is Ballard High in Louisville?), and on the sleeve was an “82”, the year he was born, so felt it was meant to be his lucky jacket.
As he wound through tracks off both of his major label albums, he did a good job of showcasing his personality and even more so his and bandmate’s incredible guitar skills. Just them riffing would be enough to watch for a whole show. He did a rocking, theatrical rendition of “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg”, along with a long medley of Elvis song, who he and his rockabilly brethren clearly inspire Frankie’s modern take on rock country.
I’ll say we had seen Frankie 2 years ago headline and we were less enthusiastic, however, in the interim he has really found his groove. Stacy was the one who really wanted to go, but by the end, I would say this was our best show we have seen in 2016. When you combine that with Exit/In being such an awesome venue, and the cheap ticket price; was definitely a highlight of our year.
If you haven’t picked up El Rio, do so, every song is great, and get out to see Frankie Ballard on the road. We only have one more show for the year, Chris Young and Dustin Lynch and then 2016 will be in the books for us. Look for our year end review of albums and shows in December, I’m sure you’ll see Frankie Ballard and El Rio on it.