Sturgill Simpson @ The Catalyst in Santa Cruz, Bay Area Approved Country


Sturgill Simpson played in Santa Cruz to a sold out Catalyst last Friday, smack dab in the middle of a tour that has taken him from Indio to Sacramento in the last few weeks. The Fillmore will see some San Francisco-approved country this week, in a show that is close to sold out, but definitely worth a scalped ticket if need be.

“Everything but Country…” is a popular expression used by the San Francisco music enthusiast upon a first-meet musical taste inquiry.  Well, you may want shelve your Baroque harpsichord tunes for a minute, or at least add Sturgill Simpson to the playlist. His shows will change almost anyone’s answer to just… “Everything.”

People already in-the-know will tell you Sturgill Simpson is a renegade country artist in the style of Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, a counter to the bro-country that has given the genre its negative stereotype. Kentucky born, former Seattle rock scene attendee, former train conductor; he broke out in 2014 with the self-released Metamodern Sounds in Country Music.

Simpson has a brand of music even the staunchest anti-Marina SF local can relate to, think of contemporaries like Jason Isbell. A friendly crowd pre-show at The Catalyst came off as excited and invested in an upcoming live music education. Sturgill’s classic growled and mumbled country voice was paired not with ostrich skinned ranch-wear, but a pair of New Balance sneakers.

What does one do in their free time touring up and down California for nary three weeks? “Bought a couple ounces of Blue Dream, man,” Sturgill stated with a dulled twinkle in his eye.

Guitarist Laur Joamets delivered heavy Fender Telecaster fire and blues riffs on the opening song “Life of Sin” to get things going. The band jammed out in intervals as Sturgill sang lyrics as unpretentious as his walking shoes. The signature song “Turtles All the Way Down” discussing man’s understanding of space and time was performed early in the set, and he soon followed up with singable fan favorite, “Long White Line.” Marijuana? Long white lines? The space-time continuum? I think Sturgill would fit right in here in San Francisco.

Simpson further differentiated himself from new country and Blake Shelton’s chewing tobacco, with a few covers mid-set. In homage to his musical idol, a solo version of “Sad Songs and Waltzes” by Willie Nelson was particularly choice. If you were still unmoved, Sturgill ‘caught you a delicious bass‘ with a cover of When in Rome’s “The Promise,” previously a one hit wonder made popular by consensual tetherball.

The encore held true to murmurs I heard among the crowd before the show, starting slow but finishing with  guitar heat on “Living the Dream.” A few tickets may still available (as of writing) for Saturday’s Fillmore show, but this will sell out. Attendees won’t have to worry about knowing how to two-step to enjoy Sturgill Simpson’s music, but after a few songs, a few drinks, some blue dream (maybe a long white line), they may wish they did.

Photo credit: Crackerfarm