April 21 at the Carl and Cheryl Hughes Fieldhouse in Maryville, MO Review by Kim Pool, Photos by Rae Arleen

Excitement buzzed in the air as the last Midwest cold front passed through northwest Missouri. College students wearing an abundance of denim, fringes, cowboy hats and boots lined up at the doors, chatting in a frenzied fashion. Just on the other side of the doors, in a manner of minutes once they opened, would be a night of country music they would never forget. . .

Sometimes, country music is thought of in different eras: the ‘classic’ era with Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Emmylou Harris, and modern country. Some definitions of modern country are thought of to be the 1980s or 1990s and onward. I feel that personally now that so much time has passed since then that there would need to be another era of country music. Listeners could call it a ‘Country Revival,’ but I don’t feel that country music has ever really gone away (even with awful fads like “Achy Breaky Heart” that could have very well given the genre an undeserved premature death). Perhaps, ‘Country Music Continues On’ – but that name lacks catchiness. For lack of better alternatives, how about just ‘The Good Music Continues’?

And the good music continued on Friday, April 21. Eli Young Band played at Northwest Missouri State University, with Mason Ramsey opening.

In some ways, these two acts represent different eras of country music themselves. Eli Young Band released their first album in the early 2000s. Mason Ramsey was born in the early 2000s.

Ramsey became famous from a viral video in 2018 of him yodeling Hank Williams’ song “Lovesick Blues.” Since then, Ramsey has released two EPs.

I did not know what to expect for Ramsey’s set; before the concert, I had honestly thought he was a ‘one-hit-wonder’ in the sense of he had had one viral video a few years ago, and then the Internet moved onto the next hot topic. In this digital age, everything moves so quickly that trends and fads have shorter lifespans than dragonflies.

However, April 21 showed that the kid has some talent!

Ramsey’s set contained a mix of songs from his Eps Famous and Twang. Kicking off with “The Way I See It,” Ramsey steered the crowd into a country-rock frenzy.

Ramsey’s most recent release is the 2019 EP Twang. Some tracks that he performed from that EP were “How Could I Not” and “Before I Knew It”.

Ramsey also played songs from his earlier EP Famous – “You Da Lady Who” and the title track. During this, Ramsey did his famous yodel, causing the crowd to go wild with screaming and cheers.

Ramsey played some new songs. “Got It Outa Me” sounded rather rock-n-roll with lots of energy that got the crowd moving. On a more emotional note, the singer dedicated a song called “Reasons to Come Home” to his grandparents.

As Ramsey announced the last song and paused to await the audience’s reaction, I could hear the students next to me chatting. “I wonder what the last song is going to be,” one girl said. “If it’s not ‘Twang,’ then I’m leaving,” another said.

As it turns out, she stayed. Mason Ramsey ended his set with “Twang,” the title track from his 2019 EP.

Ramsey had one last surprise. He took off his leather jacket to display a green Northwest t-shirt. The students in the crowd went wild as Ramsey and his band walked off stage.

Eli Young Band had some trouble arriving to the university. One of the vehicles carrying their instruments was delayed, so the band had to experiment and change plans on the spot. No worries, they would shift gears into an acoustic version of their set.

Personally, acoustic music evokes emotion differently than an electric setting. I would not necessarily say that acoustic music is a better vessel for emotion, but that it can have its own special sense that one does not typically see with louder genres. I love rock-n-roll; anyone who knows me knows that I am obsessed with 1970s class rock. But there is something special, emotional and raw with music being acoustic.

Perhaps, it is because it feels more exposed. It feels like every note and moment has an extra spotlight overhead. At the same time, it gives off an alluring glow of serenity. There is peace and freedom in the vulnerability; there is beauty in the acoustic authenticity.

Eli Young Band’s stop in Maryville was 15th out of 26th tour dates on the back of the tour t-shirt. I thought, “When am I ever going to see another band t-shirt that says MARYVILLE on the back” and bought one at the merch table.

Eli Young Band opened with their newest single “Break Up in a Bar.” This was released as a single ahead of their album Love Talking released last year in June. The title sounds like it would be one of those depressing breakup songs, but here in an anthem where a breakup isn’t so bad. In fact, this pop-country single proclaims that breaking up in a bar is a pretty good place to break up.

The studio version of “Dust” is a rocker. In the acoustic format, this ode to leaving a small town where nothing happens began an exciting, energetic turn in the set.

The band’s next song “Where Were You” is part nostalgic, part wonder. In the acoustic format, it allowed for the lyrics to be even more prominent, as the story of the curiosity of a new love unfolds. It is also a catchy song, referencing small town dreams, first taste of beer, and picking oneself up again after failures.

“Saltwater Gospel” in the studio format begins softly. Still, a drive is present, as energy builds with the chorus. “Saltwater Gospel” praises the beauty of the outdoors and connecting with nature. Hearing it acoustically, a new listener could think that this was how the song was originally, as the soulful nature felt spiritual in its softness.

Eli Young Band surprisingly did a cover of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ song “Learning to Fly”. I say ‘surprisingly’ since I had seen Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ 40th anniversary (and sadly final) tour back in 2017 when the band played in Kansas City; I would have expected a cover of Johnny Cash, or even Sheryl Crow, somebody who would be considered more southern rock.

But Eli Young Band had another spiritual moment with their cover of “Learning to Fly”. It is one of those songs that when I hear live, it makes me stop and just look at the stage in a hypnotic trance. It was simply beautiful.

Eli Young Band saved arguably their most famous song for last: “Crazy Girl”. There was a moment where the band had the audience sing it by themselves, purely acapella. It sent shivers down my spine. The band finished out the song with the crowd following along every word.

As I walked out of the building, watching the fringed denim and cowboy hats drift on by out into the night, I turned around to have one last look at the stage that was now vacant; just a few moments before, two bands had stood on that stage and poured their hearts out with bittersweet love songs and angsty small town dreams.

The magic still hung in the air, the kind of feedback that you don’t actually mind hearing. Good stories make good music, and good music makes for a good night. That was what Mason Ramsey and Eli Young Band came to do, and that was simply what they did on one chilly spring night at Northwest Missouri State University.

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