Dwight Yoakam Unleashes Hillbilly Swagger in Nashville

High Energy Underscores First of Two Sold-Out Shows at Ryman Auditorium

Dwight Yoakam brought a rapid-fire attack and a rebel yell to fans at the Ryman Auditorium Friday night (April 12), the first of two sold-out shows in Nashville. Hardly stopping to catch his breath, the eccentric artist blasted through more than 30 songs in a two-hour performance.

“I have never felt better than I do tonight!” proclaimed the veteran entertainer during his encore at the end of the concert. “Y’all have been hootin’ and hollerin’ at us all night.”

And he wasn’t exaggerating. From the start of his show, which was broadcast live on Sirius XM’s Outlaw Country channel, Yoakam had the Ryman crowd fighting to make their cheers heard during the extremely short breaks between songs, inspiring him to join in on the fun later on.

Taking the stage to a deafening roar and launching directly into three back-to-back songs, Yoakam rolled through “Take Hold of My Hand” from his new album 3 Pears, the classic “Little Sister” and collected a hot pink bra from somewhere in the balcony by the time he said hello.

“Thank you very much,” he said with a pleased grin. “It’s a pleasure to be back.”

He went on to praise those in the Nashville community who banded together to save the Ryman from demolition in the early ’90s, then hustled into his hit Buck Owens collaboration “Streets of Bakersfield” by listing off the string of highways that delivered the band from Southern California.

Yoakam is still very much an engaging performer, and while his knees might swivel and bow a little slower than they used to, they still draw screams from the ladies and whistles from the guys every time. Knowing that full well, he used his shuffling hillbilly moonwalk to devastating effect all night.

And his distinctive voice is still very much in force, along with that signature hiccup-yodel. Even with the blistering pace he was pushing the band to achieve, Yoakam’s power never faltered.

He didn’t do much talking for the first hour or so, but that was just fine as the crowd enjoyed a set full of new tracks from 3 Pears and a bunch from earlier albums Blame the Vein and Population Me. Quirky “Waterfalls” and “Rock It All Away” stood out, as did “Close Up the Honky Tonks” from his Dwight Sings Buck album from 2007.

As the band fell into their pocket and the crowd loosened up, Yoakam began smiling from ear to ear and singing out louder. A kind of momentum began to build through “This Time.”

“I’d like to dedicate this next tune to Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash,” he said earnestly, explaining he had covered “Ring of Fire” on his new album for the second time in his career. “I sure hope they’d like the new cowpoke.”

Sung at full volume with booming drums and slashing electric guitars, the Cash family might not have recognized Johnny’s passionate ode, but the audience was near a boiling point.

After a frequently-interrupted intro about songwriters Joe and Rose Lee Maphis ahead of “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke,” the crowd reached critical mass as the hardcore honky-tonk washed through the auditorium.

Yoakam got in on the act and spurred the crowd on with a few hollers of his own and then just kept right on going.

“Whoo!” he called after finally bringing the band to a halt. “What’d ya think of that?! Let me hear those rebel yells!

“Once it starts it’s hard to stop it,” he joked, trading smiles with the band and sprinkling yells of his own through the rest of the night.

He kept the last half hour of the show memorable and delivered some of his most-loved hits like “Honky Tonk Man,” “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere” and “It Only Hurts When I Cry,” along with “Heart Like Mine,” a standout from 3 Pears.

Finally, “Guitars, Cadillacs” and “Fast as You” provided the spiritual climax of the evening, and with floorboards shaking and fans spinning in the Ryman’s tiny aisles, Yoakam unstrapped his guitar and shuffled confidently offstage.

As he had mentioned earlier in the night, the show was the fastest sellout of his career, and he had one more to go on Saturday night.

Earlier in the evening, rising folk trio the Lone Bellow won over the crowd with gorgeous harmonies and swelling crescendos backed by an upright bass and restrained percussion. The soulful agony of “You Never Need Nobody,” in particular, gained the Brooklyn-based group a whole new band of believers.

Writer/producer for CMT.com and CMT Edge. He's been to Georgia on a fast train. He wasn't born no yesterday.