When: Sat., July 8, 8 p.m. 2017
At first blush, Sturgill Simpson and Adia Victoria might seem like unusual tour mates. The former earned a reputation as a twenty-first-century outlaw with his 2014 breakout LP, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, while the latter broods in acidic, bluesy rock. But in fact, both have pushed back against the industry structures that have tried to define them—and they've been better for it.
With a personal stamp of approval from Merle Haggard, Simpson seemed poised to take up the mantle of the outlaw spirit after Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. But his follow-up, last spring's A Sailor's Guide to Earth, probably wasn't the record most people were expecting from Simpson. Rather than hiring a hotshot producer, Simpson sat at the helm himself and recruited the renowned Dap-Kings to add Stax-style horns to the record. And instead of more ruminations on psychedelia, A Sailor's Guide to Earth focused on themes of fatherhood. The record earned Simpson a Best Country Album Grammy as well as a nomination for album of the year (he lost to Adele's 25). Victoria, meanwhile, has been making waves of her own since releasing her debut full-length record, Beyond the Bloodhounds, last February. She bends together blues and rock for songs that are at once sullen and seething; live, she's a mesmerizing force.
And while both Victoria and Simpson have been rightfully celebrated for their work, they've been sharp critics of the institutions that try to stake claim to them. In a now-deleted Facebook post from last summer, Simpson criticized the Academy of Country Music and the country music industry at large, accusing it of only promoting "formulaic cannon fodder bullshit" over genuine artists. About himself and fellow musician Jason Isbell, Simpson wrote, "Our last albums went to #1 without any help from the Mainstream Country Music establishment...and our next albums will too." (Isbell's new The Nashville Sound debuted in the No. 1 slot on Billboard's country chart upon its mid-June release.)
More recently, Victoria took the Americana Music Association to task, also over Facebook. She wrote about how, as a black woman, she had felt tokenized and fawned over by Americana advocates desperate to prove diversity in an overwhelmingly white male genre. "I have been treated as a special exotic ornament that they can point to and say 'see! see! That, too, is Americana!'," she wrote, making a strong, underappreciated case for the hypocrisy inherent in Americana machinations.
In an industry rife with glad handing and back patting, both Simpson and Victoria remain vital voices, both on and off their respective stages. Neither cares to be restricted by others' opinions; they just go out and write gut-wrenching songs that you're free to take or leave. Their philosophies and musical practices may differ a bit, but their thoughtful, independent spirits are the same. —Allison Hussey