“When you’re livin’ on the edge of your seat
And you’re waitin’ on somethin’, anything to happen
Her in those tight jeans, wearin’ out the Dairy Queen
Waitin’ on Springsteen, stereo blastin’
Too much magic to understand
It’s all Friday night, world on fire
Desire burnin’ up your hands
And prayin’ for Jungle Land”

     – Travis Meadows, “Pray for Jungleland”

I’m not a great delegator. A big reason Folk All Y’all is a one-woman operation is because I need to know everything that has to happen and have a complete sense of how and when it’ll get done. “Control freak” is a term I embrace. The problem is, I can’t control every freakin’ thing. So even after spending weeks getting ready for Travis Meadows’s show, selling it out, and thinking every i was dotted, I had no influence over the truck battery responsible for bringing him the last 80 miles to Memphis. The only thing I could do when I got the distress text from somewhere in Arkansas was choose to roll with it or get totally wigged out. Based on what I knew about Travis Meadows, I had a feeling everything was going to turn out okay.

Most of our guests arrived early, eager to get as close as possible for this intimate performance. They got even more than they expected as sound check ran well past the doors opening. Sound check is a pretty casual but somewhat vulnerable time for our artists and it’s actually one of my favorite parts of the night, so it was unusual and special to share this phase of the show with our guests. And instead of me watching it as prep for the evening, it was the soundtrack to welcoming our more-than-full house back to 11 West Huling.

We also mixed things up by having an opening set. Caleb Elliott swung into action as Travis’s accompanist for this tour but he’s also a rising singer-songwriter in his own right. We not only enjoyed the songs he shared, but also the palpable sense of joy he got from having a room locked into his performance. If it’s a hard world out there for touring headliners, full of noisy bars and half-empty clubs, it’s even harder for their opening acts, and Caleb was clearly appreciative to have a chance to hold the full attention of an appreciative crowd. And he earned it.

We always get a lot of Folk All Y’all first-timers, but the Travlers turned out in force. A vast majority of the crowd not only hadn’t been to one of our shows before, but on top of that, they came from so many other places they didn’t even laugh at my joke against Nashville. They sure knew Travis, though. A ripple went through the room as soon as he stepped into the spotlight.

Among the many other labels he’s worn, Travis was once a preacher, and it’s easy to see how his charm and quiet charisma would keep a congregation buzzing. When I went back to edit the video from the show, his speaking voice barely registered on the audio signal bar, which is a sneaky-effective way to get people to sit up and listen. Once we were all leaning forward and focused, he’d unleash the message in a flood of humility and humor and heartbreak and humanity.

Because their collaboration came together at the last minute, Caleb and Travis hadn’t yet gelled a full show, so Travis took the first half solo. He went through each phase of his journey as a songwriter and shared some of the triumphs and trials that shaped his path. Travis could easily spend an evening just telling his stories straight, but he’s found a way to make them even more powerful by finding the poetry in the pain.

When Caleb joined in for the second half, we gained a fuller sense of Travis’s sound without losing any of the confessional spirit. Travis is very open about the origins of his work, including how an entire album stemmed from one of his multiple visits to rehab, and the connection he created with our audience – like many others, I’m sure – grew stronger in the trust he showed in their acceptance. We could appreciate his song “Better Boat” being featured on the album sitting on top of the Country chart right now because we also knew how close he’d come to sinking. We all sang along with “Underdogs” and celebrated the victories of “Guy Like Me” because we knew “Learning How To Live Alone” and “Minefield” came first.

I know some songwriters worry about what will happen to their work once they’re actually happy and healthy, but Travis Meadows is proof that you can always find a truth worth sharing if you look hard enough. I’m embarrassed that it took me this long to discover his work, but it’s a comfort to know I’ve found a new long-term musical companion. So much about this show wasn’t what I expected, but Travis Meadows is a perfect reminder of what amazing things can happen when you just let go.


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