Birmingham - Manchester - Glasgow, UK • October 2017 • Length of Read: 8 Minutes
The influence that Kip Moore has had on my life cuts much deeper than his raspy voice, boot-stomping riffs and heart-wrenching lyrics. After graduating from college, this South Georgia native found himself playing the dead end cover band bar scene before the lure of the ocean and an infestation with surfing took hold. With $1,500 of savings in his pocket and no plan B, Kip packed a small bag and hopped on a one-way flight to Hawaii. He may not have known what he otherwise wanted to do in life, but he did know that that the answers weren’t going to be found inside his comfort zone.
Making camp on the Big Island in a small wooden hut that he rented for $50/month, Kip spent his days hitching lifts down to the beach to catch waves and his evenings penning songs on a little Yamaha guitar. It took his good friend PJ Brown, who would later become his videographer, to convince Kip that his songs were good enough for Nashville, and a year after arriving in Hawaii he was upping sticks again and heading to the home of country music to try and make it as a songwriter. It was a long struggle, but millions of adoring fans and three top-10 albums later, you could say that it was a good decision.
I suppose it’s not only Kip Moore’s music that I’m drawn to, but his entire worldview. Therefore, when he announced that he was going to cross the Atlantic for a short UK tour to promote his third album Slowheart, and bring his good friends Drake White & The Big Fire along for the ride, I knew that this was the perfect opportunity to tick off bucket list #135: Follow a musician on tour.
The first stop on my three-show journey was Birmingham, one of the bleakest and most depressing cities in the country. Arriving around mid-afternoon, I found a relatively safe parking place, dodged a guy on the street throwing up into a plastic Tesco carrier bag, and headed towards my hostel which was pleasantly located in an industrial estate just 200m from the concert venue. I was excited about the gig, but at that point, I was more concerned about returning to my car in the morning to find it propped up on concrete breeze blocks and all four tyres missing.
I’d seen my hero perform in Glasgow eighteen months previously, and itching to see him strut his stuff on stage again I got to the O2 Academy early and joined the bustling queue of people huddling for warmth in the nippy autumnal air. Starting up a conversation with the pair of lads in front of me I learned that, similar to myself, one of them had just returned from a trip to New Zealand. We traded stories about the land of the long white cloud for a while before the conversation dovetailed to the reason why we were there in the first place: country music. I told him about the last time Kip Moore had been in town and how he’d performed a free acoustic busking session for everyone after the show as thanks for the support, and by the time we’d entered the venue I was rapt with anticipation. My tickets had been purchased whilst sitting in an Aussie Sports Bar in Luang Prabang, Laos six months previous, and as the stage lights went down I couldn’t quite believe that the time had come. Firstly, however, the honour went to Drake White and his band The Big Fire to warm up the crowd with a thirty minute set of their own.
Quite the presence, the blue jean, white-t wearing lead singer strutted out with a drink raised in one hand, guitar gripped around its neck in the other, and his trademark ‘Apalacian chic’ hat tipped on his head. The response of the crowd was ecstatic and as he went straight into an energetic rendition of Heartbeat, the first track off his debut album Spark, The Big Fire got the audience clapping and singing away. With soaring vocals as smooth as the whiskey he was sipping on, Drake White made his way through Story, Livin’ The Dream and It Feels Good before slowing things down for Makin’ Me Look Good Again, a ballad he wrote for his wife who he politely pointed out as being somewhere in the audience. A closing, upbeat cover of The Beatles’ A Little Help From My Friends then had him jumping on the speakers at the side of the stage as his legs shook out of control with adrenaline. A short, punchy and high-energy set that had the audience on tenterhooks for the headline act to take the stage.
And as the opening drum beat for Wild Ones began, the man himself was then on stage in front of us; dripping with swagger, baggy tank top giving teasing glimpses of his ripped torso and screams from the female fans making his opening vocals almost inaudible: “We’ve been waiting all week… been waiting for the weekend.” Despite it being a Monday night, it was immediately apparent that the audience was there to party, and when Kip shifted from the radio hit Beer Money into Come and Get It and then the raucous I’m to Blame, the party was most definitely in full swing.
Slowing things down to introduce his band’s new guitarist to the audience, the leading axeman took the spotlight and shredded out a finger-lickin' solo before segwaying into The Bull, Moore’s response to all the critics he’s faced over the years and a friendly nod towards people who have stuck by his side along the way: “Every knockdown in the dirt. Every 'no' I ever heard. Sure feels good to laugh when I look back and flip the bull the bird.”
Spilling a measure of Jack Daniels on stage at the completion of his encore, the anthemic Up All Night, Moore then promised to stay behind after the show and sign autographs for every last person who wanted to shake his hand. What a consummate performer.
On the morning of the next day’s show in Manchester, the legendary Tom Petty passed away at the age of 66. In honour of The Heartbreakers and Traveling Wilburys frontman, Moore included a cover of Learning to Fly midway through his set list. With an enormous ovation, he then put a request out to the audience as to what they wanted to hear next, which led to him dusting off the chords to Mary is the Marrying Kind, a non-album song that was his first to ever be played on the radio. Shocked that anyone from across the pond had even heard the song, he then chuckled to himself as they assisted him through the second verse with the correct lyrics, some of which had slipped his tongue.
Keeping the acoustic guitar out, Moore then got very personal when telling the story behind the sensational, autobiographical tune Guitar Man. Whilst struggling to make it as a twenty-one-year-old songwriter in Nashville, Moore had a girlfriend back home in Georgia who, at the time, he was head-over-heels in love with. Then, out of the blue, she called him up one day and ended things. Convinced that she was the girl of his dreams, Moore drove all the way through the night across state lines to try and reconcile things with her in person. Standing in her Momma’s kitchen upon arrival, however, he found himself having to ashamedly admit that, despite having some leads, he still didn’t have any concrete prospects; all whilst she was complaining to her Momma that he would never amount to anything. How times change. “This following verse is dedicated to her,” he announced to the crowd as we began to well up:
The British country music scene had certainly warmed to Drake White by the time I got back to my hometown, and he had the whole Glaswegian crowd stirring up a giant pot of Big Fire soul soup, as he liked to call it, during It Feels Good; a Freddie Mercury stage presence in the making.
Moore mixed up his set completely for his third show in as many nights, with a cover of U2’s Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For allowing each of his bandmate’s to showcase their on vocal talents. He then drew the evening to a close by announcing his return to C2C festival the following March, giving a playful dig towards the organisers for putting his so far down the line up, before the curtain was pulled down with a rockin’ performance of Crazy One More Time. An epic three day road trip journey to see an epic country music star who does things completely his own way.