In Review: Kendell Marvel’s Honky Tonk Experience Brings The House Down at Exit/In

Most concert-goers are satisfied enough with going to a show that features one or two opening performers with the main event, but Kendell Marvel had a different kind of event this past Tuesday night that gave his fans so much more. With not only an opening act, but eight different guest performers, Kendell Marvel’s Honky Tonk Experience was just that: an experience.

It was a hot and humid evening after a mild thunderstorm had just passed through Nashville, but that didn’t stop honky-tonk and country music lovers alike from packing the EXIT/IN. Around two hundred people ranging from their mid-twenties to mid-fifties squished into the dark and moody venue, some sporting cowboy hats and plaid button-ups, and others just looking like any other night out on the town.

Warming up the stage was the band Ben Jerrall’s Roadside Revival, who had a sound that represented good ol’ country twang with a bit of rock ‘n roll thrown in. Opening up with a few songs that had the crowd bobbing their heads and tapping their feet, they ended their set with a simple balled off their record titled, “My Old Friend,” and brought out a talented fiddle player to accompany the band.

Shortly after the opening band left the stage, Kendell Marvel himself calmly walked out on stage without any introduction or theatrics, but was met with a roar of applause from the crowd nonetheless. Marvel took no time getting him and his band set up before jumping right into his first song, “Good For Me.” The band swelled with sound, and Marvel’s voice boomed through the crowd, and soon got everyone dancing to the beat.  From the first song and throughout the rest of the night, it was clear how much passion Marvel has for performing, as well as sharing his love of music. After his fourth song, he brought out his first guest, “Big” Al Anderson.

Anderson walked out on stage sporting a worn electric guitar, but if anything, that made his sound more historic. Listening to his voice was like listening through an old radio and everyone couldn’t help but tap their feet. Anderson also warranted cheers from the crowd as he played a guitar solo, his fingers flying across the fretboard, and I couldn’t help but notice how Marvel was looking on excitedly from the side of the stage.

After a few songs from Anderson, the next guest that was brought out was Hailey Whitters, a younger and energetic country artist. Whitters knew how to work the audience, and after raising a cold one to the crowd, she jumped into her first song. Her voice was reminiscent of Kasey Musgraves, but had her own little ring to it.

Whitters’ energy and the energy from the crowd was contagious, and as Marvel got back on stage, you could tell he was feeling it too. His fifth song of the night was upbeat and showed off a bit more of a gravelly sound in Marvel’s voice, which contrasted with his next guest, Paul Cauthen.

Cauthen walked out on stage with a bright crimson red button-up and a cowboy hat with a color to match. He started off his first song by singing a cappella for the first verse, showing off his rich, deep voice that rang with tasteful vibrato and demanded attention from the audience. He began with a slow ballad with only his acoustic guitar to accompany him, then transitioned into a cover of “Long Time Gone,” which was apparently a crowd favorite from the cheers as he sang the first line.

Marvel came back on stage to play another upbeat song that is apparently coming out soon on his next record, and shortly after the end of the song, the owner of the venue stepped out on stage to say a few words. At the EXIT/IN, right behind their bar and stretching beyond it, is a list full of names of historical and newer musicians that have played at the venue and made an impact with their music, and that night was the night that Kendell Marvel’s name was being put up on EXIT/IN’s own Wall of Fame. After a long and loud cheer from the crowd, Marvell said, “How about that? I didn’t think that was gonna happen,” gaining some chuckles from the crowd. After a proper cheers with the crowd, Marvel jumped right back into the music.

His next guest was Marcus King, and after a few attempts of calling him out on stage, he finally made it and started playing. King does not look like your typical country singer, with a young and wild look and a giant hat that sprouted a few feathers, but his voice was strong and his music was a groovy type of grunge country that was well supported by the organ player. The crowd loved him, not expecting his voice and style, which made his short set even more enjoyable.

After Marvel jumped back on stage to sing his newest single “Hard Time with the Truth,” he called out his next guests, the country duo The Vegabonds.  The two brothers from Alabama jumped right on stage and into their first song, which highlighted their harmonies with long sustained notes and showed off their guitar skills with a few opportunities to play a few solos.

Marvel came back for his eighth song with a crowd favorite, “Drinking My Baby Goodbye.” The whole crowd was moving as the electric guitar rang out and Marvel’s strong vocals carried the energy. After a song like that, Marvel knew he had to keep that energy, so he introduced his next guest, Daniel Donato.

Donato was probably the youngest in Marvel’s lineup of the night, but that didn’t mean he didn’t have the talent to keep up. After being a long time fan of Marvel’s and reaching out to him after going to shows, Marvel finally listened after hearing him play guitar, and Donato showed why it was an easy choice for him to make as he started to play. Donato’s fingers were hard to keep up with as they flew across the fretboard of the guitar, and he brought so much energy to the crowd as he worked the stage so effortlessly. He ran around playing with every instrumentalist and had an ecstatic expression on his face the entire time, clearly having a passion for his music. At the end of his song, Marvel summed it up perfectly as he came back on stage: “That dude can shred.”

After playing a tune from his new record, Marvel brought out his next guest Chris Shiflett, who is well known for being the lead guitarist for the Foo Fighters. Both he and Marvel had such great chemistry both with and without the music, which made for some laughs and incredible guitar playing from Shiflett on the song “Whiskey Bent and Hellbound.” As he left the stage Marvel jeered, “Keep it up Chris, you’ll be somebody one day!”

Marvel continued on with his song “Gypsy Woman,” which calmed the crowd down and had everyone swaying to the slow ballad and singing along.  

For his last guest, Marvel brought Charlie Worsham on stage. Worsham had confident guitar skills and a stellar presence on stage. He seemed to have a way to communicate silently with the other members of the band and played well with them, each one complimenting the other.

Marvel came back on stage to perform his last two songs that included another crowd favorite off his first album, “Lowdown & Lonesome,” which was a fast-paced grungy country song that had everyone dancing along to the rhythm. He gave some time for each member of his band to have a solo, and each instrumentalist didn’t disappoint. To end the night, Marvel brought Chris Shiflett back on stage to play the classic song “T for Texas.” The crowd roared, and left everyone cheering as this All-Star show came to a close.

The EXIT/IN was packed full of so many diverse and talented artists that night and left every audience member with the experience that they were promised. Congratulations to Kendell Marvel for being awarded a spot on the Wall of Fame and for putting together such a great show that felt right at home in the city with a heart for country music.

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