by Jeff Niesel
Last night, The SteelDrivers put a punctuation mark on the Beachland’s weekend-long 13th anniversary celebration. Clearly enthused to be in included in the festivities, the Nashville band was only a few songs into its nearly two-hour set when singer-guitarist Gary Nichols raised a toast to the club before he played “Cry No Mississippi,” a tune he co-wrote with The Civil Wars’ John Paul White. The mellow song started with only banjo and mandolin before bass, fiddle and banjo kicked in to drive it home. More traditional bluegrass players than, say, Mumford and Sons or the Avett Brothers, The SteelDrivers appeal to a slightly older demographic. In fact, the majority of the crowd remained seated for the entire set. But there were those more outspoken fans that stood in the sidelines, hooting and hollering as if they were at some kind of hootenanny. That combination made for a good mix and clearly thrilled the band, which was making its second appearance at the club.
The SteelDrivers wisely played to both the purists and the revivalists, offering up beautiful ballads such as “Lonesome Goodbye” and alternately turning up the twang for the raucous “Hell on Wheels.” A banjo and fiddle segment clearly pleased traditional bluegrass fans and the uptempo “Ghosts of Mississippi,” a song that Nichols said was about bluesman Robert Johnson, literally had fans stomping their feet in unison. It segued nicely into the set-closing “Blue Side of the Mountain,” a Grammy-nominated song from its 2009 self-titled debut. For an encore, the group offered up “Where Rainbows Never Die,” a 2010 tune that was also nominated for a Grammy. A somber reflection on growing older, the song had real poignancy and suggested Nichols, who took over lead vocal duties from founder Chris Stapleton in 2010, is a worthy successor to the position.
While The SteelDrivers played in the club’s larger ballroom, a line-up of local groups that included Maura Roger & the Bellows, Nate Jones and Joey Beltram played to a good crowd in the smaller tavern. The two shows both featured excellent performances and suggested the Beachland’s strengths: bringing acclaimed national acts to town and offering locals a good space to show off their musical skills.