BJ Barham’s sad songs made a Magnolia Motor Lounge crowd happy Saturday night

·4 min read
Jake Harris/Star-Telegram

Sure, you could go see Taylor Swift a few miles to the east, but for the people looking for a happy and sad ol’ time Saturday night, BJ Barham delivered the goods at Magnolia Motor Lounge in Fort Worth.

Barham, and his band American Aquarium, are known for singing some of the saddest songs you’ll hear in the alt-country genre. His touring merchandise leans into this; shirts were available Saturday night that said “Leave them sadder than you found them.” His songwriting is heavy on tragic characters and tragic situations, with just a little bit of hope at the end.

But, as Barham said near the end of the show, the reason he gravitates toward sad songs is because he believes it’s important to recognize those dark feelings to help people feel they’re not alone, and appreciate the lighter times.

Magnolia Motor Lounge’s impact on Barham’s career

His 11-song, solo set highlighted both light and dark. In between songs about miscarriage, addiction, sobriety, grief and dementia, Barham held court on Magnolia’s stage telling the audience the stories behind each song. He also offered his jokes and opinions on everything from the proper pronunciation of “pecan” (“puh-cahn” if it’s on the tree or on the ground, “pee-can” once sugar gets introduced into the mix); Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (“88’s not 3”); and the similarities between Texas sports fans and NC State fans (“I believe it’s important to pull for s----- sports teams because it builds character”). The songs were sad, but there was a lot of laughter interspersed with the tears in the sold-out crowd. Barham’s ability to switch from a sad song to a witty anecdote is one of his greatest strengths, and one of the reasons the show was as affecting as it was.

The Magnolia location for the show was important to Barham, too. Before playing “The First Year,” his song about dealing with the grief of his mother, Barham talked a bit about his family’s history of addiction and his own struggles with alcoholism. The story goes that on Aug. 31, 2014, he walked into Magnolia Motor Lounge, ordered a triple shot of Jameson, then stood up on a barstool and shouted: “I’m never drinking again!”

He hasn’t had a drop since. Even though the venue moved locations from Crockett Row to the Benbrook Traffic Circle next to Edelweiss, the power of Saturday night’s moment still resonated.

“That’s part of why I wanted to come back here and play this stage, because it was such a huge part of my journey as a person,” Barham said.

American Aquarium on ‘Yellowstone’?

Barham’s journey may also include a song feature on a certain Taylor Sheridan TV show on the Paramount Network. He invoked everything related to “Yellowstone” without mentioning anything by name, citing NDA agreements, while introducing “The Things We Lost Along the Way.”

Paramount execs flew Barham to Nashville and asked him to write a few songs, he said. “And they were like, ‘BJ, can you write a song about coming to the conclusion that you’re doing a lot of harm to yourself and your family and then trying to just become a better person at the end of your life?. .. I said, ‘I’ve got about 20 songs that fit that description perfectly.’”

He didn’t have to write anything new. “The Things We Lost Along the Way” was right there. While the song has not appeared on any TV show yet, it did appear on American Aquarium’s last album, “Chicamacomico.”

“Things We Lost” was the last song Barham played before ending the set with American Aquarium’s “Burn.Flicker.Die.,” the same song he closes each set with. After a night of emotional catharsis, hearing a crowd sing along to that song about addiction turned it into a rallying cry in celebraton of life.

By embracing sadness, we can then begin to hope. That’s the ethos of BJ Barham and American Aquarium.

BJ Barham setlist, Fort Worth, April 1, 2023 (*-American Aquarium song)

  1. Unfortunate Kind

  2. Lonely Ain’t Easy*

  3. Wolves*

  4. The First Year*

  5. The Long Haul*

  6. City Lights*

  7. Chicamacomico*

  8. When We Were Younger Men*

  9. Reidsville

  10. The Things We Lost Along the Way*

  11. Burn.Flicker.Die.*