Concert review: The communal future of country music is alive and well with Tyler Childers

Ever since he broke through with his 2017 album “Purgatory,” Tyler Childers’ calling card has been his ability to bridge the generational gap between older, roots country and modern country. He uses bluegrass melodies in his songs, and sings about everything from that liminal space between Heaven and Hell to the plight of Kentucy coal workers to RVs and dogs. He used his mostly-instrumental 2020 bluegrass album “Long Violent History” to highlight racial injustice. His work has always defied expectations in the genre and combined old music with new sensibilities.

His two-hour, 23-song concert Saturday night at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth also successfully combined old and new. A visual backdrop (as is the custom for big arena shows these days) highlighted clips from his music videos and showed stained-glass images of woodland critters and kaleidoscopic snakes.

His old-time stage setup juxtaposed the modern videos, as his Food Stamps band created an atmosphere that was both arena-large and “Old Country Church” intimate, complete with multiple guitars and bass, a piano and an organ, fiddles, drums and everything in between. The sold-out crowd was hanging on every word of songs like “Lady May,” “Nose to the Grindstone” and “All Your’n,” but there was a down-home quality to it as well.

Tyler Childers and the Food Stamps Band sold out Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas on Saturday, April 13, 2024.
Tyler Childers and the Food Stamps Band sold out Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas on Saturday, April 13, 2024.

Childers started the show with nine songs with the Food Stamps. He then gave the band a break after a rollicking version of bluegrass standard “Cluck Ol’ Hen” and then treated the audience to a brief solo acoustic set. Then the band came back to play selections from “Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?” and his latest album “Rustin’ in the Rain.”

There was a lot of singing about religion, old country churches, and Jesus Saturday night — not unlike another show I recently attended at Billy Bob’s. The difference between Childers and Oliver Anthony is that Childers and the Food Stamps used the hymns and gospel music to build community in the crowd; Anthony seemed to be tapping into a persecution complex.

A brief intertitle before “Percheron Mules,” the first song the night, simply read: “Fellowship.”

Childers isn’t much for stage banter, but the most meaningful bit he said came midway through the night, when he said that he hoped that people in the crowd could enjoy each other as much as the music, and maybe make friends with their neighbors, or possibly fall in love with someone next to them. For Childers, the communal experience of the music is as important as the music itself — maybe more.

‘Way of the Triune God’

I thought of that communal experience and the way music can bridge generational divides a lot Saturday night, especially during the gospel songs from 2022’s “Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?” that the setlist leaned on heavily. I have always associated that album with my grandfather, even though we’ve never talked about it before.

My grandfather is the one responsible for my love of country music. We don’t have a lot in common, aside from genetics. But if there’s another throughline from him to my dad to me, it’s a love of music. He used to sing in his church choir and in a local gospel quartet in Tennessee. He introduced me to a lot of old country and gospel standards, and I was always eager to talk to him about whatever new music I found. Most of the time, he wasn’t a huge fan of newer country, but he would indulge me.

Tyler Childers performs at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth on Saturday, April 13, 2024.
Tyler Childers performs at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth on Saturday, April 13, 2024.

He was a farmer, a bus driver, a security guard and a truck driver, among other things. Sometimes I would go with him on produce deliveries, listening to the radio. We would go large stretches of road without saying much — either from both of us listening to radio, or from me reading a book. He’s softspoken, but when he does speak, you know it’s something important. When he sings, you can pick his voice out of a lineup anywhere.

Now the only way I can hear his voice is through home videos and the tapes he recorded with his gospel group. He has dementia, and doesn’t know who I am anymore. The first time I heard “Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?”, I knew he’d want to hear it, even if I didn’t know if he’d undersand it.

The three-part album is made up of eight gospel music songs, recorded three times. There’s a moment on “Way of the Triune God” where the background hamony sounds a lot like my grandfather, and it stopped me in my tracks the first time I heard it. I bought the album and sent it to my dad for him to play it in my grandfather’s room at his nursing home. So far, it seems like it’s been a big hit for both of them.

For a bit Saturday night, I swear I heard him sing again, and it made me think about the ways we pass down and reinterpret music to each new generation, the way Childers is doing with roots and bluegrass music today. Nobody’s ever really gone if you have a song to remember them by.

That’s the “Universal Sound” Childers sings about right there. I think my grandfather would have liked it.


  1. Percheron Mules

  2. Country Squire

  3. Creeker

  4. I Swear (To God)

  5. Rustin’ in the Rain

  6. All Your’n

  7. Help Me Make It Through the Night (Kris Kristofferson cover)

  8. Purgatory

  9. Cluck Ol’ Hen (Instrumental; standard cover)

  10. Shake the Frost (Solo)

  11. Lady May (Solo)

  12. Nose on the Grindstone (Solo)

  13. Follow You To Virgie (Solo)

  14. In Your Love

  15. Old Country Church (Hank Williams cover)

  16. Can I Take My Hounds To Heaven?

  17. Whitehouse Road

  18. Two Coats

  19. Honky Tonk Flame

  20. Way of the Triune God

  21. House Fire

  22. Universal Sound

  23. Heart You’ve Been Tendin’