Shooter Jennings fights on for outlaw country

Photo courtesy of Elektra

Shooter “The Gunslinger” Jennings, son of the late Waylon Jennings, performed for a sold-out crowd at Venkman’s in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward neighborhood on Jan. 25.

Songs from his most recent album “Shooter” rocked attendees in the small warehouse-turned-restaurant venue. Fans of the outlaw country singer waited patiently through two opening acts for the main event. 

Nikki & The Phantom Callers proved to be a solid opening for the night. The band was greeted with much enthusiasm when the crowd learned of the band’s Atlanta roots, and songs like “New Year’s Day” paid homage to the band’s Georgian sentiment.

Although she seemed somewhat intimidated on stage at first, lead singer Nikki Speake had a voice that filled the room with a certain southern twang that is seldom delivered tastefully and genuinely in modern country artists’ songs. 

Following them came Them Dirty Roses, a small-town Alabama quartet with a very early Kings of Leon feel. The transition from Nikki & The Phantom Callers’s down-to-earth songs over to Them Dirty Roses’s harder ones like “Cocaine and Whiskey” was sudden and tumultuous, but the crowd seemed to respond well.

After a tedious soundcheck by Jennings’s crew, the singer finally took the stage and opened with the leading song off Shooter, “Bound Ta Git Down”. The immediate swing into things set the mood for the rest of the performance, and it was evident that the homely nature of the song would carry into the rest of the set.

Songs like the more popular “Rhinestone Eyes” matched the nature of the stage, which was surrounded by string lights and red velvet curtains. Although simple, this reinforced the heartfelt, underproduced sound of the music. 

Looking back to his opening acts, Jennings served as the perfect combination of the two — the songs’ ambient instrumentals augmented the effect of his smooth yet earthy notes. The hard attitudes and traditional country sounds of the previous performances were especially present in songs like “D.R.U.N.K.”. 

This song was evidently a crowd favorite, especially given the cheers to lyrics like “Raise a glass to a rugged life ruined / Oh, pop a top and celebrate”. The audience swayed in unison to Jennings’s charismatic singing of slow days spent in benevolent drinking.

Later, the singer assured the audience of his nickname in a lively performance of “The Gunslinger.” Allusions to this song were notably mentioned earlier in the night by Them Dirty Roses, and the audience showed its appreciation of the inclusion of the song in Jennings’s set with cheers.

As a whole, the concert was worthwhile. Though outlaw country is not a popular genre of music in a city like Atlanta, you would never know from the size of the crowd, which nearly exceeded the venue’s capacity.

With that being said, the space could have been a bit better tailored for a room full of tipsy adults. Though tension due to low space was present during the wait for Jennings, this calmed down as the singer appeared and proceeded through his set.

The quality and heart seen in the performances of the band members made the night’s earlier tensions worth fighting through, and the acoustics in the old warehouse space served the string instruments well. 

Jennings proved that his music does not fall short of the legacy that his father Waylon Jennings left behind. Honest lyrics and traditional country sounds that harken back to Willie Nelson show that Jennings is unafraid to cling to his roots despite a poppy turn in modern country music.

Fans of outlaw country need not worry that this music will fade away as long artists like Jennings continue producing albums like “Shooter”. The future of this genre looks exceptionally bright with Jennings. Jennings’ tour across the United States will continue until May 2019.