In the 20 months since we last saw AshleyMcBryde in the UK she became the 222nd member of the Grand Ole Opry, received her first Grammy along with a further pair of Country Music Association awards to follow her 2019 New Artist of the Year win and released 2 studio albums so it has been no wonder that fans on this side of the Atlantic have been eagerly awaiting her return.
McBryde’s “The Devil I Know Tour” in support of her fourth studio album of the same name is the 7th visit to the United Kingdom in under 6 years. The previous trips across the pond began with Country to Country at the o2 in March 2018 where she has since returned for the festival twice more (in 2019 and 2022) and is one of 13 artists since its inception that made their London debut at the festival on a smaller stage where the reaction was so positive that they were invited back in future years to perform on the main stage. In each of the years she appeared at the festival, the Arkansas native returned for a second British run later in the year which has seen genuine growth in her fan base as the size of the room that she has been playing to has increased with each trip which now brings us to tonight and the iconic Apollo in Hammersmith.
As always the anticipation for the band to walk on stage following opening sets from Harper O’Neill and a rocking half hour from Corey Kent built before her five piece supporting cast graced the Eventim Apollo just after 9:20pm the the rocking sound of the penultimate track off her latest record “Blackout Betty” to open the show.
The first of many crowd favourites came early with “One Night Standards” from her sophomore album getting the crowd fully into action on the second track which kept going with the only offering of the night from her Lindeville project “Brenda Put Your Bra On” complete with McBryde slinging bras into the crowd from the stage.
Ashley McBryde was the first person I saw on ANY stage in Nashville, Tennessee and the first person that I elected to see headline a show in mainland Europe in Amsterdam. The beauty of an Ashley McBryde show always is and always will be her being real and genuine which is a true compliment to a “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” and remains the most powerful message of believing in yourself you will see delivered on stage. As a live performer the show is so clean, ultra professional and her band are incredibly tight so what they do on stage is really polished and the fact that they do an almost identical set each night of the tour helps to maintain this. Her real skill as an entertainer is her ability to make something that is so polished feel raw and in the moment so it just about feels rough enough round the edges where every night would appear different.
In May last year I was finally able to answer the what is your favourite Ashley McBryde song question and that answer is “Cool Little Bars” which I first heard at one of the staples in the UK country music world: Buckle & Boots as Trick Savage was playing a songwriters round (that also featured another of Ashley’s regular collaborators Blue Foley). Savage co-wrote the song with Ashley and Lainey Wilson, and it is so clever lyrically, then I think it is a song that is needed to reflect Nashville right now but also applies to right here in London with the fact that change isn’t always good and there really is something special about older places with character that we need to do all we can to keep open. It’s such a fun little ditty that worked so well with how they do it live so even if this does not become a radio single, I really hope this is one of those songs that stays in her setlist every night until she finally stops touring which will be many, many years from now.
The 90 minute set allowed the UK audience to highlight both facets of what makes crowds so great over here with being quiet and respectful when required to but also that when the opportunity arises, we can be as wild and rowdy as our friends in the United States. The 22 song set included her current album in it’s entirety along with 4 tracks off each her first and second record, where my only disappointment about the night would be that we only heard one song off her Lindeville album. I appreciate they can’t play every song where someone in the audience won’t hear their favourite song and this is a different type of record which included a large cast of characters that bring a lot to the songs but as she hadn’t toured that album over here but I was hoping for a little more from the record. The other way to look at it could be that she might save those treats for next time and we would totally be ok if she wanted to bring Caylee Hammack, Brandy Clark or Pillbox Patti out to tell some more stories about the residents of Lindeville.
On mentioning Pillbox Patti or more specifically her alter ego Nicolette Hayford, it leads quite nicely to what is always the highlight of the show. “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega” is the money shot, it’s the song that the crowd come to sing along to and always the strongest memory from the show. A song about Jesse Rice pulling into the Crimson Moon in Dahlonega, Georgia after his car broke down on the way out of Atlanta where Shawn Mullins was playing in the bar and Rice would meet his future wife, which along with McBryde and Hayford would be written as the song which would become Ashley McBryde’s debut single.
After a brief exit from the stage following “The Devil I Know” which concluded the main set, McBryde returned to the stage for a well deserved encore of “Martha Divine” and the beautiful tribute to her father we all know as “Bible and a .44” to wrap up a fantastic night in a packed out venue for comfortably the biggest solo show that she has done in the UK. She loves coming to the UK, has done it regularly, (which was recognised by the CMA who awarded her the International Artist Achievement Award in 2022) and her fans here love her being here so let’s keep our fingers crossed that 2024 follows the pattern of Ashley McBryde making a second transatlantic trip of the year each time that she has been over.
1. Blackout Betty, 2. One Night Standards, 3. Brenda Put Your Bra On, 4. Whiskey and Country Music, 5. Single At The Same Time, 6. Ain’t Enough Water in the River, 7. Made For This, 8. Girl Goin’ Nowhere, 9. First Thing I Reach For, 10. Cool Little Bars, 11. Learned To Lie, 12. Women Ain’t Whiskey, 13, Sparrow, 14. 6th of October, 15. Coldest Beer in Town, 16. El Dorado, 17. Tired of Being Happy, 18. A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega, 19. Light On In the Kitchen, 20. The Devil I Know, 21. Martha Divine, 22. Bible and a .44