There is no show like a Cadillac Three show.
There is something to be said for the midweek, mid-level country show. Rock shows happen 24/7/365, but inherent in the rock ethos is a sense of anarchy that country, generally speaking, does possess. Country music is traditionally a genre built on the same core values of human decency that most try to abide by in their daily lives. The fans of country music are responsible, for the most part, and if not they’re only a little bit wild. Country music says it’s okay to party heavy just as long as you get your work done, and one could argue this runs counterintuitive to a midweek country show. We have work tomorrow, so who can really afford to cut loose?
The answer is about 400 people, or at least that was the case this the last Thursday in January at The Intersection. The Cadillac Three, kicking off their first tour of the new year with a series of headlining shows, brought Washington’s Austin Jenckes for a night of so-called modern country that was supported by regional favorites Paradise Outlaw.
Opening with a song that sure felt like a single, The Voice star Austin Jenckes greeted a crowd gathered to watch another band perform with the confidence of a genre veteran. The track boasted a clear appreciation for the radio country song structures, with lines of Americana imagery and talk of simpler things like love and laughter helping convince the audience of the band’s legitimacy. The West Michigan ticket-holders, many of whom came dressed in their favorite mixed color flannel long sleeve, raised their Bud Light tall boys when the band’s second song referenced how “everyone’s crazy and I’m just the same.” Some even stood from their carefully chosen seats to join the bulk of the crowd in slowly swaying along to the music in the middle of the room as the band broke into a ballad titled “Fat Kid”.
It was undeniably impressive. In just three songs, Austin Jenckes had convinced a room of people to give a damn by sharing three distinctly different takes on their sound. Do you like what’s on the radio? They can do that. Need something a bit more personal? Covered it. Ballads that toe the line between sincere and too sincere for its own good? You bet your tear-stained cheeks. Austin Jenckes could and did do it all. Not everyone gave a damn, but the buzz of conversation from those unable to understand the talent on display in front of them did manage to get lost under the sound of the band doing what they do best.
“Can you take our picture?” This was not the band talking to the crowd or the crowd talking to the band, but rather couple talking to a man nodding in quiet appreciation for the second ballad of Austin Jenckes’ set. They asked a second time before the man was brought out of whatever moment he was having with the band. He turned as they shoved their iPhone into his hand and turned their backs to the stage, all while Jenckes sang backed only by his own acoustic guitar. The man furrowed his brows and squinted at the screen, but every few seconds his eyes went back to the stage.
“Do you need me to show you how it works?” The man, clearly still trying to recapture the moment, shakes his head and snaps several lightning fast photos by tapping his thumb on the screen. He hands the phone back, still not saying a word, and begins to return his eyes to the stage when another bright rectangle is thrust into his hand. He was now the guy who would take photos for strangers, and the look on his face said he was going to need another beer.
Bringing his band back, Jenckes continued delivering quality cuts of contemporary country. Much like the evening’s headliners, Jenckes has made a career out of writing songs for other people as well, and he performed a couple of his biggest “hits” in between the tracks he’s kept for himself. In a world where Chris Stapleton went from unknown songwriter to headline sold-out arenas it’s not a stretch to think Austin Jenckes might one day do the same, and his set this evening more than proved his ability to command a stage.
Thirty full minutes passed during the final changeover. In that time, the production crew wheeled away Austin Jenckes gear and revealed a stage complete with two risers that were separated but a double-wide staircase. Atop the stage-left riser was the drum kit whose bass was adorned with a caricature of the Cadillac Three as skeletons. The stage-right riser had amplifiers, as did the portion of the upper level that connected the left to the right. This was going to be a loud show.
When the lights finally dropped a voice boomed through the sound system, announcing “The Cadillac Three from Nashville, Tennessee”. The band walked on stage with their arms raised in the air as if to say they were just as stoked to see the audience as the audience was to see them. They took their positions and with next to no additional fanfare began performing their bouncy hit song “Cadillacin’” off the 2017 album Legacy. The crowd knew every word, and they sang along as loud as they could.
Two rollicking cuts passed before the band addressed the crowd, who by this time we’re in a frenzy themselves. “Welcome to the ‘Long Hair, Don’t Care’ night one!” The crowd responded with glee. “We feel like partying tonight, do you?”
They already knew the answer.
The beauty of The Cadillac Three lies in their simplicity. Positioned in a triangle formation with long hair resting unkept well below their shoulders after being tucked into their hats, the members – Jaren Johnston, Kelby Ray, and Neil Mason – convey a distinct “good time” vibe that cannot be denied. Their musical heroes are the country and rock greats that fill your father’s (or, for the post-2000s reader, your grandparents) record collection, and as such, every song in their arsenal is a stand-alone radio single with at least some small amount of potential for crossover success. Their stage presence backs this up, with their clever use of risers giving the appearance of a stadium ready band regardless of actual crowd size. In short, they know how to back up that good time aesthetic every inch of them either knowingly or unknowingly conveys, and they’re more than happy to do so at a moment’s notice.
As the evening carried on, The Cadillac Three ripped through the most notable tracks of their three studio albums. Songs like “Long Hair Don’t Care,” “American Slang,” and “The South” had the crowd singing so loud the band had to turn up their amps to match the excitement in the room, while lesser known cuts were received with attentive ears. There were many empty beer cans filling the trash and sitting on long-abandoned tables in the back, but regardless of their stupor the crowd still showed a great deal of respect for the men on stage. They wanted not just to have a good time, but to experience the very specific type of good time only The Cadillac Three could provide. The band, just happy to be wanted anywhere, gave them everything they demanded and then some.
When the house lights finally rose and the crowd began to disperse the topic of conversation quickly returned to the work day ahead. “It’s already after 10,” one woman said to her husband as she put on her coat. “Yea,” he replied after chugging the last of his Bud Light and tossing the empty can on the floor, “but it was worth it.”
The Cadillac Three: