Morgan Wallen is a man of few words and big production. A once-in-a-lifetime success story whose position at the top of the country heap is undeniable, Wallen’s live show focuses solely on the music that made him a household name. In the 90 minutes he spent on stage at Van Andel Arena, the “Last Night” singer spoke, at most, a dozen sentences to the audience, and all of them were to give thanks. Honestly—what more do you need?
You know the legend by now. With over 50 songs between his last two albums, both of which remain in the Billboard Top 10 albums chart as I write this, Wallen has become the face of country music in an unbelievably short time. His fans are the kind of music obsessives artists dream of reaching. The copious amount of music he shares undoubtedly helps with that connection. Still, something far more profound is going on as well. I didn’t fully understand it until seeing the Tennessee native play his heartache anthem for a sold-out crowd.
As I see it, Morgan Wallen represents a reality that has only recently become common knowledge. The lines that once stood like walls between genre and fandoms have disintegrated over the past decade, creating freeform communities of like-minded consumers whose taste and spending are driven by something more profound than mere sonic classification. With billions having access to the vast majority of music history through streaming, it’s become apparent that very few people live in a musical silo. The same people who know every word to “Amarillo By Morning” can often rap Snoop Dogg’s verse from “Gin And Juice” with similar ease. At one time, culture may have dictated those interests remain separate, but not anymore! Nowadays, everyone listens to anything that hits them in a way that feels personal and honest.
Does that mean Morgan Wallen drowns his sorrows in whiskey and Keith Whitley as much as he claims? We can never know, and we shouldn’t care! As long as the songs he’s singing make you feel less alone, the magic of music persists through him. You may not have a Southern accent, but when ten thousand people (or more) scream the chorus to “The Way I Talk,” you feel unabashedly emboldened by the moment. Like many of Wallen’s songs, it’s a deceptively simple track that plays on genre tropes while driving home an important message: You are who you are, and that’s enough, even if some disagree. Who can argue with that?
I WAS OVERWHELMED when I worked through One Thing At A Time in March. That’s not unusual for those listening to the record. At 36 tracks, as much has been written about the album’s length as its content, but the latter justifies the former. Each track is a chapter from the songbook of life in all its heartbreaking beauty. Whether it’s the careless fun of “Ain’t That Some” or the wickedly clever heartache of “98 Braves,” One Night has a song (or twelve) that hits home with listeners.
Though absent from the live show, tracks like “Keith Whitley” and “Don’t Think Jesus” argue for Wallen’s overwhelming popularity. Perfectly paced midtempo undertakings with unique melodies and memorable hooks, these songs paint Wallen—and by extension, the listener—as a person who takes responsibility for their role in the chaos and calamity of existence. Things don’t typically happen to Wallen or the people he sings about in these songs without reason. Instead, the characters wallow in the repercussion of their actions. Much like the George Jones classic “Choices,” Wallen often paints himself as the problem. Unfortunately, that unwilling-yet-unavoidable sense of loathing self-awareness is all too relatable for millions.
But back to the live show. Every second of Wallen’s One Night At A Time world tour has been designed to elicit the maximum response from its audience. Wallen has developed a borderline overwhelming audiovisual extravaganza from the songs to the lights, fireworks, and constant use of pyrotechnics. One could marvel at any single element for the entirety of the performance and leave satisfied without even noticing the others.
Tickets for One Night At A Time sold out instantly, but lucky fans will find many venues—including Van Andel—release holds in the final days leading up to the event. Whether you get tickets then or you’ve had them all along, rest assured this tour is worth the price of admission.