Ryan Bingham With Lucero South Side Ballroom, Dallas Friday, March 6, 2015
For all its shortcomings in terms of some other genres, Dallas has an incredibly strong taste for rootsy, country-infused rock music. Maybe it's the bucolic settings that exist just a short drive outside the city, but people in Dallas love to put on their cowboy hats and go see an artist that is just as likely to fire off a banjo riff as he is to cover a Metallica song. This crowd was in full-force attendance at roots rock hero Ryan Bingham's show on Friday night.
Once the crowds started to pour in, it was impossible to even take a few steps inside South Side Ballroom. People piled on top of each other into the pit, filled up walkways and made it impossible to find a solitary spot on the smoking patio. In most cases, such a well-attended show would be a nuisance for true fans, but this kind of packed house means that artists like Bingham will always have a home in Dallas.
The similarly rootsy Lucero opened for Bingham, and played for well over an hour to a relatively engaged crowd. There were a few fights in the pit, but the generally rowdy concertgoers weren't too badly behaved. Even though Lucero's catalog is full of down-tempo songs that will make you cry into your beer, the folks packed into the first few rows really didn't seem to care. Lead singer Ben Nichols may also have a little mid-2000s pop-rock gravel (a la Aaron Lewis from Staind) in his voice, but the songwriting is solid and the stellar accompanying seven-piece band didn't hurt.
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When I wasn't really feeling the set, a friend told me to go home, break up with my boyfriend, and then the songs would sound right. I feel like that was probably pretty accurate. Either way, the fact that an hour-long set from an opener was so well-received by everyone in a crowd that was clearly there to see Bingham is a further testament to just how successful this kind of music is here.
When Bingham did finally take the stage after a short reset, the crowd had just as much energy as they did when they got there two hours earlier. Surprisingly, though, this wasn't the kind of set that you would necessarily expect from someone that is touring in support of a wildly successful new record. Bingham mixed in plenty of tracks from previous recordings, including Junky Star and the Grammy-nominated theme from Jeff Bridges' Crazy Heart, "The Weary Kind," with songs from the new record. Somewhat to my surprise, most of the people in the crowd seemed familiar with both bodies of work.
As an artist, Bingham could not have been more comfortable on the stage at South Side Ballroom. He was laid-back, cool and occasionally comedic. Mostly, though, he was intense. To watch Bingham sing is to feel all of the pain and loss and emotion that went into writing those records. Bingham is one of few artists who can be entirely successful at making you want to raise your beer and cry at the same time.
As the evening wound down, the energy of the crowd was still entirely palpable. This was an audience that lined up out in the cold to see Ryan Bingham, and they would have eagerly watched him play all night long. For fans of this genre, this excitement is, well, deeply exciting. If what I saw on Friday night is any indication, Dallas will continue to attract the top talent in roots and Americana music.
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As for Bingham, he may have outgrown a venue the size of South Side Ballroom. Friday night's show sold out well in advance, and tickets were going on StubHub for upwards of $100, a pretty steep markup on the original ticket. That would seem to indicate that he could sell out much bigger venues.
No matter how big the venue needs to be, though, Bingham will always have a place to play in Dallas. And that's an encouraging sign for our city's musical tastes.
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