After a day spent outside at a block party complete with beer and pizza, I was ready for a chill night. I didn’t have much energy left in me and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to just pass out for the night. Regardless of how tired or sunburnt I got, I was not going to miss last night’s show. It was one of my favorite shows that happens only once a year– Ben Nichols playing solo. Seeing him play solo never gets old.
Ben Nichols is the lead singer of Lucero. I’ll spare you the lecture about how good these guys are or the fact that I love them so much I have a tattoo of some of their lyrics. Just trust me, you need to give Lucero a chance if you haven’t already. Ben makes the trek to Minneapolis every year to contribute to a fundraiser for St. Jude’s Medical Research. Usually it ends up being a barbecue on Saturday night that I have yet to make it to just due to previous obligations but, he also ends up playing a solo show that Sunday night in town. Last night was that night and to say I was excited as my friend and I pulled up to The Turf Club would be an understatement.
As my friend Chandra and I were walking up to the door of the venue, I could hear Ben’s distinctive raspy voice. When we rounded the corner, there he was and I instantly felt some odd sense of comfort. Now, I don’t fan girl often. I’ve met musicians before and am typically able to keep my composure around them but not Ben. As soon as I saw him, I lost any hope of speaking and walking was quickly becoming a task so I rushed Chandra through the door and we snagged a table towards the back of the venue.
Molly Maher opened the show with her local brand of raspy alt-country. With a charming personality and truly beautiful voice, Molly’s opening set perfectly set the tone for the night. The music wasn’t dark and slow but it also wasn’t bright and upbeat. She was able to effortlessly make her music feel pure and deep while still keeping a sense of lightheartedness throughout the packed venue. Although there was consistently a roaring baseline of conversations going on the venue, Molly didn’t seem deterred or bothered by them. I have always envied people that can get up on a stage alone and do their thing without worrying what anyone in the audience was doing. To just get up there and spill your heart and sole onto a crowd of strangers is heroic in my mind andI more than enjoyed seeing her do her thing on that stage.
Ben’s voice is not your typical voice. It’s raspy to the point where you’d think there’s no way it could become a thing of beauty but when he sings with as much emotion as he does, it turns into the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. With songs about love and love lost, most of his songs are slow, sad songs that are worthy of a good cry. I won’t lie, on nights when I’m feeling a little bummed, I’ll throw on some Lucero albums and just sit there. Ben’s voice provides of sense of comfort to me that I’ve never gotten from a voice before.
Even though his music is slower and typically about heartbreak, seeing him play solo in concert is anything but depressing. When playing these solo shows, Ben is notorious for taking a couple shots of whiskey and just going with the flow. Things felt much more laid back than any other concert I have ever been to. Instead of a set list, Ben waited to see what songs the crowd would shout out. Although he had to turn down some that he could only do with a full band, he was willing to give most songs a chance even if he could only get through the first couple of lines. Being able to see a musician that I admire so much up on that stage, making mistakes and laughing along with the crowd is truly an eye-opening experience. To say it humanized this larger than life character to me would be an understatement.
He came off as the type of guy that would love to just sit down next to with a bottle of whiskey and hours to talk. His genuine love for music and his obvious heart on his sleeve mixed with the multiple shots of whiskey that were being passed from audience to stage created an atmosphere that felt more like a hangout session instead of a concert. The informality of the music mixed with the strangers quickly turning to friends at the bar created a charming atmosphere that was hard to leave when the night ended.
Ben Nichols played through far too many songs to list. From the brand spankin’ new songs he played to the songs that dated back to his teenage years, every single song came with a charming smile and a mind-blowing voice. Like usual, Ben did the impossible and from the time he started singing until the very last note that rang through the venue, I had forgotten about everything else in my life. For one guy to have such a power with only his voice and a guitar is amazing to me and truly inspiring.
Last night seemed to be a sleepy night for my friends that had stuck with me throughout the day at the block party. We were all a little day-drunk, a little sunburnt and a whole lot of exhausted. As they were all crawling into bed after lathering themselves in aloe vera, I found myself grabbing a friend and heading out to a show. This lifestyle may be exhausting but being able to see such an inspirational guy like Ben Nichols play a super intimate solo show is more than worth it.