William Elliot Whitmore Calms Souls at Sold Out Turf Club


Last night’s sold out show started with local act Gabriel Douglas. He has been on my “watch list” for a while now but I hadn’t gotten a chance to check him out before last night. What a mistake that was. Gabriel took the stage with just him, a guitar, and a four pack of Surly Hell beer. He sang his songs about love and love lost, Duluth, and everyday life in a place where the wind makes your face hurt. Gabriel’s voice is smooth but has an undeniable sense of emotion and energy to it and that, right there, had me hooked.

Being the only local on the bill, and the first act of the night, it was hard not to notice how loud the crowd was being. I don’t think anyone was talking with the intention of being rude but it did get a bit distracting at times. Gabriel Douglas didn’t let it affect his performance which was nice. I’ve seen some performers get pissed off and give a lack-luster performance when they find it hard to get over the loud, drunken conversations going on in the crowd but Gabriel just turned up his guitar and vocals and did his thing and that just showed his true love for the craft.

Will Varley was up next and, like Gabriel Douglas, he had me hooked. His set acted as the comedic relief of the night as he told jokes not only in his songs, but also in between songs. His personality shined as he invited the crowd to sing the “la la la’s” during his second song and, after that song, the crowd seemed to drop whatever conversation they were having in order to pay attention to what Will was doing. Last night was his last night of touring around the U.S. before he headed home to the U.K. If that were me, I would be exhausted and longing for the feeling of home but you didn’t get that vibe from Will.

After researching a bit more about Will, I fell deeper in love with him. He is known for doing tours by just walking from place to place. I mean, literally walking from venue to venue. After thinking about it, it all makes sense. He had this “gypsy” feel about him and a true love for life and love for what he’s doing. He felt approachable and, when he announced that after his set he would be b-lining for his merch table to meet everyone, you believed him. He wasn’t one of those acts with a big head that would stand at his merch table for fifteen minutes before scurrying out the door to escape the crowds, he meant it when he said he wanted to meet everyone.

Headlining the night was a personal favorite of mine, William Elliot Whitmore. I still remember that day I brought William’s album Ashes to Dust home. I had picked it up at the record store I was working at just because of the simplistic album artwork and the fact that it had the “local” label on it (William is from Iowa). When I first listened to it, it didn’t catch me. I was a metal head that had Slipknot and System of a Down on repeat and William’s brand of alt-country just didn’t catch me but I held onto the CD in the hopes that at some point, it would make sense. I’m glad I did because just a couple years later, it finally clicked and that CD became the soundtrack to my first year of college.

William Elliot Whitmore’s voice is unlike anything I had ever heard before. It was a bit of Tom Waits mixed with Greg Graffin of Bad Religion. It had the intensity of any hardcore band I had ever loved but had the emotion of some of the greatest country singers I had never really enjoyed. It was calmer than what I typically listened to but there was something about his voice that had me intrigued. The more I dug into William’s discography, the more I wanted to kick myself for not giving it a chance when I lived in Iowa. He played in my area so many times and I never went to one of my concerts. I didn’t give him the respect he deserved until I have moved away from his home base and I was afraid I would never be able to see this genius live.

Last night was my chance and it was everything I had imagined it would be. When you see William, you just don’t believe that such a powerful, soulful voice could come out of this small town boy from Iowa. To see him perform live really hit it home for me. Yes, that’s his voice. No, it’s not just something made up in the studio. When he sings, he typically sings with his eyes closed. That may sound like a stupid thing for me to bring up but it’s something that stuck with me. The amount of passion and soul that this guy has for what he’s doing is truly immeasurable. Too many of the musicians I see these days are so concerned with putting on a show but not William. He got up on stage with only a banjo in his hands, bass drum at his foot, and his heart on his sleeve and that is all that I wanted to see. I didn’t want to see a show, I wanted to see William be just as raw live as he is on recordings and that’s exactly what I got.