Sturgill Simpson’s Fighting Fan Problem
In September of 2014, I saw Sturgill Simpson play in the most idyllic setting imaginable at Chinook Fest outside of Naches, Washington. Saying someone played a show in the middle of nowhere is cliche, but this time the shoe fit. There were about 150 wonderful people dancing barefoot in the grass while drinking four-dollar drafts of really great beer. Everyone got along, and afterwards my wife and I chatted for an hour with Simpson’s ridiculously dexterous Estonian guitarist, Laur Joamets, who makes Dickie Betts seem like he plays on Lithium.
Things have taken a violent turn since, as Simpson’s popularity has soared. In February of 2015, Simpson had to stop a show to break up a fight. He did the same thing earlier this month–during a fucking cover of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” at the Ryman. A week later, he halted his show so that a fight would be broken up in Utah, land of peace and full-body underwear. And those are just the brawls that have been reported (multiply by five). Last night, at Seattle’s Showbox SoDo, I narrowly averted two rumbles myself during a stellar show with songs that didn’t come within a whisker of promoting aggro behavior.
Simpson’s got a fan problem, and I wish I could help him out in terms of how to solve it. It’s not like the guy performs Nickelback covers; he plays bluegrass for the masses, which should affect his fans in the manner that it did in Naches. But judging from the amount of selfies taken last night, I suspect what’s going on here is that music non-fans who are two steps behind the pioneers are marching in to claim Simpson as their own. It’s a really awkward transition as an artist graduates to bigger rooms. Last night’s show was spectacular from a musical standpoint, but I’m now thinking Simpson needs to shake the shitheads by devoting his next tour to obscure Oingo Boingo covers.