It takes about a couple of hours to figure out the cultural phenomenon named Chris Stapleton.

It takes about a couple of hours to figure out the cultural phenomenon named Chris Stapleton.

The puzzle? How could a heavy-bearded man in his 40s who blends common country themes of heartache and longing with southern rock be at the top of the entertainment mountain?

Concert review

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Chris Stapleton

With Elle King

Canada Life Place

Saturday, May 7

Attendance: 11,000

★★★★ 1/2 stars out of five

Stapleton himself provided the answer Saturday night at Canada Life Centre.

Unlike so many of his handsome country-music brethren who truck in fancy stages, flashy lights to the city and don Jets jerseys to engage fans, all Stapleton had to do to capture the hearts of 11,000 adoring fans was to sing his thoughtful lyrics with his soulful voice, throw in some soaring guitar solos and let his ace five-piece band do the rest.

It’s his lyrics that set him above most songwriters these days, and he has that knack of putting a twist in breakup and getting-back-together songs that elude so many.

In Parachute, the second song he played Saturday, he transformed the trite saying "I’ll be there for you," into "I’ll be your parachute." That’s quite the way of telling someone you love you have their back.

That extra writing step was most noticeable during a three-song acoustic solo section in the midway through his set that included What Are You Listening To?, Traveller and Whiskey and You.

<p>MIKE SUDOMA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Singer song writer, Chris Stapleton brings his All American Road Show Goes to Canada Tour to a packed Canada Life Centre Saturday evening.</p>


Singer song writer, Chris Stapleton brings his All American Road Show Goes to Canada Tour to a packed Canada Life Centre Saturday evening.

Whiskey is another go-to subject in country music, but Stapleton touches upon how booze so often becomes a barrier between people.

"I’ve got a problem / But it ain’t what you think. / I drink because I’m lonesome and I’m lonesome ‘cause I drink," he sang.

It’s these kind of words that have made him like a Kris Kristofferson or Willie Nelson of the 2020s. Their songs are different but the three country songwriting giants, appeal to both country, pop and rock artists in the same way. Nelson helped make Patsy Cline a legend, Kristofferson did the same with Janis Joplin and now Stapleton writes and makes an unlikely duet partnership with Adele that sounds like a natural pairing.

When Stapleton put his acoustic down and grabbed his Fender Jazzmaster, he showed he doesn’t just look like a would-be member of ZZ Top, he can rock out like them too. He steamed out a tense and lengthy solo during The Devil Named Music that should tide southern blues fans over till they get home and put the Allmans on the turntable.

While Stapleton’s stage setup had plenty of pizzazz, his songs were the brightest lights, with the crowd nearly drowning him out during Tennessee Whiskey, the David Allan Coe country standard that helped Stapleton achieve popular acclaim.

Elle King opened the evening with a 50-minute set that also only had a dash of country, which was mainly the banjo she played and the Stetson on her head.

Songs such as 2016’s Ex’s and Oh’s, were pure rock, so much so it earned a Grammy nomination for Rock Song in 2016, but its subject matter fits right into country’s wheelhouse, where singing about exes is as old as the genre itself.

So did Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home), which came near the end of King’s set, a 2021 track with catchy lyrics she sang with country superstar Miranda Lambert that earned another Grammy nod, this time in the country genre.

Web pages about King, 32, invariably mention her being Rob Schneider’s daughter and that she’s appeared a few of the comedian’s films, but her set proves she has her own brand of sass.

Twitter: @AlanDSmall

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Alan Small

Alan Small

Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.