The only way this weekend’s “Saturday Night Live” could have been more Kentucky is if it was “Live from the Commonwealth ...” or Jennifer Lawrence was hosting, or another one of our stars.
When Johnson County-raised Chris Stapleton was introduced by Will Ferrell, he launched into a scorching rendition of his “Midnight Train to Memphis.” But in short order, another stage light flicked on to reveal a surprise sideman: Jackson native and Versailles-raised Sturgill Simpson, who belted out the second verse of the song and rejoined Stapleton for his second song, “Hard Livin’” this time with a proper introduction from Ferrell.
Earlier in the evening, the duo teased their appearance on Twitter, Stapleton writing, “Tonight we’ve got some extra Kentucky in NYC.”
This was the first high-profile joint appearance by the Kentuckians seen as leading something of an insurgency against mainstream country music, though the country establishment has been much warmer to Stapleton, who penned hits for chart-toppers like Luke Bryan before achieving his own fame. Simpson has had a more tense relationship with the genre, at one point penning an open screed against the Academy of Country Music and country music in general for its treatment of late star Merle Haggard. Stapleton has won multiple Country Music Association awards, while Simpson busked outside the last ceremony, mocking the event.
But, with the Grammy Awards, they are back-to-back winners of the prize for best country album — Stapleton in 2016 for “Traveller” and Simpson last year for “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth.” Simpson also had a scorching SNL appearance last year.
Stapleton is in the running again for best country album Grammy tonight for “From A Room: Vol. 1,” and he will also perform on the ceremony, which starts at 7:30 p.m. on CBS.
Rich Copley: @copiousnotes