With a two-night engagement at hand in the city where he largely came of age as a stage performer, you would think Tyler Childers could afford to kick back and feel at home.
But for the Lawrence County native who has become a national Americana sensation since his sophomore album, “Purgatory,” was released last August, life on the road doesn’t stop — not even when it returns him to Kentucky.
“In between loading in, sound checking and getting everything ready for the night, I may get to have a small amount of time with old friends, people I don’t get to see too often,” Childers said.
The simple fact surrounding Childers’ performance life is the songsmith remains in high demand commercially and critically everywhere, especially lately. Since mid May alone, he has made his debut at the Grand Ole Opry, shared the stage (and a few songs) with songwriting icon John Prine, played Nashville’s famed Ryman Auditorium with fellow country upstart Margo Price and performed to the sweltering masses at Bonnaroo.
Topping it off, the Louisville Palace has just announced Childers will close out the year there, with back-to-back shows Dec. 30 and 31. So if you didn't manage to get tickets for his sold-out back-to-back dates this weekend at Manchester Music Hall, you might want to head west, this winter.
“We were in Amarillo on the fourth day of a 27 day run when ‘Purgatory’ came out,” Childers recalled. “Everything since then has just evolved from touring and playing shows. I’ve managed to stay off of landscaping crews over the last year and a half, so there’s that. But these last few weeks have been pretty wild.”
For Lexington audiences, a Tyler Childers show has been a welcome and regular event for years. His marathon club performances possessed a loose but authoritative feel ruled by music drenched in Appalachian soul and mountain ancestry yet bolstered by electric honky tonk fire and a multi-generational understanding of country and bluegrass.
More recently, numerous local and regional artists began cutting his songs, especially after the release of his debut album “Bottles and Bibles” in 2011. But everything blew up with “Purgatory.” Sure, having a pair of high profile producers — David Ferguson (who engineered records for Prine and Del McCoury, among others) and fellow Kentucky country renegade Sturgill Simpson — on board didn’t hurt. Mostly, though, the critical reception reflected a national awakening to a brand of Kentucky country-soul Lexington audiences saw being built from the ground up.
“I grew up cutting my teeth on the country-crossover albums of (fellow Lawrence County native) Ricky Skaggs,” Childers said. “So from a young age, that was a sound I wanted to hear in my own stuff — this middle ground between bluegrass and honky tonk. I feel extremely blessed to have had the opportunity to work with Ferg and Sturgill and actually get the sound I was looking for.
“But a lot of the things that have been happening for me we were hoping for long before ‘Purgatory’ came out. At first, my manager was my booking agent, although he had no experience of managing anyone or booking anyone. I didn’t have enough experience myself in the ways of gigging and being on the road and playing like we have been. So when we got together six years ago, there were a lot of goals we had in mind for where we wanted to be in 10 years. To see that happening now after six years of working hard at it … well, it’s kind of crazy to go from making the goals to seeing them realized. It’s pretty rewarding.”
While it’s easy and perhaps obvious to celebrate the breakthrough Childers’ career has enjoyed over the past year, the songwriter has been sufficiently blown away by all his good fortune this summer, starting with a Cincinnati gig with Prine, the Illinois-born folk stylist who spent considerable childhood time in Kentucky. Prine all but immortalized Muhlenberg County in his classic “Paradise” over 45 years ago, although Bluegrass sensibilities abound in such worldly yet whimsical tunes as “Please Don’t Bury Me.”
Childers got to sing both songs with Prine when the two played Cincinnati’s Taft Theatre earlier this month.
“‘Please Don’t Bury Me’ was the first John Prine song I ever heard,” Childers said. “As a Kentucky boy and a singer-songwriter, John is one of the heaviest hitters as far as influences go for me. For a long time as I started out, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to get to open up for him one day.’ Now, for him to be so welcoming to me and my music means the world to me.”
Ultimately, though, Childers has proven himself an artist for any audience — be the Lexington crowds that, through the years, flocked to his club shows, higher profile gigs with elder inspirations like Prine or massive gatherings like Bonnaroo. Childers relishes devising the right repertoire to fit the mood and need of each situation.
“Each gig has its own group of individuals who have congregated into the same place for a good time. Each crowd is made up of different people that need their own show.
“You know, we don’t do setlists. We just try to play things by ear and play for the crowd.
"It’s exciting when everything is on the same wavelength. You pull out all the proper songs for that particular set and it all comes out. It all comes out with everyone having a pretty fun time. When everything goes off like that — to read a crowd and give them what they need — that’s pretty great.”
IF YOU GO
When: 7 p.m. June 29 and 30
Where: Manchester Music Hall, 899 Manchester St.
Tickets: Sold Out