Sound Advice: Tyler Childers and the Whispering Beard Folk Festival (Aug. 24-27)

Now enjoying major acclaim for album debut 'Purgatory,' Tyler Childers pays a return visit to Whispering Beard, this time as a headliner at the 10th-annual Folk/Americana event

Although he's just 26, Tyler Childers is already a seasoned music veteran. For the past six years, the Paintsville, Ky. native has been writing evocative new songs that are so steeped in Country/Bluegrass tradition, you'd swear they were obscure covers rescued from the dusty drawer of a forgotten Nashville publisher. Childers has also been forging the performance aspect of his craft with constant touring throughout the South and Midwest — on his own or with his bands, The High Walls and The Food Stamps —revealing a novelist's eye for detail in his songs and a showman's gift for holding an audience's attention from first note to last while onstage.

Childers' new album Purgatory, produced by cosmic outlaw Sturgill Simpson and engineered by ace Johnny Cash tech David Ferguson, is being identified as his debut, but his Bandcamp page offers a handful of live recordings as proof of his previous musical commitment. Purgatory truly is an introductory release for Childers in a variety of ways, from the expansive atmosphere that Simpson helped create to Childers' comfortable interplay with some of Music City's best session hands.

In addition to those natural challenges, Childers established the album's biggest hurdle on his own by writing Purgatory as a song cycle about his personal journey from hard-living, fast track wastrel to grounded married man. Most artists would save a concept album for later in their careers but, as you may have gathered, Childers is far from the madding crowd of most artists.

Childers takes his upbringing of listening to the likes of Drive-By Truckers and deep Southern Gospel, plus details from his hardscrabble blue-collar young adulthood, and transforms them into a semi-autobiographical scrapbook of musical snapshots that describe his life from interior and exterior perspectives. With Purgatory, Childers doesn't retreat to the viewpoint of a detached observer, preferring to wade into the first-person desperation of a young man spinning dangerously on the brink. All of this he accomplishes by utilizing a soundtrack that is weathered by Appalachian Country and Bluegrass tradition, sharpened to a knife's edge by contemporary living, energized by the adrenaline of youth and informed by the hard-won wisdom of surviving youthful stupidity.

And all of this occurs on Tyler Childers' very first real album — where he might go next boggles the imagination.

Childers is the Friday headliner at the popular Whispering Beard Folk Festival. Running Thursday through Sunday, the fest (now in its 10th year) is held in the small town of Friendship, Ind., about 50 miles west of Cincinnati. Founded by some passionate music fans from Greater Cincinnati (read CityBeat's 2013 profile of them here), Whispering Beard offers a groovy, intimate and casual setting (camping is encouraged) and its lineup is also consistently excellent, showcasing Roots music legends, Americana cult heroes to like-minded contemporary acts that either have a buzz around them or should.

Check the full schedule below and click here for tickets, directions and complete Whispering Beard details.


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