By the time Derek, my boyfriend and bandmate in Y Los Dos Pistoles, and I arrived in Ybor a little after 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, New World Brewery was already so packed that only a few empty seats remained. In my experience, Tampa is a late night town; shows that start before 10 p.m. are sparsely attended, and nothing really begins until around midnight. Because of this, I figured we were seeing the tail-end of the dinner crowd and that soon, they would clear away, along with the dirty pizza trays and empty pint glasses, and tables would open up. But after unloading our equipment and getting some drinks ourselves, no one had left and in fact, more people had arrived. Nearly an hour-and-a-half before the show was slated to begin, bodies were congregating, staking out optimal viewing spots and waiting for William Elliott Whitmore. [Text by Shae, photo by Brian.]
Derek and I hadn't anticipated this and were getting nervous. We'd just been asked to open the show the previous Tuesday, and were going to be playing in a format that was relatively new to us: as a duo, with banjo and guitar. Derek had five days to learn as many songs, and while we felt ready, we also had assumed we'd be playing to a handful of people, mostly our friends, since everyone coming to see Whitmore would show up after we were done. We assumed wrong.
Before we played, William came up and introduced himself to us and to the other fans milling around, drinking beer and checking out the merch table. I must admit, I was a bit awestruck and fearful, as I always am, when meeting the musicians I've been listening to for years. What if they don't live up to their music? What if these people that I've admired for so long turn out to be jerks? But as he shook my hand and thanked us for opening, he allayed those worries. Reporters and fans often laud John Vanderslice as being the "Nicest Guy in Indie Rock," but Whitmore may be fighting for the title.
Samantha Crain followed our set. By now, New World was full to bursting. Derek and I found a tiny patch of space off to the side of the patio behind Samantha, so while I couldn't see her face, I could see those of the people in the audience, and they were entranced. It's rare that a solo performer can keep a crowd from talking or texting throughout a set, but with her hazy, velvety voice and jaunty guitar strumming, Samantha did just that. For "Songs in the Night," she asked for everyone to sing a rowdy "Oh-oh-oh!" during the chorus. "It'll be a Kumbaya moment,” she promised with a laugh before leading us into the song.
While we were respectfully quiet for Samantha, we were respectfully rambunctious for Whitmore. As he furiously banged on his banjo or guitar, and simultaneously pounded out a steady rhythm on his kick drum, those of us circling him clapped, hooted, raised our pint glasses and sang along. Dressed in a pristine white button-down shirt, black fedora and sleeves of tattoos, Iowa-native Whitmore didn't look like he'd ever worked a plow or dug a grave, as his songs suggested; he looked like the rest of us, though perhaps more confident in his place in life and slightly more worse for the wear. The earnestness in his sandpaper-scratched and moonshine-burnt voice, however, attested to a life of struggle, be it down on the farm with his hands in the dirt or on a more spiritual plane down on his knees with his heart in his hands.
Though Whitmore's songs address themes of revenge, redemption, back-breaking labor and hard living, his performance was lively and full of spirit; he strummed, shook, and knocked over the microphone. In between songs he joked about how people often confuse Iowa with Ohio. "Or Indiana!" a girl from the audience called out. Whitmore shook his head, laughed and replied, "No one confuses Iowa with Indiana. They sound nothing alike. It's a lovely state, though."He praised New World for its draft selection, quipping that he was used to drinking PBR, which was a fine beer, except for the fact that it gave him a hangover while he was drinking it.
After playing through "Hell or High Water," "Lift My Jug," a Bad Religion cover of "Don't Pray on Me" and other favorites — which may or may not end up on YouTube, as several people in front of the stage area had their phones locked on Whitmore the entire set — he ended the night a cappella with "Mutiny." As he sang out, "I will stand up and shout: I declare mutiny on this ship!" and as the audience drunkenly joined in on the call-and-response of the chorus, it felt as though we were all in this mutiny together — and that's what music's really about, isn't it?
Where were you sitting? Your review is a bit negative sounding to say the least…
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Excellent review, sorry I missed the concert.
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