The Civil Wars

The Civil Wars

  • Article by: Matt Dodson
  • Posted: 02/02/2011

I hate to play the prophet, but …

If you haven’t heard of The Civil Wars, who played last night (a frozen February 2) at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville, then you certainly will hear of them soon.

The duo, consisting of singer/songwriters Joy Williams and John Paul White, made their full-length debut, well … the day before the show. Yeah – that’s about 45 hours between the time the album hit iTunes and the moment the first note rang from White’s vintage Martin guitar on stage at the Belcourt Wednesday night. Not much time.

But the album’s No.1 debut on the iTunes chart is clearly not a fluke. When Joy and John Paul introduced the title track from Barton Hollow, the completely sold-out and star-struck crowd cheered so loud and so long that they had to play the intro a few times to let the applause simmer down.

I sat in the second row, front-and-center. If I turned my head I could see nearly 400 people singing along to every word of every two-day-old song, recognizing tunes at the first guitar chord, shouting out requests for favorites – only stuff the most loyal groupies ever do. And this is less than two days after the album dropped.

I have never seen anything like it before: In two days, enough of the city of Nashville bought Barton Hollow to fill the Belcourt, showing up in droves, not to mention all those who were so upset they missed out that they managed to get a second show added for the next day at the Basement (tonight).

When John Paul first began to pick out the oriental chime of “20 Years,” Joy’s introduction to the song was cut short by wild cheers from the crowd that was still standing from the welcoming ovation. “I guess I don’t have to introduce it,” she said, looking a little surprised, and then she started to sing.

But I guess I should tell you about the show …

Lucy Schwartz opened, with her quirky blend of Ingrid Michaelson and Aqualung pop music giving the frigid evening a nice dose of sunshine. I had never heard of her before the show, but she completely won me over with her catchy songs, especially the brilliant hipster anthem “Life in Letters.”

If you don’t know Lucy, I’d definitely recommend checking her out. She is a great artist in her own right, and won’t be an opening act for much longer.

Then came the main attraction … to the loudest movie-theater riot I’ve ever heard, as Joy and John Paul quickly jumped straight into their act as (onstage-only) lovers.

Their dark and ominous songs never seemed gloomy; the chemistry between the two, and their playful improvisations provided some good laughs throughout the bleakness. Joy introduced a cover song (“You Are My Sunshine”) early in the set by giving the disclaimer that the song is typically sung in a sunshiny way, but, “We’re the Civil Wars, and we don’t do that!”

“We are singing the lyrics as they are,” she added, but clarified that they had removed “a couple of verses about crawfish.”

As the last note of “Poison and Wine” echoed off the projector in the back room, the crowd had already hit its feet for a standing ovation so long and loud that it brought the duo back for another few songs, including a quirky, ¾ time cover of “Billie Jean.”

But as good as the performance was, perhaps the best sign of things to come for The Civil Wars was a tweet that was sent out mid-show – to 5,191,626 followers. Country megastar Taylor Swift was sitting in the front, only a few seats away from me, and in her Twitter account she called herself a Civil Wars “superfan,” saying she has been listening to Barton Hollow on vinyl, on repeat.

This less-than-140-character celebrity endorsement got the word out on the group in a way that not even their appearance on The Tonight Show could.

So yeah, if the world doesn’t know who Joy Williams and John Paul White are, it will soon, thanks in part to Taylor Swift, but mostly because they are making real, organic, wonderfully-crafted music that people want to hear.

If you missed the show, don’t worry. They’ll be around for a long time.

You may just have to pay more for a ticket next time around!

  • The Civil Wars
  • The Civil Wars
  • The Civil Wars

The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow

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