It’s a familiar cliché, usually shared between two acquaintances and probably an aux cord, to “love all genres- well, except maybe country!”. Perhaps to label such a statement as “blasphemous” might seem a tad hyperbolic and, in the interest of journalistic transparency, there is an inevitable bias that lies with my super-fan mother. Regardless, Will Hoge is certainly a testament to the genre in 2018.

Now, this was my first time at Bristol’s Thekla but this excursion to see Will Hoge was not my first rodeo – forgive me. This was my fifth in regards to Will’s fantastic live shows. Unlike a couple of his previous gigs that I had been to, Will had brought a full band with him to Bristol: guitarist Thom Donavon, Allen Jones on drums and bassist Christopher Griffiths. He also brought his best cowboy boots and hat across the pond as well for the Thekla stage, perhaps in camaraderie with much of the audience. Hoge is currently on tour promoting his newest album Anchors (2017). He commented on the coincidence of all his 2018 shows being “maritime themed” thus far, just finishing a string of cruise shows travelling from New Orleans to Mexico. My mum urged me even further forward to see what he would open with this time: ‘Little Bitty Dreams’ (Small Town Dreams 2015) is a wistful track featuring some gorgeous riffs brought to the Thekla by Donavon that speaks to a contentment with a quieter, subtler American dream. Such is an overarching theme that can be traced through much of Hoge’s discography.

The night was filled with anecdotes about his school teacher wife and two young boys,10 and 7, who were “pissed” not to be joining their dad on tour this time round. The intimacy of the venue matched the lyrics of  ‘Still a Southern Man’ (2015) which offered a vulnerable and self conscious acknowledgement of Southern American history, exploring the modern legacy of Confederacy. Hoge took this commentary further to perform ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ (2017). While he addressed that this single was written “three school shootings ago”, the song remained an emotional elegy for recent events in Parkland, Florida as he appealed for the American government to “do [their] job up there and keep [their] thoughts and prayers”.

I had to console a slightly deflated mother over the omission of ‘The Wreckage’

The crowd seemed to unite during the anthemic ‘Even If It Breaks Your Heart’ (The Wreckage 2009) and ‘Middle of America’ (Small Town Dreams 2015). Both of these are reminiscent of a Springsteen-esque ‘Born to Run’ celebration of dreaming and ‘Thunder Road’ appreciation of the present. Most fittingly in the lead up to C2C: Country to Country in March, Hoge thanked country radio broadcaster Bob Harris for the support he’s received from the UK during his career. The set finished with ‘Sex, Lies and Money’ (Draw The Curtains 2007), a seductive, bluesy track that had the Thekla audience dancing until curfew while Hoge demonstrated his sultry vocals for the final time that evening.

Once he thanked the Thekla staff and his band once more, the night was over. The audience filed back up the stairs to the top deck of that awesome venue. Gradually, we all found our own ways home. While I had to console a slightly deflated mother over the omission of ‘The Wreckage’ (The Wreckage 2009) from this evening’s set list, I’m sure you’ll see the same mother and daughter in the front row next time. Thank you for a great night as always, Will.

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