Sam Johnston’s headlining set at Nashville’s historic Exit/In on Thursday night will be hard to forget by anyone who was in attendance.
Presented by Apogee Promotions and sponsored by Lightning 100, the show marked a major moment for the Dallas-born Belmont alum.
Johnston more than lived up to the billing, sporting a 13-piece all-star band that included former American Idol contestant Emma Klein on vocals, The Broomestix founder Connor Broome on keys, two drummers, three horn players, and many more. The result was an electric, captivating set from a musician on the verge of breaking through to the next level.
He’s equal parts John Mayer and Marcus King. He’ll melt your face off with grimy, swampy southern-rock riffs, then turn around and make your heart break with a soul-shattering guitar solo over a 6/8 ballad. He combines meaningful lyricism with a masterful command of the pocket and an endearing stage presence.
His choice of covers showcased his diverse, dynamic appreciation for a variety of musical styles. They included a spirited, take-no-prisoners opening rendition of “Whipping Post” by The Allman Brothers Band, a nod to D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” in the outro of his 5:44 masterpiece “Postcards,” and a completely out-of-left-field cover of The Killers’ “When You Were Young” that even got the people in the balcony on their feet.
Sam Johnston takes a solo during his set at Exit/In.
Make no mistake about it, though. Johnston’s original compositions were the highlight of the night. As previously mentioned, his song “Postcards” is a personal standout to me. An emotional ballad about the pains of a long-distance relationship, the song was in my Top 100 Songs of 2019 on Spotify. The live version, however, was a stripped-back effort highlighted by Broome’s tasteful piano leads and outstanding efforts from Johnston’s background vocalists.
“For A While,” a song he co-wrote with Klein about being in Nashville, was another standout moment with some of the best harmonies of the entire set. His dedication and performance of “Gasoline” to his little brother in attendance was heartwarming. His back-to-back, set-closing duo of “Traveler” and “The River” showcased his musical chops and sent the crowd home with a raucous, frenetic energy that kept them buzzing long after the show was over.
On a night where all eyes were on Sam Johnston, he owned the moment.
- Whipping Post (The Allman Brothers Band cover)
- Runaway Train (unreleased)
- For A While (w/ Emma Klein, unreleased)
- featuring snippet of “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” (D’Angelo cover)
- When You Were Young (The Killers cover)
- The River