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September 23, 9:00 pm - 10:30 pm
“People who gravitate towards my music are seekers,” says Charlie Worsham. “The kind of person who connects with my songs is one who has been on a journey in search of a dream. That dream might be joining the cast of SNL or it might be finding a soulmate. Either way, the journey is gonna require some distance from the comforts of Eden, some struggle. I have a song for that person because I have been that person.”
Worsham, a dream-chaser by nature, is opening a new musical chapter that reflects his history, his struggles, his growth and his love. Fans will recognize in Worsham’s six-song EP Sugarcane his refined, self-effacing songwriting and innovative instrumentation that honors country traditions while nudging his vision of the music into the future.
Sugarcane is a natural progression from his 2017 album Beginning of Things, which earned widespread praise and year-end recognition from outlets including NPR, The Wall Street Journal, Variety, Rolling Stone, American Songwriter and more. Both Beginning of Things and his debut Rubberband enjoyed acclaim from critics and a rarely seen level of support from his peers across country music – but still Worsham had musical goals beyond his reach and a relentless desire to achieve them, fueling him toward the future.
A musician from the time he started humming along to the vacuum cleaner at age two, Worsham has never had a back-up plan. That truth, one which underscores his entire career, inspired the first taste of Sugarcane – “Fist Through This Town.” The track picks up where fans last saw Charlie, reflecting on the frustrations of an artist feeling unheard. Even at his low point, though, Worsham never considered giving up.
“I think we all go through those times when it feels like the world is against us, and that’s especially true for anyone who dares to chase down their dream,” he explains. “‘Fist Through This Town’ fell onto the page late one solitary night in a little house I used to rent on Lillian Street. It was fueled by whiskey and a season of frustration, watched over by a painting of George Jones hanging on the wall, illuminated by the glow of hand-me-down lamps. ‘Fist’ was the first time I got that honest with myself about my anger.”
This anger, instead of stopping him, often provided Worsham clarity in how to move forward He was on the road with Brandy Clark experiencing what he describes as “strike two” following the release of his second record when he realized, amid his exasperations and disappointments, the motivation that continued to keep him going: “Your love to for making music has to outweigh the struggle. And it has to outweigh the ways in which the struggle wears you down, because it will. A bones-deep love for what you do is the only thing that can outlast the hardships and woes that come with any career path, especially one like the music business that is like waking up every day and playing the lottery.” Thus, in the fluorescent flicker of a stale-beer-smelling Carolina Green Room, he penned “For the Love.”
The rocking country truth-teller was the first song Worsham wrote for what would become Sugarcane. “For the Love” is his testament to what success really looks like. It’s not just chart numbers but something more elemental and soul-satisfying. Impassioned and a little dangerous-sounding with its swaggering guitar duel and B3 organ, recalling Lynyrd Skynyrd at their edgiest, the song describes success as something more elemental and soul-satisfying than just chart numbers.
“It’s my theme. I’m always rewriting it,” he laughs. “It’s my version of that movie Memento. It’s the things I need to remember: to trust myself. To follow my heart. To not lose myself. To tell myself I am enough. And most of all, to remember that we are not humans doing things, we are human beings.”
For a long time, Worsham’s love and self-worth were tied singularly to his music –but in Sugarcane it is clear that he has found something else to look forward to other than the next gig. The real magic of the project comes from its muse. With the introduction of his now-wife Kristen into his life, the arc of Sugarcane evolves into a story of growth.
“Anger can be good and useful, but not when it gets control of the steering wheel,” Worsham reflects. “I believe that anger and fear are two sides of the same coin. I’ve never struggled with fear because I could always suit up in my anger. But deep down I was afraid of not having a seat at the table. Kristen taught me, through her love, that neither fear nor anger should be in the driver’s seat.”
Some of the songs on the EP started as teasing love letters. As he kept to goal of writing a page a day — a practice he began ahead of Beginning of Things — those letters became something more revelatory and universal: songs about love, perseverance, hope and, most of, all truthfulness. He expanded his emotional register with a quiet authority as he reminisced about the people who mattered to him, from lovers to friends and relatives.
Armed with his experiences, Worsham decided to take a leap out of his comfort zone and work with maverick producer Jay Joyce. A former rock musician and a GRAMMY-winning producer, Joyce has worked with everyone from Cage the Elephant and the Wallflowers to Eric Church and Brothers Osborne. He makes few distinctions for genre; he’s just as likely to put massive rock drums in a country song as he is to put a banjo in a rock number. He is also known for telling artists uncomfortable truths and challenging their beliefs if he thinks it will serve the music.
“John Osborne, a friend and former bandmate, had worked with Jay,” Worsham begins. “When he found out that Jay was going to produce my next project, John said to me, ‘Dude, I promise you this: there’s going to be a moment where you make a mistake and you’re going to want to go fix it, and Jay is going to shut you down. He’s going to say, ‘No, that’s going in, that’s staying!’ And you’re going to get mad, but you’re going to hear it back maybe couple days later and you’re going to say to yourself, ‘Damn, he’s right. That’s the part.’ Sure enough, when we were recording the title track, that is exactly what happened. All I can say is that if Jay Joyce decides to piss you off, all he’s doing is challenging you to be better than you think you are.”
One of the biggest gifts Joyce bestowed was limitations. He instructed Worsham to stick to just one guitar, allowing his songs to achieve a novel stillness and sonic clarity. Unable to hide behind instruments or layers of overdubs, the reflective artist believes he revealed more of himself this time around. He was also able to access a vulnerability he hadn’t previously known: “When I was recording ‘Fist Through This Town’ with Jay, I remembered something that my Beginning of Things producer Frank Liddell told me. He said, ‘I want to hear how angry you really are.’ I didn’t understand what Frank meant at the time, but I’ve learned that the more vulnerable I get with my audience, the more they embrace me and the more that I hear people go, ‘Man, I’ve been there.’”
From “Fist Through This Town” and “For the Love” to the title track, Worsham’s personal journey takes listeners through four years of anger and love and everything in between. “Sugarcane” recounts the love-woozy details of his honeymoon to Costa Rica. The song kicks off the album with a languid guitar that is so evocative one can almost feel the tropical breezes rustling through the tall palm trees in the Central American paradise.
“Half-Drunk” and “Hang On to That” followed “Sugarcane” as sweet memories in the couple’s unfolding relationship, like snapshots pressed into a leather-bound photo album. The lyrical instruments in “Half Drunk” feel like another vocal, as Worsham’s electric guitars effortlessly freefall amid an elegant slide. It’s a singular sound that recalls Duane Allman and Dickie Betts at the height of their powers. Meanwhile, “Hang On to That,” the album’s closer, is pure autobiography – reliving both Worsham’s first concert with his father (the Rolling Stones) and his first date with his wife. He seamlessly tethers the experiences together in perhaps the most important lesson of the record: hang on to what you love. Or maybe just as important, only do what you love.
With “Believe in Love,” Worsham ties his entire story together with his high-lonesome, Vince
Gill-inspired, bluegrass-childhood-vetted voice and masterful acoustic playing. The song connects the village that raised him and the lessons he took with him to where we find him today: content with the hunger for more commercially defined success, but sure of his place in the world – and holding the hand of who he loves most.