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The Cadillac Three

The Cadillac Three


AUGUST 31, 2017

Photos: 90 East Photography

“Get out the whiskey, girl, and put that black dress on/I’m comin’ home to Tennessee” and, they did.  The boys from Nashville came home to a sold out show at The Mother Church of Country Music, The Ryman Auditorium.  No small feat for three long hairs who do things the way they want to and who have built one of the most devoted fan bases country music has likely ever seen, not just here in the United States, but incredibly, in the UK as well. 

This trio consists of Jaren Johnston on Lead Vocals and Guitar, Kelby Ray Caldwell on Lap Steel Guitar and Neil Mason on Drums.  Johnston is also a powerhouse songwriter in Nashville, penning hit songs for artists such as Keith Urban and Jake Owen.  These three pack a ton of talent into their little old band, they have no need for any additional bells and whistles.  They ARE the bells and whistles.

If you’re already a fan, or even a casual observer of this band, you may have noticed a couple things about them.  They have long hair and they make no apologies for turning every show into a B.Y.O.B. party.  The Ryman certainly wasn’t exempt from this policy, as evidenced by the ever-present red Solo cups parked at each mic stand.  I’m not presuming to know what was IN those cups, but I’m guessing it wasn’t pink lemonade, and Johnston even made the switch to a bottled beer late in the show, so there’s that.  These guys are who they are, and quite honestly, that’s what’s endearing about them.  They pull no punches.

If the band likes to party, you might assume their fans do too, and you would be correct, but maybe in the case of The Cadillac Three you don’t have all the information – yet.  Don’t worry, I’m here to help you out!  There is no doubt that The Ryman show would have sold out anyway, but a while back, a fan group was formed.  This fan group was like none other.  Aren’t ALL fan groups like none other, you say?  Perhaps, but this one had some distinct differences.  It was formed by a fan of The Cadillac Three here in Nashville and another in the UK.  It wasn’t called anything generic, it was given a very unique name, one that fit perfectly with the band and its relationship to its fans.  That day, The TC3 Drinking Club was born.  The brainchild of Kay Ford (Nashville) and Will Carter (UK), the group (tc3drinkingclub.com) now boasts close to 3700 members and can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  It’s one of the most active fan groups I interact with and even band members themselves pop in from time to time.  A grassroots effort that is constantly growing because it stays true to the original concept, which is exactly what The Cadillac Three did.  Do you see how this works?  Of course, members of The TC3 Drinking Club came from far and wide to attend the big concert at The Ryman and you’ll hear what some of them had to say about it at the end of this piece.

As luck would have it, Mother Nature wasn’t cooperating with the hometown boys on concert day.  Remnants of Hurricane Harvey (at this point Tropical Storm Harvey) which battered Southeast Texas in the week prior (and was declared the worst natural disaster in US history as I drove downtown) were delivering their wrath upon Music City.  It was raining hard as I entered the auditorium, more concerned for my storm phobic dog at home than anything at that point.  It was to get worse on the drive home, with flooded roadways and tornado warnings, but as for the moment, music was my mind, and as they say, the show must go on and luckily it did.

A rip roaring opening by legendary Texas artist Ray Wylie Hubbard was absolutely the perfect choice. Nobody was falling asleep during this guy. That is, if you weren’t one of many who chose to hang outside the actual auditorium by the bar.  This was The Cadillac Three’s crowd you know.  After Hubbard finished a very full set, and the lights went up, those who were there for him quickly cleared out to take care of nature’s call and get their own drink on.  It got very empty.  It stayed that way the entire time things got set up for the main act.  Then one fast drum hit and suddenly I started to see people trickling in – I don’t think it was an official signal, but it got people moving back to their seats.  The one thing that was totally apparent?  Almost every single person that filed back in had a drink in their hand.  Whether it was a beer or a mixed drink, sometimes one, sometimes double fisted, this was a drinking crowd.  These were The Cadillac Three’s people.  They weren’t going to miss the opening number for anything, and they sure as Hell weren’t going to dance to it without a drink to raise in the air! 

Never a band with outrageous sets or special effects, once again, they kept it fairly simple.  Black backdrop.  Some vertical lights spread along the stage that changed colors, a little smoke.  Nothing crazy.  The music speaks for itself here.  The band members came out as they usually do, Johnston in a ball cap, shades, denim jacket and boots, Mason in a ball cap and Caldwell skipped the ball cap this time around, choosing to let his wild mane of curls fly free, all the better for those hair flips later in the show.

“Bury Me in My Boots” opened the show and could it have been any more perfect?  This is one of many hard pounding songs the band has in its catalog that showcases everything there is to know about them, lyrically.  “Bury me in my boots, and don’t forget the whiskey.”   They had their legions of fans standing and dancing in their very own boots, pretty much from this moment until the end of the show.  They rocked hard right out of the gate. 

Have I mentioned these guys are from Tennessee?  Have I mentioned that even if they wanted to, they couldn’t hide the fact that they LOVE Tennessee.  They love it, breathe it and are very proud of it.  Just as he removed his denim jacket, Johnston mentioned once again that they were born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee and they dove into a growling version of “Tennessee Mojo”.  For so many in the audience, who are from Tennessee, or are transplants, this song is a huge favorite.

Obviously, an emotional evening for the guys, with Johnston being the default spokesman, “I’m not crying until it comes to some part in the set when it’s time to cry”, the band played one from the new album called “American Slang”.  Filled with pop culture references, it’s slower and one that forces you to think and dissect the lyrics.  Co-written by Johnston, Mason and Lori McKenna, it’s one of my favorite tracks.  For an album that was just released a week ago, even the new songs had been memorized by the crowd, because as I looked around, there were lots of people singing right along.

Jumping backward a bit, the band hit the audience with a couple of favorites, “I’m Southern” (there’s that love of Tennessee and The South in general again) and “Drunk Like You”.  Both of which created an almost frenzied emotional response from this already pumped crowd.  “I’m Southern” is an anthem to all the southern states and their very proud people, but don’t be mistaken here, this very Northern born and raised writer adores this song just as much as someone who came right out of the bayous of Louisiana.  It’s a damned good song, and to see the TC3 boys play it live is a treat for anyone, no matter what side of the Mason-Dixon line you fall on.

“Drunk Like You” at The Ryman might have started the stage on fire if it had gone on any longer.  It was that smoking hot.  It’s another one of those romantic songs for people that aren’t very comfortable with romantic songs.  Guys, take my word for it.  If you’ve been searching for “mood music” and you don’t go for “schmaltz”, here you go.  Not only do Johnston’s true-to-the-country type vocals rock these lyrics, nobody plays a lap steel guitar like Kelby Ray Caldwell.  Nobody.  This ain’t your Hee Haw, out in the cornfield lap steel player.  This man is a MACHINE on this thing.  Both Caldwell and Mason were given seriously impressive solos during this number.  One of the most incredible highlights of the evening. 

“Do we have any songwriters in the room here in Nashville, Tennessee?” Johnston asked.  (Loud roar).  This was akin to asking if there were any PEOPLE in the audience.  I always enjoy when artists ask if there are any musicians or songwriters in the audience at concerts here.  Usually that question is followed up by something like, “I know I’m playing a tough crowd here.”  They would be correct, this city is overflowing with incredibly talented musicians and songwriters.  One of which is Neil Mason.  Not only does he play the part of Drummer for The Cadillac Three, he also co-writes many of their songs.  “Graffiti” would be one of them, which was the song that followed.   It was outstanding, and I guess Johnston agreed, because after they were finished, he simply remarked, (R rated moment coming up, hide the kids…) “That’s a great fuckin’ song.”

Hannah Dasher came out with Johnston to sing “Runnin’ Red Lights” from the band’s “Bury Me In My Boots” album.  Dasher is working on a record with Johnston currently and according to him, “is helping me write songs about my wife and kid”.  I loved how their voices worked together. 

Oh, sweet Tennessee!  If you didn’t love Tennessee before, I sure hope you’re starting to at least like it by now, because here it comes again.  This time, no other words are needed.  It’s just “Tennessee”.  That’s it.  It’s track number 2 off the “Legacy” album and it’s a dual purpose love song.  It’s about coming home to the state he loves and the woman he loves.  Written solely by Jaren Johnston, you know this one is as much for his wife as it is for the land he calls home.  It’s a ballad and it’s a knockout.  To hear this one in the hallowed halls of The Ryman, I will bet there were more than a few eyes that weren’t dry during this one.

How do you follow up a ballad like that?  With a hard core drinking song of course!  “Dang If We Didn’t”, which has been making the rounds on country radio recently is custom made for The Cadillac Three’s audience.  This one tells the quintessential story of the damages suffered after an evening of drinking.  How much fun is this song?  I don’t know.  Ask a few TC3 Drinking Club Members.  I bet they’ll tell you.  I bet they’ll even offer you a drink while they’re telling you.  That’s the kind of people they are.  I can tell you this much, I witnessed some pretty happy people during this song, and yes, most every one of them had a drink in their hand.  At the end of this one, Johnston says, “The Juice is Loose!” Then he explains that one time on the bus, just as O.J. Simpson was told he would be released from prison sometime around October, Neil Mason came up with the idea that Johnston should say that every time they end “Dang If We Didn’t”.  The idea, for whatever reason, stuck.  These guys are just here for a good time.  They don’t need complicated reasons for anything.  This is another reason to be on their team.  The world is complicated enough.

“Whiskey Soaked Redemption” is a song Johnston wrote out in LA by himself and their old record label had no interest in it.  That’s too bad.  The song is everything a good song should be and coupled with an intense lap steel solo by Kelby Ray Caldwell, one might even feel a little bit sorry for that old label now.  Might.  Oh well, who were they anyway? 

A little chit chat from Johnston about natural substances, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Eric Church and on with the show…

Just before breaking into “Peace, Love & Dixie”, Johnston had to say, “I’ve got too many friends in this audience.”  It was true.  How do you play your hometown after this much success and not look out to see familiar face after familiar face?  This was a pivotal moment for the band.  Playing The Ryman as the headliner had to be more than they could ever have dreamed.

Songs that followed included the incredibly heavy, yet crazy good ballad, “White Lightning” and “Days of Gold” which Johnston wrote, but became a hit and the title track for a Jake Owen album. 

The song that I think Johnston was referring to when he mentioned crying earlier on, was next.  “Legacy”, which is the title track off the new album, is about as vulnerable as I think we’ve seen him.  Co-written by Johnston, Ben Burgess and Laura Veltz, this one moves you.  Johnston and his wife, Evyn recently became parents to baby boy Jude and I think he has taken stock of his life in new ways.  I think this song speaks to that.  We all want to leave a little bit of ourselves behind and family ties are the best way to do that.  Not even all the fame in the world can match it.  After the song Johnston simply said, “We got through it.” He was referring to his not breaking down in tears. 

The show finished extremely strong.  First, with track one off the new album, “Cadillacin’”.  If you were one of the very few who stayed seated throughout the show, you probably weren’t now.  This is one of the rowdiest tunes TC3 has to date.  It’s instantly likable.  If you like it right away, you love it by the end of the song.  If you love it by the end of the song, you put it on repeat and you’re begging for it to be the next single after that. 

“Take Me To the Bottom” from the new one was next, followed by what is more or less the anthem for The Cadillac Three and that’s “The South”.   At the very end, these three guys from Nashville, came out holding up the Tennessee state flag.  They held it up and waited so fans could get photos of them.  They hung out and high fived fans, they signed autographs, they said hello.  They didn’t just run away.  They lingered for a few minutes.  They were among not just their fans, but these really are, their PEOPLE.

They understand how it is to stick with what you know, even if it isn’t popular, because sometimes, time has a way of working with you and seeing things your way.  The Cadillac Three stuck with what they knew and what they loved.  It wasn’t what everyone else was doing, and they could have changed everything up to please the industry.  That would have been the easy way, but what would they be?  Three short haired guys with a few more people in their band and a whole different sound?  Definitely not the same fan base.  They stuck to their guns, and DANG IF THEY DIDN’T find success, in a slow, SOUTHERN way.  Perfect.

I’ve told you what I thought of the show.  Now, here are what some of the members of the TC3 Drinking Club had to say about the show at The Ryman:


Kathi Stanley of Hartville, Ohio: The Cadillac Three Ryman show was an incredible experience on top of their typical level of badassery. As we waited at the front of the line to get in during tornado sirens we knew it would all be worth it. An emotional night that included music from every album. This was our 31st TC3 show and the most emotional. Jaren shared his love for family, Kelby went overboard on his famous “Whiskey Soaked Redemption” solo, the old school red lightning bolt lights reappeared, and Neil hugged his mother who sat front row in her wheelchair and he handed her a drumstick as she gazed up in pride. “Legacy”, “Days of Gold”, and “The South” brought the house down. Unforgettable night!
Tina Marie Lindner of Dallas, Texas: Craig Lindner and I were at this epic event. We have been following TC3 for about four years. Started at a small sports bar in Lewisville, TX and four years and over 20 concerts later we got to experience history. We can’t wait for more greatness from The Cadillac 3!!

Amy Brayton from California: Coming from California I had so much anticipation leading up to this event. I didn’t know what to expect, other than the obvious which is a bad ass show! And sure enough they delivered a passionate and powerful show with 22 songs that brought a sold out crowd to their feet all night long! Playing at the Ryman was the perfect setting for this record release, it brought the crowd laughter, cheering and tons of emotion. We have seen well more than a dozen shows and they have never sounded better! We felt proud to be a part of this monumental event. Thank you TC3 for pouring your heart and souls into every song and every performance. The after party was epic as well, even though we had to run through a hurricane to get there! A night to remember forever!

Elliot Smith: To say that seeing my friends play a sold out, headlining show at the Ryman last night was surreal would be a major understatement. I met Jaren at MTSU orientation 18 years ago. He lived in an apartment with Kelby and I met Neil through another of their roommates, Ben Brown (who was a member of Bang, Bang, Bang). My wife and I drove through the rainstorm and arrived at the Ryman before the box office opened. We valet parked for free (thanks Nissan!) and ducked for cover to figure out what the Hell we were doing. Text was sent to Kelby and planned to meet up for a quick hug at Tootsie’s after soundcheck. Kelby got busy and couldn’t make it. My wife and I headed back to the Ryman after a couple drinks and dinner. She went to the bathroom and I spied Kelby running through the Ryman lobby like a chicken with its head cut off and wrapped him up in a big hug before he ever saw me. Mission accomplished. Wife and I headed to our seats on the floor and enjoyed the Johnny Cash-meets-Bob Dylan stylings of Ray Wylie Hubbard. This was our first Cadillac Three show (it’s tough with two kids and two full time jobs) and we were both blown away. Those guys put on a helluva show. Going to work on four hours of sleep was totally worth it. I still can’t believe our friends sold out the Ryman!! We managed to snag one of the last Hatch Prints and intend to get it signed and framed. I woke up this morning with “The South” in my head and it’s been playing there all day. Cheers!

Angela Lipe Denton of Horn Lake, Mississippi: I have been following these guys from the very beginning. They rocked the house. There was not a person sitting down. Their feel good beat and positive vibes left smiles on many peoples’ faces. I literally think I saw Jaren tearing up when his wife joined him on stage. I know it was a big night for them but they did not disappoint their fans. Rock ON TC3!

Laura Buch: The Cadillac Three…The Ryman…a match made in heaven…some might say those three long hairs having been born and raised in Nashville, this was destiny…even the weather knew it was an electric night with tornado sirens sounding and downpours galore… everywhere I looked were friends, my TC3 family…huge smiles rejoicing not only for ourselves but for the guys who have worked so hard for this night. From the opening chords laid down by Jaren and Kelby with Neil blasting the beats, each song had the intensity that we know is TC3. A mix of old and new, “Legacy” tunes had everyone standing and singing along throughout the night. While having seen them live over 25 times, their smiles this night were broader than I’ve ever seen.

Kay Ford of Nashville, Tennessee: The home town sold out show at the Ryman by my favorite band exceeded my expectations. The set list with songs from all three of their albums (“The Cadillac Three”, “Bury Me in My Boots”, “Legacy”) was perfect. The new songs from “Legacy” were very popular and everyone around me, up near the front, was singing the words to songs from a brand-new album that was just released one week ago today. Those are true fans of this band! Kelby Ray’s virtuoso lap steel solo during “Whiskey Soaked Redemption” was a highlight. Every song also displayed their close relationship and ability to almost read each other’s minds. They have toured and played together for years and it shows. The group hug at the end was the capper, three close friends celebrating a sold out successful show at the Ryman.

The Cadillac Three are currently touring. For dates and ticket information go to www.thecadillacthree.com


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