Sturgill Simpsons: Back in the woods

Sturgill Simpson
Sturgill Simpson | Mark Thompson photos

It wasn’t surprising that Sturgill Simpson’s set at the Field of Heaven in the late afternoon was sparsely attended. Country music doesn’t get a lot of attention in Japan except from diehards, and Fuji Rock is, basically, a rock festival. However, Simpson is not purely a country artist, though he’s go the classic drawl and the sad sack subject matter that have made him one of the more interesting left field country artists in America right now. But he’s also a mean guitar player who’s obviously studied Clapton, Page, Van Halen and other blues based shredders, and he shapes his songs around solos and big instrumental moments.

If more people knew about this aspect of Simpson’s music, they probably would have showed up. Moreover, if they knew that Simpson once lived in Japan when he was with the US Navy, they might have been more curious. He word a Hakama jacket in deference to Japan, but he was too shy to make a big deal out of his time here. He dedicated “Sea Stories” to Japan, a song about drinking in the country mode, but here the drinking is in places like Roppongi, Harajuku, Shibuya, etc. The crowd picked up on every reference and cheered each one. Who says country music doesn’t travel.

Sturgill Simpson

But what really hooked the crowd was the rock dynamic of what we consider the best-looking group at the festival so far: an organist who looks like John Kaye’s evil twin, a mountain of a bass player, and a drummer who was probably the ne’er-do-well son of a backwoods gas station monopoly. They shifted capably from backwoods country to electric blues to classic rock with the facility of a great bar band, and the audience was sucked in.

Country, yes, but it was also the best pure rock show of the weekend.