The Scene: Every time Jake Smith, a.k.a The White Buffalo, steps on stage, straps on his guitar and explodes into one of his lyrically perfect alt-country songs—Johnny Cash sits up in his grave. It’s that simple. The man has soul, and he found himself playing in front of a sold-out crowd at Oskar Blues Grill and Brew in Lyons on Saturday as the headliner of the popular Colorado brewery’s celebration of ten years of canning badass beers.
In the darkness of the bar, filled with reminders of music royalty’s past and located on the first floor of Oskar Blues’ flagship endeavor, The White Buffalo, along with Matt Lynott on drums and Tommy Andrews on bass, had the entire crowd (in a venue where bodies in seats typically outnumber bodies on the dance floor), on their feet. We raised glasses filled with award-winning craft beer and crammed ourselves as close to the stage as possible as we devoured every last word streaming through the microphone.
The White Buffalo: When The White Buffalo took the stage at about 9:30, the crowd was already good and warmed up and ready to rock thanks to opening sets by the loveable singer-songwriter, and former Lyons resident, Erik the Viking, and the popular Lyons-based rock band, Interstate Stash Express. The loyal and energetic crowd, composed mostly of thirtyish-something music lovers, were taking swigs out of tall boys of Dales Pale Ale or the celebratory SKA/Oskar Blues collaboration beer oSKAr the G’Rauch, and everyone was feeling good. I think we caught The White Buffalo off-guard a few times by sincerely reciting every word of “Bar and the Beer,” one of the best drinking songs every written, and crooning along to the Buffalo’s heartfelt rendition of “Love Song #1.”
I was first introduced to The White Buffalo three years ago on an exceptionally hot summer day. I was standing on the side of Pike’s Peak, sucking air and chugging water after finally reaching the halfway-to-the-summit mark while The White Buffalo performed a few intense, yet airy songs about love, life… and drinkin’ for our group of Love Hope Strength (a Denver-based cancer-fighting charity) supporters and hikers under a serene sky of blue and engulfed in the natural beauty that defines Colorado.
Accompanied only by his guitar, Jake Smith left a lasting impression that day on three tired and sore Oskar Blues employees and later that night the three of us stood mesmerized, again, as we listened to him perform some more up-tempo beats at the Hard Rock Café in Denver as part of that same Love Hope Strength event. His lyrics were sincere and personal then, and although he’s experienced a surge in his fan base in the past three years, he still sings with as much heart and soul as he did in the sweltering heat on the side of that mountain and on the stage at the Hard Rock three years ago. I left that day with a $5 copy of The White Buffalo’s album, Hogtied Revisited, and in a trance, I played his song “Damned” on repeat the entire way home.
With a voice that delicately borders soft and buttery, and raspy and authoritative, it’s really no surprise that The White Buffalo collects new fans in every town that he plays in. His vocals are more than enough to captivate an audience, but the added personal connection that he creates with his self-written lyrics seem to leaves fans speechlessly bobbing their heads in tune.
Hailing from California, and in the middle of a multi-state tour to promote his recently released album Once Upon a Time in the West, The White Buffalo’s sound was revved up to the nines on Saturday night after having been invited by longtime Oskar Blues Marketing Director and avid fan (from the Pike’s Peak days), Chad Melis, to be a part of the Oskar Blues celebration. Although the stage was considerably smaller than other venues that I’ve seen the trio play, all three members still performed with passion. They all grinned ear-to-ear while Lynott destroyed a drum solo and smiled while Smith and Andrews deviously plucked their guitar strings faster and faster to see if all three members could keep pace with the beat. As a lone member of the herd The White Buffalo holds his own, but like every good herd he is better as part of the group.
The $15 cover charge on Saturday night, like the price of most cover charges you’ll ever pay to see him perform, doesn’t even come close to reflecting the ROI on your purchase. When you watch The White Buffalo perform live, you take a trip to the past—to the days when music was sacred and told stories. The days when musicians wrote and sang their own songs, and spent months touring the old fashioned way—sans egos and entitlement, with a lot of booze and gratitude—full of appreciation for the ability to make a living doing what they love.
If you have the chance to check out The White Buffalo live—take it. If you can’t make one of his upcoming shows, check out his website full of song downloads and music videos, but prepare to be addicted. His music will infiltrate your playlist and find its way into your sentimental stories for years to come.
Stage Presence: A
Set/Light Show: B