I entered the low-lit warehouse venue that is Music Farm Columbia at around 10:30 PM on Friday, October 14th, a good bit through the opening emcee’s set. At the back of the room, I jockeyed for a position at the bar, which was crowded four or five rows deep with sweat-drenched bodies. Beginning to drift off in thought, I waited for one of the two bartenders to pay me mind. I was brought crashing back to reality by the beginning of Jelly Roll’s (the first opener), last number; a country-music-inspired piece he describes as a white trash anthem, called "Train Tracks”:
“Across them train tracks/ We try so hard/ We do so bad/ We’d go so far But we can't look pass/ Them god damn train tracks/ I hate those train tracks”
The fat, lovable, white rapper brought the set to a close crooning over a melodic hook, supported by fellow Slumerican affiliate Struggle Jennings. By this point I was at the front of the crowd and was slugging trying to finish my beer before the end of the song. I crushed my can and began to make my way towards the back door for a cigarette. After a few conversations with various patrons about tattoos, marijuana prices, and anarcho-libertarianism, I reached for my wallet. I was a dollar short to pay cash for another beer, so I traded two cigarettes for one, and headed to the bar.
With another PBR 16 ouncer in hand, I was geared up to hear Bubba Sparxxx as the posters had promised. Taking account of my surroundings, I scanned the sea of arm tattoos and cut off t-shirts that comprises
Slumerican’s target market. I was pretty sure that not only I, but everyone in the room was eager for Bubba to start with one song in particular, and he did not dissapoint…
Over-produced snares snapped in time, and the ocean of hands in the air began to undulate up and down in rhythm to Bubba’s main stream hit, “Ms. New Booty”. I had never seen Bubba Sparxxx live before that moment, and the over-all donning emcee brought every bit as much energy on stage as he put into the song when he recorded it. For the next half hour we dipped and popped to twanging country highs and banging Hip Hop lows, and the trance was only broken when, during a brief intermission between songs, Sparxxx suddenly name dropped the main act: Yelawolf.
An immediate roar resounded through the crowd, followed by the shrill scream of a would-be female fan mispronouncing the rapper’s moniker: “Yeeeeelllllllooooowwwwww Woooollllllllffffffff”. Then came the strobes, accompanied by the grungey-rockabilly stylings of Yela’s loyal touring partner, Bones Owens, an inspired young guitarist out of Nashville who's wrote songs with members of various groups such as Relient K and Bon Jovi.
If you have ever been to one of Yelawolf’s (A.K.A. Michael Wayne Atha) shows, then you know that it is the up-tempo energy and dark tone of his act that fascinates his fans and keeps them craving more. Beyond the speed and message of his music, Atha’s strength as a performer lies in his ability to “turn-up” his audience on the spot with personal interaction. Reading the crowd like a pro, and seldom finishing an entire song, the emcee jumped from hit to hit off of various projects in his ever-expanding catalogue. A notable jolt hit the crowd as he transitioned into his rager’s-anthem “Push ‘Em”, a standout from his side project “Psycho White” with Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker. Elbows and bodies flew, and many many toes were stepped on.
Now I have seen a Yelawolf show once before, and he did something on that Friday night that was new to me and really made the night special. Before playing his gun-toters theme song, “Pop the Trunk”, Atha took a minute to speak on the futility aggravated gun violence. He clarified that the song represents a specific aspect of his life, protecting his family and his brothers, and that he understands, but does not endorse the sensless killing that happens in American streets every day.
After singing along to one of Yela’s last songs, a cross-over country rock jam titled “American You”, I went out back to cool down and grab another smoke. The show was ending, and I watched the drunk masses stumbling out for about fifteen minutes. As I prepared to leave, I recognized a taller figure walking towards me away from the building as Bones Owens, the guitarist. I took a second to say hello and introduce myself, and asked him to thank Yela for his words on non-violence. He was very gracious and said he would tell Yelawolf for me, and that he was glad the message resonates because it is an important one.
My experience at the Slumerican show was a welcome release from the responsibilities of day to day life. In my opinion there is nothing quite like the energy of live up-tempo rap music to reinvigorate a soul. Beyond the concert experience, what fascinates me each time I see a Yelawolf show is the unique subculture he has drawn to his brand. Bikers, artists, stoners, college students, and gangsters all coalesce to paint a picture of an ever-growing facet of the greater Hip Hop culture. This odd segment of the fan base has connected to the dark, witty lyrics and rebellious noise that Yelawolf delivers, a sound reminiscent of his South-Side predecessors Three-Six Mafia which has been all but lost in the noise of the present day rap industry.