Concert review: William Elliott Whitmore, 04.25.24, Off Broadway (with photo gallery)

Photo of William Elliott Whitmore by Bryan J. Sutter

w/ Sug Daniels

Modern day bluesman William Elliott Whitmore put on quite a show at Off Broadway in St. Louis in support of his new record Silently, the Mind Breaks. For a man who can conjure a stirring song about the hardships of life, faith, and the unknowable in between like few others, he can also foster a feeling of togetherness and warmth. It was the sort of evening for old friends catching up, and new friends finding each other. We’ve been blessed with plenty of great shows so far this year in St. Louis, with many more to come, and this was no doubt one of them.

Sug Daniels, a singer-songwriter from Philadelphia by the way of Delaware, was the sole opener for the evening. With her big smile and Stratocaster-shaped ukulele, she commanded quite a presence from the sparse stage at Off Broadway. While it is not the sort of music I personally gravitate towards, I found myself enjoying her set quite a bit. Daniels has a fantastic, bright voice that pairs well with her instrument of choice. There’s an interesting mix of contemporary R&B with some indie folk sensibilities in her songs that lets you know this isn’t music meant to be talked over at the jazz bistro. Between songs she spoke about herself, her love life, and her appreciation of William Elliott Whitmore and his fans. Sugs mentioned that she had actually run out of merch, which sounds like a good number of his fans have also become fans of her, as well.

William Elliott Whitmore was greeted with heavy cheers and hollerin’ as he appeared on stage, shaking hands with the crowd before sitting on the drum throne behind his kick drum. Whitmore started off with “Diggin’ My Grave” and “Lift My Jug (Song for Hub Cale),” a couple of older songs from his repertoire. Sugs Daniels commented near the end of her set that a William Elliott Whitmore performance was like drunk church, and I cannot disagree. The crowd was definitely a bit toasty, but much more on the jovial side than sloppy, and it wasn’t long until someone handed him a tallboy from Earthbound Brewing, which he did consume throughout the evening and enjoy, and not long after that another crowd member gave him a small cup containing what looked to be a generous serving of Jameson. Our preacher, properly lubricated, delivered an inspiring sermon of country blues of a quality I had not experienced since I saw Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs over a decade ago. He took requests from the crowd, and was humorously relieved that they were all guitar songs. Between fulfilling said requests, Whitmore’s banter turned so many corners that I cannot recollect where we began but I do know that Drake, Cher, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina can get the smoke. At one point, he even had a brief discussion with his cousin Jake about some old barn wood that his cousin’s father had given him. Whitmore even took time to express his gratitude towards Sug Daniels and to the staff at Off Broadway. There was a fair amount of interaction with the crowd during these moments, which caused things to branch off in ways that were both entertaining and thoughtful. It provided a balance to the darker subjects and contemplations found in many of his songs.

In my teenage years, I became curious about blues music. Probably because a much cooler friend hipped me to a lot of White Stripes and, much to the chagrin of some of my peers, started thinking that Jack White was a much more interesting guitarist than the Floyd Rose abusers in metal acts like Symphony X and Children of Bodom. I devoured the PBS docu-series The Blues during the early days of Netflix, read Alan Lomax’s book, and sought out semi-obscure CDs of blues greats like Charlie Patton and J.B Lenoir. I don’t think I ever bought a goofy hat, but I am sure I was very close. How I’ve always seen blues, as far as it has survived into the modern day, is like a big pot of perpetual stew. Some folks come by and add something to it, others come by to take a bowl for themselves, and so on.

I thought of this as Whitmore performed a heartfelt rendition of “Darkness Comes,” a highlight from Silently, the Mind Breaks, and realized that in many respects it wasn’t too far removed from something Skip James may have written nearly 100 years ago. William Elliott Whitmore isn’t a man out of time, but through his craft he expresses a deep respect for blues music and implies that he’s tuned to a few frequencies that most of us don’t even know how to find on the dial anymore. Whatever cloth he’s cut from, there probably isn’t too much left. | Bryan J. Sutter

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