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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Waxahatchee’s meditative nostalgia

The indie-country artist stopped at the Ryman last Wednesday, bringing along some special guests.
Katherine Oung
Waxahatchee performs at the Ryman Auditorium, as photographed on May 1, 2024. (Hustler Multimedia/Katherine Oung)

As the frontwoman of Waxahatchee, Katie Crutchfield deals in the sickly sweet nostalgia of the South: drive-in movie theaters, melted popsicles, long drives around a lake. Her career has been defined by her ability to weave personal stories with a youthful twang, influenced by her childhood in Alabama. Her latest album, “Tigers Blood,” feels lived-in, as if these songs have been around forever, not just a month. Best accompanied with the crackle of a record player or a radio, her songs still have this indefinable quality when performed live. On Wednesday, Katie and her band made a stop at the Mother Church, performing her brand of alt-country to a near-sold-out crowd.

The night began with a quick set from Good Morning, an indie-folk group from Melbourne, Australia. Characterized by their sappy fiddles and jangly guitars, the band’s lyrics took on a similar nostalgic quality. With many thank-yous and a swift exit from stage, their music faded into a pre-set mix—foundational country like “The Wurlitzer Prize” and “Pineola” swirled around as tourists marveled at the stained glass; MJ Lenderman and The Sugarcubes played as the last of the college students pilfered around; and local favorites, like the Judds and Silver Jews, filled the air as gray-haired music execs drank IPAs.

The house lights dimmed, only to be replaced with the warm glow of U-shaped marquee lights. Then, a quickened drum beat emerged: not from a kit, but a recording of Cheap Trick’s 1977 classic “Southern Girls.” The band sauntered out and took their places, and as soon as the impassioned chorus rang out, Crutchfield meandered on stage with an enthralled smile on her face. Waving at the crowd, she began “3 Sisters,” a wistful recollection of a past relationship gone awry. “You drive like you’re wanted in four states / In a busted truck in Opelika,” she sang as the band built momentum into full-bodied instrumentation. She played a few numbers from “Tigers Blood” as her band shifted to accommodate her: keyboardist Cole Berggren strapped on his banjo, and Colin Croom switched out his Telecaster for lap steel, then pedal steel.

During one of those breaks, Crutchfield reflected on the past couple of months. 

“A lot of people who worked on the album are in this room,” Crutchfield said. “And with that, please welcome MJ Lenderman.” 

Known for his work with country-tinged rock band Wednesday, the Asheville guitarist was greeted by an eager reaction from the crowd. The duo began with “Right Back to It,” a song that blends their registers into an alt-country duet rivaling Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood. Lenderman also added twanged-out fuzz to the track, trading licks with Clay Frankel, Waxahatchee’s guitarist who previously played with Chicago rock outfit Twin Peaks. Another Chicago legend played drums behind him: Spencer Tweedy, son of the Wilco frontman.

The show took a slower turn with “Ruby Falls,” a meditation on the overdose of a childhood friend. On it, Crutchfield sang with a definitive Southern accent as the pedal steel whined behind her. In the last verse, the song becomes self-referential, “I’ll sing a song at your funeral / Laid in the Mississippi gulf / Or back home at Waxahatchee creek,” a reference to the body of water that the band’s name derives from. After introducing her band, Crutchfield invited Lenderman and the members of Good Morning back on to perform “Tigers Blood.” As if the credits were rolling on “Saturday Night Live,” everyone ambled around to the backbeat: Lenderman looked mesmerized at Frankel’s amplifier, members of Good Morning embraced in a cheerful hug and Crutchfield looked on and smiled wide before walking offstage. 

With another glow of the marquee lights, the band returned along with Lenderman. 

“You guys aren’t gonna believe this,” Crutchfield said. “But we’ve got something special up our sleeves.”

A tall redhead dressed in black sauntered onto stage, none other than Wynonna Judd. Turning to Crutchfield, she said, “I looked it up, this song came out in 1983… when were you born?” “1989,” Crutchfield returned with a laugh. They launched into “Love Is Alive,” with Crutchfield and Judd harmonizing. As the pedal steel played those last few notes, the two embraced in shared admiration. 

“You really aren’t going to believe this,” Crutchfield joked as the stagehand placed a stool down. This time, Lucinda Williams, who practically opened the field for women playing alt-country, walked onstage. Williams thanked the band, and they launched into “Abandoned.” Eschewing the stool, Williams stood—an important note given her stroke just a couple years ago. 

“I had to learn how to walk again,” she told Esquire in 2023. “At the risk of sounding overly romantic, the music is healing.” 

With the group standing on that stage, it’s hard to disagree. With each of their distinctive voices, Crutchfield, Lenderman and Williams took verses on the song before a cathartic guitar solo released the tension. “This beer I’m drinking is still the same old brand,” Lenderman crooned before the trio let out the chorus, “You can’t fool me, I can see it in your eyes,” for one last time. 

Williams left the stage and Crutchfield launched into “Fire,” one of her own compositions. Maybe it was right in front of me, but it’s hard not to note the way that song melded all those influences into one: the indie twang of Wednesday and Wilco, the jangly guitars that characterized Twin Peaks, harmonized vocals that sound like The Judds and, of course, the deadpan yet gorgeous lyrics that take influence from Lucinda. When I say these songs are lived-in, maybe it’s because they are, with Crutchfield melding her past influences into something transient, something new. 

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About the Contributors
Ben Arthur
Ben Arthur, Staff Writer
Ben Arthur (‘26) is majoring in political science and English in the College of Arts and Science. He is from Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Other than reading and writing, Ben loves listening to music, hiking, rock climbing and buying clothes he doesn’t need. He can be reached at [email protected].
Katherine Oung
Katherine Oung, Data Editor
Katherine Oung ('25) is majoring in political science and computer science and minoring in data science in the College of Arts and Science. They are from West Palm Beach, Fla., and were previously Deputy News Editor and Managing Editor. Katherine enjoys working on freelance journalism projects and making incredibly specific Spotify playlists. They can be reached at [email protected].
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