Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Review: Red Clay Strays hit close to home at Druid City Music Hall

CW / Ethan Met
The Red Clay Strays entertaining a lively audience at Druid City Music Hall.

The Red Clay Strays made Tuscaloosa the latest stop on their “Way Too Long” tour last Thursday.

The Mobile-based band sold out Druid City Music Hall for its Tuscaloosa performance on a tour that will see it play iconic venues like Denver’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre and Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium in the coming months.

The sold-out show had the line to the venue wrapped around the block at 7 p.m when the doors opened. As students and Tuscaloosa locals alike poured into the venue, Druid City’s sound system pumped in a smooth mix of soul, including classics from Rose Royce and The Stylistics. With the lights low and the bars busy, Druid City was transformed into a modern-day speakeasy.

The mood instantly changed when opener John Hollier hit the stage. The speakers went from softly playing down-tempo soul tunes to blaring vibrant Southern rock. Hollier’s 45-minute performance was lengthy for an opener, but never lacked energy. 

“It really had the crowd’s juices flowing,” said Ethan Met, a freshman and creative media major at The University of Alabama who cited the opener as his favorite part of the show. (Met is a contributing photographer for The Crimson White.)

At the end of the opening set, Hollier informed the crowd that this was their final show opening for the Red Clay Strays. He and his band then posed for a picture with the crowd in the background for a heartwarming moment.

After a brief intermission, the Strays took the stage around 9 o’clock. They opened with an unreleased song, a hard-hitting rock-and-roll tune tentatively dubbed “Wasting Time.” As lead singer Brandon Coleman explained later in the show, the Strays have a record set for release later this year. 

Over the course of the evening they performed plenty of material from that forthcoming album, and though the audience was unfamiliar with them on Thursday night, they all have the potential to become fan favorites.

But the Stray’s set list was not the star of the show. That honor belongs to Coleman himself. His buttoned-up appearance, consistently solemn expression and theatrical mannerisms made him an enigma. The easiest comparison to draw would be to the great Elvis Presley, but even that connection is very shallow, founded on only his hairstyle and jittery dancing. His gaunt face and unique stage presence played well into more tortured tracks like “Moment of Truth,” but clashed with more heartfelt numbers like “Forgive.”

Coleman’s voice, on the other hand, had no issue adapting to any song or situation. His sultry vocals are one of the hallmarks of the Strays’ sound, according to Cody Shimkus, a freshman majoring in nursing and long-time fan of the band. 

“It’s definitely that voice, and that smooth, deep sound,” Shimkus said when asked what the band’s biggest draw was,

The band faced some audio and lighting issues early on, with technicians scampering across the stage to make adjustments and Coleman asking for spotlights to be taken out of his eyes a few songs in. Once these issues were resolved, however, the band hit its stride.

It was at this point that one thing became clear: the Strays play a brand of Southern rock that was made for venues like Druid City. The constant sonic wave of bass, organ and guitars filled the venue from wall to wall without feeling too overwhelming. Where other groups have made the mistake of drowning out the lead vocalist and exhausting the audience’s ears, the Red Clay Strays struck a perfect balance in volume that both filled the room and allowed Coleman’s voice to shine through.

About halfway through their set, and after a string of unfamiliar, unreleased tracks, the Strays injected energy into the audience with “Stone’s Throw,” the intro to their debut album, “Moment of Truth.” The opening bass line elicited cheers from the crowd, and before long everyone was singing along. They continued to do so for “Heavy Heart” and “Do Me Wrong,” two more popular tracks from “Moment of Truth,” before guitarist and backup vocalist Drew Nix took over. 

The Hoover native introduced himself and led the band in a couple of songs, revealing that he, too, had a fantastic voice.

After taking back the reins for a song or two, Coleman withdrew from center stage and took a seat behind the keys for a touching performance of “Sunshine” and a rocking rendition of “Ghosts.” Coleman then returned to the forefront for one of the band’s biggest hits, “Good Godly Woman,” which closed out the set.

But of course, the crowd demanded an encore. Coleman initially returned to the stage alone, leading the audience in two verses of “Will the Lord Remember Me” and remarking that it was the first time the crowd had sung that song with him. The rest of the band then returned for “God Does,” another mid-tempo religious tune, before finally indulging the crowd in a performance of the Strays’ biggest hit, “Wondering Why.” 

Coleman’s expression and posture finally seemed to soften, and with his wife looking on from backstage, he delivered an earnest and touching performance of the fan favorite. The Strays then concluded their encore with “Don’t Care,” leaving the performance on a profound note and departing the stage to the thankful cheers of their fans.

“My favorite part of the show was getting to see them in such a small and intimate venue,” said Nick Tolbert, a senior majoring in philosophy and political science. “I think they will only get bigger from here, and who knows if they will ever play in such a venue again.”

While it is true that the Strays may soon be on to bigger and better things, their Alabama roots will likely bring them back to the Birmingham or Tuscaloosa areas soon enough. And on those occasions, they will likely find even more fans eagerly awaiting their performance. One thing is for sure: Those fans are certainly looking forward to the release of the band’s next record.

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