Newark, Ohio (April 27, 2018) – When your travels take you down Dog Hollow Road on your way to a country music concert, you know you are headed in the right direction! Our destination was Thirty One West in Newark, OH. The theater was set up to seat 300 tonight, and the air was filled with classic country music pouring from the house sound system. The show tonight was set to be an intimate seated performance with Mo Pitney being accompanied by his brother, Blake, and sister, Holly. Country singer, Cliff Cody, was in the building as well and was slated as the only opener on the bill.
Thirty One West features a saloon with full bar service and a theater. It was constructed in the early 1900’s and after laying dormant for years, it has been reopened and revitalized over the past two years. The Bootlegger’s Saloon is located on the first floor, while the theater resides on the second and third floors with bar service for the theater on the third floor. We received a quick, private tour of the adjacent space being renovated which will house eight apartments, which once finished and occupied, will offer free tickets to the tenants for every show at Thirty One West.
We had a chance to speak with Chris Reynard from T100.3 WCLT, Newark’s Hometown Country Station. He explained how country music is becoming rooted in Newark, Ohio. With the revitalization taking part downtown and the successful T100 Bootlegger’s Series music competition wrapping up, the city is alive with country music. Chris stated, “we had Mo here last year. He wanted to come back this year because he said it was one of the greatest places he had ever performed. So we invited him, his wife, his daughter and his entire family back to do the show. What a great time we’ve had, just some amazing people out here.”
Chris was right, and you could feel it even prior to entering the theater. This was shaping up to be one great night of live country music.
As Somerset, OH native, Cliff Cody, warmed up his voice in the wings just off the stage, the crowd was filling up the seats. Straight off a stint at Hog’s Breath Saloon in Key West, Cliff was here to get the crowd warmed up as well.
Although with one album to his name, Homegrown (2014), he stayed away from those songs tonight. His wife let us know his set was made up of all new songs, and he was excited to share the unreleased songs with all in attendance. It did not take long for Cliff to capture the audience’s attention. With a voice similar to Travis Tritt or Jamey Johnson, his tone captures your attention as his words take you on a journey.
His 45-minute set featured 11 songs with the recurring themes, as he put it, “things that I know, songs about Whiskey, Angels, and Women, although I don’t really know women”. The crowd thoroughly enjoyed his set that featured new songs with a few highlights being, “Good Girls Don’t Drink Whiskey”, “On A Boat Somewhere”, and the title track from his upcoming CD “Guardian Angel”.
As Mo Pitney took center stage, his sister Holly Pitney, and his brother Blake Pitney took their seats on the remaining bar stools. Mo saddled up his acoustic guitar and addressed the sold-out audience simply stating, “I’m probably going to lean more heavily on new music tonight.” Tonight would be an experiment of sorts, as he put it, “with the sole purpose for you to let us know your favorites after the show. That’s your homework”. He then invited all in attendance to speak with him after the show and let him know their favorites. It was a great thing to share new material, but even better to allow his fans to weigh in on the songs they liked the most, helping Mo choose the songs which he will begin recording just a few days after the show.
As Mo started off with three new songs, it didn’t take long for him to play the first familiar release by song number four. Although the crowd accepted the brand new songs with great applause, they were more than pleased to hear his first song from the acclaimed Behind This Guitar album with “I Met Merle Haggard Today”. As his style of pure country poured from the speakers, the theater was filled with a great energy. His positive lyrics featuring family, love, and yearning for ‘the older stuff’, had the crowd affixed on the stage.
The intimate setting allowed the storytelling to grow as the concert went on. As Mo would often talk about his influences prior to playing some of the songs, he also acknowledged those we have recently lost in the country music scene. He did not shy away from covers either as he cranked out five covers in all, with the highlights being the Don Williams song “Good Ole Boys Like Me”, the George Jones song “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes”, and the Merle Haggard song “Big City”.
His set featured two more tracks from Behind This Guitar, “A Boy and a Girl Thing”, and “Country”. You add in the 10 brand new songs he played (one he played live for the first time EVER tonight) and you have a 17-song, hour-and-a-half long set of some of the purest neo-traditionalist country out there today. What a treat it was to hear the majority of the songs for the first time ever, with this group of Mo fans experiencing it at the same time! He hinted at the new album’s title as he played the next to last song, “Music Man”, stating “this might be the title track to the upcoming album”.
It did not take long after the concert for a lengthy line to form with those waiting to meet Mo, and share their homework with him. As he received their feedback, posed for pictures, signed photos and CD’s, and interacted with his fans, you could see the honesty behind a man that gets to do what he loves in life.
Splice was lucky enough to catch up with Mo for a few minutes after the fans dispersed.
You’re starting to record your next album on Monday, when are you looking to have that released?
I’ll have my work done in probably two or three months, then it will be up to the label to get it out. I’m hoping within five months we can get it out, sometime later in the year.
How’s the tour going for you?
Well, we haven’t played as many gigs this year as last year, but I’ve been spending a lot of time raising our new baby, doing a lot of writing and getting ready to record the record. Hopefully next year we’re gonna have a flood of dates coming.
And how is parenthood?
Oh Man, I love it! Very weighty and I’ve learned a lot. Gotten scared at times wondering if I could provide, and all of that kind of stuff. But God’s taken care of us and I can tell you the last two months, the last month especially, I’ve enjoyed being a dad more than ever. I just enjoy her coming to life and finding out what her personality is like, learning words and walking and all that stuff.
Well, from one father to another, congratulations!
As Mo looks forward to recording his new album, chasing around his 15-month-old daughter, and continuing to love on his wife, Emily, he has everything he needs right in front of him. A man of solid faith, he seems to not take any of this for granted and is giving his fans back as much as he can.
If all goes well, maybe we can expect that album titled Music Man, sometime around September. From what we heard here at Thirty One West, it should be one fantastic collection of pure country!
Thirty One West:
Photojournalist: Allen Heimberger