While I wasn’t able to attend, the videos that have come out of this year’s Railbird Festival in Lexington, Kentucky have been nothing short of incredible.
With over 30 artists performing across two days and three stages, there was no shortage of good times and killer sets, but one of my friends who made the trip let me know of perhaps the most powerful moment from the entire festival.
Tyler Childers was the last one to take the stage on Sunday. And while most artists tend to send the crowd off with some sort of controlled chaos (see Zach Bryan’s “Revival”), Childers decided to take a much different route.
It wasn’t even one of his songs that he played last, but a Cory Branan tune titled “Sour Mash.”
Fitting, since he was in the bourbon capital of the world, but even more so once you hear his explanation:
“This last one isn’t one of mine, it’s a Cory Branan song. It also holds a very special place in my heart because it’s one of the last songs that I got to sing to a friend of mine over at the (University of Kentucky) Markey Cancer Center before he passed.”
He goes on to rip into an emotional acapella performance, clearly holding back tears and trying to keep it together, but still showing off powerful, raspy voice.
Before one of the verses he says he doesn’t know how much Mike (the friend) would have enjoyed it because it talks about not wanting to drink moonshine, a beverage that Mike just so happened to make.
Tyler had previously spoken about Mike on stage in Arkansas, where he told the story of how he came to know Cory Branan, who took him on tour, before giving the backstory on his good friend Moonshine Mike.
“Me and the fellas had a really good buddy. He was a moonshiner, he was a hippie, he was a travelling man, he was a brother.
After a two year fight with leukemia, he passed away. And I was thinking about all the times that we had, I remembered the first time I had met him, I remembered the first time that I really connected with him.
I was wigging out in the woods on mushrooms and I was walking down the road and he came by. Moonshine Mike, he was just this monster of a man…
And I remember looking at him being like “I know this guy, I’m pretty sure man.” He had this big Cheshire cat smile and was just like “Hey man”.
And then I went off and kept wandering around the woods and getting lost and ended up stumbling upon him and his still and him playing the mandolin. And we sat around the still and played “Red Haired Boy” and all kinds of fiddle tunes that night…
And as the world would have it I happened to be home when he was in the hospital in his last days and we were getting ready to come out with “Take My Hounds To Heaven.” And I got to show that to him.
He got to meet my boy. And me and CJ and Jesse got to play some fiddle tunes for him. That evening, they called hospice in and he went under and Sondra, his wife, said she was going to play my album until he left.
I was able to get to Lexington, I really wanted to be there with him… There were about 12 friends there and we started talking, you know Mike was always playing music…
I’d been listening to Cory Branan on the way there and thinking about this particular song and how fitting it was for Mike. But I did not play it on guitar and I also thought it sounded so cool acapella.
So we were thinking we should turn off the music, there’s plenty of musicians here, we should play some music. So, I was like “I’ll start.”
I got to play two songs for Mike, one I was playing when he passed and this is the one I started the song round out with and I sang this at his funeral.”
The heartbreak in his voice just goes to show the horrors of losing someone to cancer and the pain of losing a close friend…
Throughout the entire performance, he holds up a shot of whiskey, but dumps it out at the end, staying strong on his sobriety journey.
Tyler Childers, man… A true friend until the end.
Here’s the performance from Railbird.
And here’s the performance from Arkansas where he told the full story of him and Moonshine Mike.