Hopewell, VA – Being one who does not like to be like everyone else, I always try to find a different angle for a review. Having met Chapel Hart back in July when they graced the stage with Mickie James, I had been praying for the opportunity to cover them the next time they came to town. Around September 4th they announced a last minute benefit for musicians impacted by the devastation of Hurricane Ida to be held at the Beacon Theater in Hopewell, VA on September 9th, 2021. My prayers had been answered!
From the start it was obvious this was going to be a great night as opening act, Faron Hamblin, a local country artist, played covers of several country tunes, ranging from very traditional to a little southern rock. Donning a USA ball cap and cowboy boots, he was the model country artist and played an awesome set. Having been raised in the Northwoods with a loving family and father who appreciated all things traditional country, it felt like dad was listening with me.
As the trio, made up of vocalists Danica Hart, Devynn Hart, and Trea Swindle (it could be said they are the perfect band, as they are made up of a lot of Hart and little Swindle), came out into stage lights, the first thing I noticed was only one was wearing a hat and only one was wearing cowboy boots. “This is country?”, I thought. After all, everyone knows that everyone in a country trio wear hats and boots! Despite the glaring deviation from what I had always been told made up a country image, I decide to listen anyhow.
From the very beginning their pride in who they are and where they came from was obvious. Asking the audience to all stand, they proceeded to deliver a powerful A Capella version of the National Anthem. Before the roar of the audience died down, they went immediately into “Wheels are Wings” from their debut album, Out the Mud.
Trea’s voice filled the Beacon air with the others providing perfect harmonies as she sang another song from their first album, “Country Paradise“. With my rural Wisconsin roots I could definitely relate… well, other than the massive difference in winter temperatures. Yes, to grow up country is to grow up in paradise. It was about this time my focus on the lack of hats had started to wane, they WERE pretty country.
A few songs later Danica’s country (and wonderful vocals) came out even more with “Made for Me” which is all about growing up in small town Poplarville, MS. You know what they say, when you leave the country it will always be in your heart (or in this case, Hart). What had been so special about their performance to this point was how they shared the limelight. As one took the lead vocals (shared with each song) the others filled in providing perfect harmonies.
After another upbeat yet emotional song, “I Will Follow” we learned that they were three of 108 (yes, 108) grandchildren. Their grandmother had given birth to a total of 17 children (take a moment to think about that… ). They were surrounded by very strong women and to recognize those women they sang “4 Mississippi” from their most recent album, The Girls Are Back in Town.
The next few songs were all about their love of life and liberty. They praised and thanked all those who serve, have served, and will serve in the military, as well as first responders. The level of respect and love was refreshing!! Playing “Courtesy of the Red White and Blue“, “I Hope” (a Gabby Barrett cover), “Independence Day“, and “God Bless the USA” they had the Hopewell audience on their feet and singing along.
“Independence Day” was a special song as it showcased Devynn’s pipes. She had shown powerful vocals in previous songs, but she absolutely nailed this! Danica and Trea also mentioned her growth in the band over the years. With tears in her eyes Devynn jokingly said that was the first nice thing Danica had said about her all day. Just the change I saw in the two months since they performed with Mickie was astounding! Hats? What hats?! Who needs hats? At this point, boots were less important also.
Before going into “God Bless the USA“, Danica made me feel a little better by pointing out that to listen to the news one would think people who wear boots and hats do not get along with those who do not. It was fabulous hearing that people who attend their shows wear all sorts of hats and shoes, some boots and cowboy hats, some sneakers with no hats, and even some loafers with berets. The funny thing was, they all get along. In a little media dig, Danica said, “Take that CNN, Fox News, and Local News!” I think I heard some in the audience (wearing heels and pony tails) yell, “Amen”.
This was a fundraiser to help those impacted by Ida. They had a $2000 goal and as the night progressed they kept us up to speed on the status, recognizing many who had contributed the cause.
Their song that is currently receiving the most air time was about to come. “You Can Have Him Jolene” is the long awaited sequel to the 1973 Dolly Parton hit, “Jolene” (they also performed an A Capella cover of that song). It took a few years, but in the Chapel Hart version, the problem man is given to Jolene as “he doesn’t mean much to me”. This is a fun song and the video is even more fun (complete with Mickie James as the bouncer). About this time I realized that boots are not needed for country music… but they are quite helpful for kicking ass.
For those who did not know, Chapel Hart had been named to CMT’s 2021 class of Next Women of Country. To add to the boots and hats theme, they announced that they had just been awarded Best International Country Artist and Best Group of the Year by Country Gigs Scotland (you can still catch the stream of the show on their Facebook Page)! A country music award from the land of Glengarries, kilts, and Ghillie Brogues for footwear! Maybe the boots are not all that important!
Even as the show started to wind down, they provided so much to write about. Their song, “Jesus and Alcohol” was a hoot, especially since the song had attracted the attention of ZZ Top and even had Billy F Gibbons appear in the video! Yes, Jesus said “Love thine enemy” and turned water to wine. Who can argue with that?
In a tribute to daddies everywhere, they sang a very emotional “Daddy Do“. Going into a little bit about their upbringing, they talked about daddies who marry into families with ‘bonus children’ and strive to be the best daddies to all. They even said it is never too late to be good daddy! During the performance of the song, you could see that this song hit home for the members of the band.
They wound up the night with “Chicken Fried” and a salute to the 13 soldiers lost in the waning days of Afghanistan followed by “Redneck Summer Night“. As they left the stage we were still looking for one more kick ass song. Thankfully their encore, “The Girls are Back in Town“ provided such a moment. With the last note, they left the stage, went to the lobby, shared stories and had a wonderful time with many fans. The best news? They met their $2000 fund raising goal!! It was a great way to end the show!
As I left for the night, my earlier perception that one was not country without hat and boots really bothered me. I came to the realization that music is NOT defined by what we wear, how we wear it, and how others expect us to wear it to preserve the image. The music we feel and perform is in the heart and on this night, my heart was 100% country with a lot of Hart, a little bit of Swindle, and 100% Chapel Hart!
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Chapel Hart Setlist
Star Spangled Banner
Wheels Are Wings
Made for Me
I Will Follow
Courtesy of the Red White and Blue
God Bless the USA
Jolene (A Capella)
You Can Have Him Jolene
Jesus and Alcohol
Redneck Summer Night
The Girls Are Back in Town
Show Date: September 9th, 2021