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Marcus King w/Joshua Ray Walker

November 11, 2023

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Macon City Auditorium proudly welcomes back GRAMMY® Award-nominated artist, performer, and songwriter Marcus King, an artist who was downright destined to play music. By eight years old, the fourth generation Greenville, SC native performed alongside pops, grandpa, and his uncles for the first time. Logging thousands of miles on the road as “The Marcus King Band,” he established himself with unparalleled performance prowess and a dynamic live show. During 2020, he linked up with Dan Auerbach [The Black Keys] and cut his solo debut El Dorado, garnering a GRAMMY® Award nomination in the category of “Best Americana Album.” Beyond praise from NPRAmerican Songwriter, and more, Rolling Stone christened it “excellent, and Associated Press went as far as to claim, “El Dorado already stands out as a definite high point of 2020.” In between packing venues on his own, he performed alongside Chris Stapleton, Greta Van Fleet, and Nathanial Rateliff in addition to gracing the bills of Stagecoach and more with one seismic show after the next. Along the way, he caught the attention of Rick Rubin and signed to American Recordings.

Plugged into his old man’s dusty amp with a ’59 Les Paul in hand, Marcus set out to make a rock ‘n’ roll record in 2022. He didn’t disguise his ambitions at all. He didn’t hold back. He didn’t think about anything but writing from the gut, shooting from the hip, and playing straight from the heart. Joined by Auerbach, he made the kind of rock ‘n’ roll record that makes arenas and asses shake, and it’s called Young Blood [American Recordings/Republic Records].

Joshua Ray Walker opens the Marcus King show in Macon on Nov. 11. The catalyst of Walker’s new album, What Is It Even?, was sparked on the patio of the Tulsa, Oklahoma music venue and dive bar Mercury Lounge, a fitting origin story for any country record. But this is far from an ordinary country record. It was on that Tulsa patio, deep into tour, when Walker and drummer Trey Pendergrass were half joking about what their gospel jump blues version of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” would sound like, wondering “what if the Blues Brothers covered a Whitney Houston song?”

At that point, it was still unclear how the Dallas native would follow up his trio of critically acclaimed, interconnected albums, all of which were packed tight with character-driven songs that put multiple national-tours worth of crowds on the precipice of staining their shirts with either beers or tears, depending on the song. The third of the trio, See You Next Time, led to Walker appearing on The Tonight Show and CBS Saturday Morning, brought with it performances at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and Gruene Hall in Texas, landed him on Rolling Stone’s “Best of 2021” list, and prompted SPIN to call him “one of country’s most exciting storytellers.” 

Those stories about dive bar dwellers running out of last chances made listeners feel a gauntlet of emotions. What Is It Even?, a 11-track cover album consisting of songs made famous by female pop acts, produced with John Pedigo and arranged alongside his touring band of Pendergrass, bassist Billy Bones, and pedal-steel player Adam Kurtz, was born out of wanting to make people feel joy. 

“I just wanted to make something that was fun,” Walker says. 

After having such a clear vision for what he wanted, Walker and his band finally got in the studio and manifested it, an experience he compares to needing to sneeze for a month and finally getting it out. 

“I realized how influential female pop records and artists have been on me as a person, even more than in a creative sense,” Walker says.

Seemingly unafraid of whether it strips him of the “standard bearer of authentic country music” label that some circles have tagged him with, What Is It Even? is something of a broad endorsement for personal liberation from judgment. A call to be who you feel you are. It happens to be couched in a reimagining of some of the catchiest and most beloved songs of the past 30 years.