Sean McConnell

Nashville-based folk singer/songwriter Sean McConnell performs at the Bourbon Theater on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020, in Lincoln, Nebraska. 

Soft candlelight lined the stairs welcoming the small crowd to the dimly-lit Bourbon Theatre on Tuesday night. The stage, not far from the ground, stood alone at the front of the intimate venue awaiting the arrival of Sean McConnell.

His opener, Garrison Starr, kept the ears of the audience filled with soft music until McConnell found a home on the stage. 

Starr shared stories of her struggle growing up gay in a conservative, catholic community through songs like “Tough Girl” and “The Devil In Me.” She shared her passion with the crowd, saying “I’ve been given a gift, I have no idea why, but I intend to use it as best as I can for as long I have left.” 

Before leaving the stage, she led the crowd in a sing-along to the song she wrote for her late grandfather, “The Train That’s Bound For Glory.” This song assisted her in spreading the message that life is precious and can’t be taken for granted. This message is present in current media, as she reflected on the recent passing of Kobe Bryant and reminded everyone to celebrate life.

Shortly after, anticipation for McConnell’s arrival built in the small room — one woman whispered to her friend sitting next to her, “I’m so excited.” 

A moment later, the tune of his first song, “Secondhand Smoke” began to play from the strings of his acoustic guitar. McConnell stood solo on the stage as the audience watched intently, taking in every poetic lyric coming off his lips. 

“There’s something about doing a tour with just me and my guitar that feels like home to me,” McConnell said. 

He brought his folk roots to the stage, playing his harmonica simultaneously with his guitar, resembling a one-man-band. He continued to play some of his more famous songs like “Shaky Bridges” and “Here We Go,” the first single to come off his most recent record, “Secondhand Smoke.”

Audible cheers erupted from his fans as they heard the first strums of “Save Our Soul,” a clear crowd favorite during which the whole audience danced and clapped along.  He played some older tunes like “Hey Mary” and “Reckless Love,” songs the crowd appeared to enjoy hearing again as their smiles grew larger with every passing melody.

He shared his commercial success with the crowd as he played a cover of the song “Mercy,” which he co-wrote with country star Brett Young. The song was his first no. 1 hit on country radio back in 2019.

Starr then rejoined McConnell as they gave the news of their new partnership in the band “My Sister, My Brother.” Together the two played unreleased music along with the single, “Nothing Without You,” in beautiful harmony. The crowd then fought over the single copy of their new album that Starr brought with her before she left the stage once again. The duo’s album debuts March 6.

McConnell then played his song “Maybe You Can Love Me Anyway,” which he wrote for his wife of 15 years. Before playing the song, he told the story of how he surprised his wife for their 10th wedding anniversary with the song when he opened for Gregory Alan Isakov, a fellow singer-songwriter with whom McConnell has written songs with in the past, at a show on New Year’s Eve. He then dedicated his last song “Everything That’s Good” to his 9-year-old daughter, whom he wrote the song for.

The small crowd erupted in applause as McConnell took a bow on stage and friends began to talk among themselves about their favorite parts of the show. 

“I felt good about the performance tonight,” McConnell said. “I just got my voice back, so the performance kinda had to subdue a little bit, which I think led to a more intimate performance. Even then, the warm, welcoming, Nebraskan crowd made the night fun for me.”

culture@dailynebraskan.com