I first heard David Ramirez on a road trip to Philadelphia a few years ago when a friend recommended him. From that moment on, he’s been a constant presence in my listening—from wide-eyed summer jams to late-night winter introspection, David’s brand of vivid storytelling and piercing philosophy have served me well in good times and bad.
The chance to see him in Nashville for the finale of a three-night, song-by-song run through of his complete catalog was one I couldn’t pass up, and the performance went well beyond anything I could have anticipated.
An intimate venue perched atop Cannery Row in Nashville, The High Watt doesn’t have a photo pit, so I arrived soon after doors opened to stake a spot up front only to find several rows of people already lined up against the stage. As we settled in for a sold out show, I chatted with those around me and found many had traveled hundreds of miles to catch all three nights of this career retrospective.
There’s a collegiate quality to David’s fans—many have had to travel to see him before, and they swapped stories of past performances like trading cards, recounting different renditions of songs and favorite personal moments like a sports fan would player stats or a legendary goal. Someone recalled a particularly emotional moment from just the night before when a man FaceTimed his mother during “The Bad Days” and she broke into tears, a tide of experience and meaning welling between them and spilling over to those standing nearby.
You’re gonna hear my voice loud and clear Gonna have all my words in your ear And when you can’t see my face Or feel my warm embrace Well then find you the nearest radio Then mama you will know That I’m not goin’ anywhere
– “I’m Not Going Anywhere” from We’re Not Going Anywhere (2017)
This third and final night found David tackling his two most recent albums: Fables (2015) and We’re Not Going Anywhere (2017). Each features increasingly expansive production and a fuller band sound than his earlier work, but I noticed the stage was set for a solo performance. Since I hadn’t seen him play before, I wondered how stripped back versions for some of the more layered songs would work, but I shouldn’t have worried. From the punchy opening melody of “Communion” to the final whispered growl of “I’m Not Going Anywhere,” David’s textured voice flooded every corner of the room: ebbing, flowing, washing over us, filling us up.
Although he often tackles political and cultural issues with a deft and honest hand in his music, the performance was decidedly apolitical, as he said in the set:
“I have a simple philosophy: fuck fear. Because it doesn’t allow us to do things like this. No matter who you are, you’re always welcome at a David Ramirez show.”
The evening was truly one high point after another as David dove into the stories behind many songs and poured his heart and soul into every note. Still, one of the best moments was an impromptu on-stage FaceTime to fellow artist Noah Gunderson with the entire crowd singing “Happy Birthday” to him.
Another high point of crowd participation was a sing-along version of “Good Heart” with every voice in the room filling in the background “Ooooos” of the chorus. David grinned wide at the end of the song: “I talked a lot of shit about pop country until I wrote that song and performed it—maybe they’re onto something.”
Near the end of the night, before the final entry from We’re Not Going Anywhere, David offered a benediction to the crowded, quiet house:
“I got fired from job in Nashville once and thought ‘This town is never gonna love me,’ but y’all have shown me quite the opposite. Let’s go out and live lives so wild and so bold that they still exist after we’re gone.”