Metro Weekly

Editor’s Pick: Waylon Payne at the Pearl Street Warehouse

Waylon Payne's personal story is as complex and unwieldy as his music is pure and captivating. He appears in D.C. on July 27.

Waylon Payne -- Photo: Bridgette Aikens
Waylon Payne — Photo: Bridgette Aikens

“As heavy as his material gets, Waylon Payne’s honesty and warmth make his songwriting a joy to get lost in. [And he] proves himself a master of classic country, bringing in all the intimacy, warmth, grit, and honesty of the genre at its best,” wrote Metro Weekly‘s Sean Maunier in his review of Payne’s 2020 masterpiece Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me.

The songs on that comeback album, Payne’s first in fifteen years, brilliantly recount a life story through stark, lyrical poetry and stunning melodic purity.

Payne’s voice, resonant and rich, along with masterful arrangements, bring to life the story of a person felled by circumstances and self-destructive behaviors, including drug addiction. Yet with the help and support of some very loving, dedicated friends, he fought his way back to the land of the living.

Payne, who is gay but refuses to be defined only by that aspect of his life (“I’m not your typical gay dude — it’s such a small part of my life”), acknowledges that his story is complex, unwieldy, and, at times, confusing.

But the 49-year-old son of master picker Jody Payne, a longtime guitarist in Willie Nelson’s band, and country legend Sammi Smith, whose recording “Help Me Make It Through the Night” won a Grammy in 1972, feels he can reach out to others who might be struggling with their own demons.

That’s what motivated him to recount his personal narrative of finding the strength to rise from his own ashes, to reclaim his career, and to maintain the legacy into which he was born — his late mother named him for his godfather, Waylon Jennings.

Given the title he picked for the album, Payne seems to be inviting the LGBTQ community into his story — his sufferings, his mistakes, and, ultimately, his triumphs.

“Country music is wonderful because it tells the story of the common man,” he says. “It tells all of our stories. I’m so proud of the legacy that I have in this business. I hold my parents and Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson and all those folks in high esteem. And I made a vow a long time ago to those folks that I would carry it along. That’s all I’m trying to do.” 

Wednesday, July 27, at 7 p.m. Pearl Street Warehouse, 33 Pearl St. SW. Tickets are $12.

Call 202-380-9620 or visit www.pearlstreetwarehouse.com.

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