From the moment Jess Williamson and Katie Crutchfield of Plains walked onstage at First Avenue, the classic blustery November evening in Minneapolis became a world of vast prairies, country sunsets, and open highways. On a stage draped with velvet curtains and backed by band members in embroidered Western shirts, the duo embraced the sounds and aesthetics of past country music eras in a way that was both nostalgic, yet uniquely their own.
Before Plains began, heads bobbed in time as opener MJ Lenderman alternated between songs bursting with thudding drums and fuzzed-out guitar to songs with twangy melodies. Band founder and lead guitarist Jake Lenderman earned whistles and cheers throughout the set for his intricate guitar riffing, commanding the stage for minutes at a time in nearly every song to jam with the other four band members. This was the Asheville-based band’s first visit to Minneapolis, but fans sprinkled throughout the crowd were singing along at full volume.
While MJ Lenderman created space for improvisation, Plains were tight, polished, and masterful over their sound. It felt like the output of a band that had been recording together for years rather than the debut album from a recent artistic collaboration.
The music and performance felt like a collaboration between Crutchfield and Williamson in the truest sense of the word. Born out of the desire for a change of pace after well-received albums in 2020 — Williamson’s Sorceress and Waxahatchee’s Saint Cloud — Plains’ I Walked With You A Ways showcases their shared approach to songwriting and lead vocals. Both had Southern upbringings in classic country music and encouraged the other’s creative impulses to include new lyrics and test new sounds.
The result of their endeavors? Trading off taking lead vocals on stage, Williamson and Crutchfield’s tightly woven harmonies seemed to drive their soaring voices to greater heights. The songs’ expansive and introspective narratives touched upon heartbreak, memory, and newfound understanding of oneself. Kicking off the show with the rousing “Summer Sun,” Williamson crooned as someone knowing it’s time to cut your losses, saying “Honey, we’re up against something/ Our love alone can’t fix… / it hurts to be leaving / But I know staying ain’t right” as Crutchfield swayed in time a few steps behind. Crutchfield then took over for the album’s lead single and high standards anthem “Problem With It,” declaring “If that’s all you got / It’s all you gave... / If you can’t do better than that, babe / I got a problem with it.”
I Walked With You A Ways’ exploration of pain and personal resolve came to a head with the show-stopping performance of “Abilene” halfway through the show. While the band’s stage settings did not physically change, the performance seemed to create the aura of sitting close around a campfire on the windswept plains as Williamson explored questions of when to let love go and when to stay. Painting vivid scenery of a place marred by the lingering hurt of a past relationship, she mournfully sings “We don’t need to talk about Abilene / Cause Abilene don’t mean / No couple acres, no screened in porch / So I don’t talk about Abilene no more.” Underscored by Crutchfield’s equally haunting harmony, Williamson’s voice rang achingly through the hushed Mainroom, and made even the pauses in phrase carry meaning. Plains’ command of the audience and their craft was truly unmistakable.
Throughout the rest of their 75-minute set, the pair volleyed seamlessly between tracks off of I Walked With You A Ways to Sorceress to Saint Cloud and back again. They move deftly from song to song, sprinkling in light commentary in between. Williamson and Crutchfield weren’t afraid to let Southern accents roll loudly off of their tongues — a departure from the measured, and at-times muted, vocals found on their solo projects. The night featured the unreleased Jess Williamson track titled “Hunters” and an unreleased Waxahatchee song called “Right Back to It.” According to Crutchfield, a new Williamson album may be coming next year.
Plains also included several covers, including Waylon Jennings’ “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” Hoyt Van Tanner’s “Bellafatima” (which is featured on the album) and Terry Allen’s “Amarillo Highway” with the help of MJ Lenderman during the encore. By including their own interpretations of these country staples in their performance, Plains seemed to nod appreciatively to their country supergroup predecessors and influences — Waylon and Willie, the Judds, Trio, the Chicks — while simultaneously looking to the future of what the genre could become.
The band closed out the show simply yet raucously, with Jess Williamson leaning in to say “If you know the words to this next one, please sing along with us.” Screams erupted from a group of 20-somethings in the middle of the crowd as the first strains of The Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl” kicked over the speakers. Fists pumped in the air and voices sang-shouted along word-for-word as the women strummed furiously on stage. When the song finally came to a close and the house lights lifted, the air of First Avenue seemed a little lighter, buoyed by the simple joy of having shared a beloved song together.
While heading out the doors at First Ave quickly brought everyone back to the reality of a bitingly cold winter night, Plains’ message lingered: through pain, there is joy. Through heartbreak, there is healing. Through loss, there is togetherness. And aren’t we lucky to have each other to lean on?
Problem with It
Line of Sight
Wind on Tin (Jess Williamson)
Can’t Do Much (Waxahatchee)
Last 2 On Earth
Mamma Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys (Waylon Jennings)
Hunter (unreleased Jess Williamson)
No Record of Wrongs
I Walked With You A Ways
Amarillo Highway, with MJ Lenderman (Terry Allen)
Right Back to It, with MJ Lenderman (unreleased Waxahatchee)
Goodbye Earl (The Chicks)