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Briston Maroney is of the Moment at The Southern

The "Sunflower" singer dazzled Charlottesville crowds

<p>For a 23-year-old, Maroney boasts an impressive discography. With consistently contagious melodies and simple, yet poignant lyrics, Maroney drew an audience of devout listeners.&nbsp;</p>

For a 23-year-old, Maroney boasts an impressive discography. With consistently contagious melodies and simple, yet poignant lyrics, Maroney drew an audience of devout listeners. 

This Tuesday evening Briston Maroney took the stage downtown at The Southern, drawing a young and exuberant crowd to the charming Charlottesville venue. The 23-year-old singer-songwriter from Knoxville, Tenn. started his "Sunflower" world tour on Sept. 9. Making his public debut in 2013 as a contestant on American Idol, Maroney sang and played guitar in the bluegrass band Subtle Clutch from 2013 to 2015 before independently releasing two EPs and then signing onto Canvasback Music and Atlantic Records. 

Savannah Conley, Maroney’s best friend, opened the show solo. With a melodic voice, she eagerly addressed the crowd and noted the politeness of the concertgoers. Someone in the back piped up, “We’re just really in the moment.” With quiet confidence, charisma and sharp vocals, Conley effectively warmed up the crowd before the main act. Acknowledging the sad nature of most of her music, for her penultimate track she built energy with her inventive cover of the Arctic Monkeys’ “Do I Wanna Know?” and belted the first chorus.

Maroney arrived on stage and approached the microphone wrapped in sunflowers. After he received a warm, loud welcome, he saluted the audience member who shouted about being in the moment during Conley’s set. He invited the opener back on stage for “Deep Sea Diver,” the pair displaying their raw talent through effortless harmonization. 

Maroney played several new tracks from "Sunflower" — the classic indie-rock ballad “Bottle Rocket,” the stripped-down “Freeway” and the pop-leaning “Rollercoaster.” In speaking about the album’s release, Maroney stated, “This record isn’t complicated, but wearing its heart on its sleeve is hopefully what it has in common with a sunflower.” Maroney himself wore his heart on his sleeve with his earnest stage presence and passionate performance — witnessing him perform felt utterly ethereal. 

Early on in Maroney’s set, bass player Zack Lockwood broke a string. The band members looked at one another, but no one had an extra string. Maroney assured the audience they would sort it out, and, in the meantime, he would play some solo tracks. He encouraged everyone to sing along, as if dozens hadn’t already been belting every song before. As he started to play “June,” a track from his 2017 EP "Big Shot," fans immediately started singing along. Maroney looked out into the crowd and said, “You’re going to make me cry.”

No more than 10 minutes later, the band members miraculously reappeared on stage with Lockwood boosting a blue guitar above his head. The drummer, Nathan Knox, was friends with a member of Colony House, who happened to be playing across the Downtown Mall at The Jefferson. Knox went to the venue, and luckily their opening act, Fleurie, lent Lockwood a guitar. 

Maroney admitted to being extremely nervous, saying, “I honestly didn’t know what we were gonna do — I know ‘Banana Pancakes’ I guess.” Crowd members laughed and shouted for Jack Johnson. Without missing a beat, Maroney jokingly performed the intro to “Banana Pancakes” and continued his set. He riffed with guitarist Devin Badgett, sporadically jumped around on stage and danced with gusto.  

For a 23-year-old, Maroney boasts an impressive discography. With consistently contagious melodies and simple, yet poignant lyrics, Maroney drew an audience of devout listeners. No singular hit, the majority of listeners sang along to every word, song after song. Maroney successfully produces energizing indie rock tracks, like “Caroline” and “Under my Skin,” just as well as he makes gentler, more vocal-forward tracks like “Fool’s Gold” and “St. Augustine,” with many songs fluidly shifting throughout their course.

For an artist with over 85 million streams on Spotify on his most popular track, “Freakin Out on the Interstate,” Maroney doesn’t seem to yet realize his fame. It is refreshing to witness an artist perform his craft, to watch a musician actively make good music. 

One audience member wore a pink cowboy hat around her neck, an ode to the cover of EP “Indiana,” featuring a little girl wearing the same headpiece. Looking out in the audience throughout the show revealed consistently enthralled humans — maybe under Maroney’s spell, maybe happy to watch live music in person again — likely a combination of both. 

Before the last song of his set, Maroney thanked the audience and humbly exited the stage. Not very long after the first cries for an encore swelled to a unified chant, Maroney reappeared, the sign of a musician grateful for the still novel sign of a successful show. He admitted that he and the band members usually huddle up, wondering if the audience truly wants an encore. The cynic might term this move a false show of self-deprecation Maroney repeats every performance, but it’s hard not to believe him, to see his excitement and gratefulness as genuine. 

For the encore, Maroney returned to stage alone, playing the gentle acoustic ballad “Rose.” He quietly sang about someone important returning to their gardens in Brooklyn and laying in the yard like a child. Maroney speaks to an innate and often unlocatable sense of longing in his music and demeanor — being very in the moment with Briston Maroney is an experience anyone is lucky to have.

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