Nashville’s Mat Kearney hit the stage at the Cleveland House of Blues Tuesday, July 7 in support of his latest album, Just Kids, which was released earlier this year. Despite its mellow start with songs like “Movin’ On” and “Count On Me”, Kearney bounced around on stage with his guitar as the stage lights created a bright dazzling aura that forced some audience members to put on their shades. Kearney got the crowd cheering by making comments about Cleveland as a city, and of course, LeBron James. Performing a throwback to 2006, Kearney played his first hit, “Nothing Left to Lose”.
Kearney invited openers Judah & the Lion on stage to play a cover of, as Kearney coined it, “a classic American song of our generation”. Without skipping a beat, the band members launched into a unique bluegrass version of the Bruno Mars/Mark Ronson hit “Uptown Funk” which erupted in a foot-stomping hoedown in the crowd. Picking up on the energy of the House of Blues, Kearney crossed the stage barrier during “Heartbeat” and jumped into the crowd with his mic. Weaving his way through a sea of fans, Mat Kearney sang his heart out amid selfies, back slaps, and high fives. Before jumping back on stage, Kearney snatched smartphones out of unsuspecting crowd members to take a few photos together.
To kick off his encore, Mat Kearney returned to the stage after a few minutes of thunderous applause donning a “Believe in Cleveland” t-shirt which sent the audience into overdrive. His three-song encore included “Just Kids”, “Ships in the Night”, and “Dancer in the Dark”.
Surprise opener for the night, Nashville’s Judah & the Lion caused quite a stir with the audience. As they took the stage, lead singer Judah Akers promised, “We’ll give you our all, if you give us your all.” The 6 piece folk band displayed their mastery of a wide range of instruments including mandolin, banjo, accordion, and synths that created a melodic folk pop sound.
The group stole the show, however, when they blended “Twenty-Somethings” into a cover of Jefferson Starship’s “We Built This City” complete with synchronized choreography. Within a minute, the guys seamlessly transitioned into R. Kelly’s “The Remix”, much to the audience’s delight. As the band danced on stage, mandolin player Brian MacDonald switched to percussion, pounding away with all his might before the song culminated into a cacophony that returned to the end of “Twenty-Somethings”. The fervid crowd reciprocated the energy as Judah & the Lion also performed an impressive cover of Albert Brumley’s “I’ll Fly Away”, which was most notably covered by Allison Krauss for the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack.
Other noteworthy songs included “Kickin’ da Leaves”, “Rich Kids”, and “Mason-Dixon Line”. As Judah & the Lion closed out their set, the crowd roared for more, chanting for one more song even though the lights went low and the set was taken down in anticipation of headliner Mat Kearney.