Chris Stapleton Didn't Need a 'Parachute' for His Solid 'SNL' Debut

Chris StapletonEXPAND
Chris Stapleton

If 2015 wasn't the year country crowned Chris Stapleton its king, 2016 is certainly set to make up for it.

Let's rewind: Chris Stapleton is no rookie shopping for Stetsons in Nashville or stroking his beard at Barista Parlor. The singer-songwriter released his solo debut, Traveller, back in May, but Stapleton has been writing hits for some of country's biggest names for years, and he gathered a sizable following — and a fan in Adele — before he left bluegrass outfit the SteelDrivers. Traveller received high marks from critics across the board upon its release, but a late-in-the-year Country Music Association Awards performance with Justin Timberlake had new fans clamoring for the record and fueling its surge up the country charts at the tail end of 2015. Stapleton collected three statuettes at the CMAs, and he'd go on to score a handful of 2015 Grammy nominations for Traveller, including a nod for Album of the Year. So you're one of those people who "listens to anything but country," whatever: The chances of you making it through all of 2015 without hearing Stapleton's name or the rasp of his baritone are slim. And even if you somehow did miss a strain of "Tennessee Whiskey," the post-holiday return of Saturday Night Live fixed that up for you real quick.

Stapleton did country proud on SNL, especially considering that the two dudes who represented the genre most recently on the show — Zac Brown and Blake Shelton — peddle the kind of "bro country" and small-town sentiment that prompt eye-rolls from the cynics and the unfamiliar. Stapleton sings about whiskey and beer just like those guys, but he isn't a cartoon or an ambassador for the truck-drivin', eagle-tat-sportin' population outside of Nashville. Being that SNL served as Stapleton's big-time mainstream debut, "Parachute" was the perfect introduction for new listeners. For the uninitiated, Stapleton's sky-high belt was more than enough to stop a healthy swath of the viewing public from changing the channel or heading to the kitchen for a snack in between Adam Driver's Star Wars jokes. For the fans, Stapleton's watertight ensemble — featuring Mickey Raphael, who's Willie Nelson's harmonica pro of choice, and Dave Cobb, Stapleton's producer on Traveller and arguably the most sought-after record whisperer in Nashville — were basically icing on the cake of Stapleton's sterling vocal acrobatics.

His next pick was "Nobody to Blame," Traveller's second single, and this time the might of the rest of the band — especially that of Morgane, Stapleton's wife and choral foil — buoyed the tale of broken relationships and smirking remorse beautifully. Stapleton rarely looked away from the neck of his guitar or a shared gaze with Morgane, but if anything, the lack of engagement with the audience just inspired a closer look and listen. Stapleton is about as straightforward as one could hope to get in a performer; he wears that hat because he likes it, not because he's sporting a Music Row costume, and he's not gonna strut like Luke Bryan for the sake of louder cheers. The pedal steel, timeless sentiments, and varsity session players and production giants rounding out his act only further elevate great songs that speak a language we can all understand. If Stapleton is the new king of country, may his reign officially begin with this wholly satisfying SNL set.

As for the internet, everyone thought Cobb was Jason Schwartzman playing hooky on Coconut Records and freaked out about his hat, which is more or less tame by Twitter shouty-match standards. Behold, the peanut gallery:

We really could stop this here 'cause no one needs to write a better explanation for Stapleton's crossover appeal:

....Except for this one.

Bebe Buell was stoked for Stapleton's SNL performance:

As was that guy from *NSync or whatever.


Whaaaaat does this even mean?!

YOUR beard is full of lollipops and squirrel meat. (And drugs, from the sounds of it.)


Guys Jason Schwartzman is probably busy filming the next Wes Anderson movie stahhhhhp:

And now for the cowboy hat commentary:

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