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For the past several years, there's a good chance you'd find TK & The Holy Know-Nothings songwriter and lead vocalist Taylor Kingman onstage at the LaurelThirst. Portland's oldest independent venue has long been a lifeblood for artists like Kingman. It's a sort of misfit stronghold -- a sanctuary for the same kind of spirit that sustained local punk legends Dead Moon and outsider folk hero Michael Hurley. Rejecting the influence of fleeting scenes, foodies and encroaching developers; it's stayed in tune with its muddy patrons who've carved out lives as blue collar artists for generations. It's here that Kingman earned the respect of his community.
Western country isn't southern country. It's a sound as rough-hewn and alluring as the western landscapes it comes from. Its heroes are outsiders on a path set by a stubborn devotion to the truth of things, no matter how dirty or tender. Its misfit poetry is addled by influence, scarred by hard luck, and haunted by the eternally drifting, lonesome heart of a cowboy. Its sound is accessible and human in its pure honesty, but it's one that's too big to be tamed. Ultimately, it belongs to the great darkness you'll only find in the wild, open expanse of the West.
Following this lineage on their debut album Arguably OK, TK & The Holy Know-Nothings cites Doug Sahm, The Holy Modal Rounders, The Flatlanders, Dan Reeder, and Jeffrey Frederick & the Clamtones as strong influences. For Kingman, though, it's Terry Allen's 1979 art country gem Lubbock (on everything) that's most affected his songwriting. Like Allen, Kingman writes with delicacy about indelicate things. The songs on Arguably OK are about dead ends, addiction, self-sabotaged relationships, drug trips gone bad (or good? or both?), and, above all, holding out for the real thing. His lyrics are tightly crafted and profoundly paradoxical; simultaneously self-deprecating and unapologetic, clever and crass, irreverent and tender; and sometimes riotously funny. Each song takes you somewhere unexpected, every phrase crafted with the same signature combination of dirtbag revelry and haltingly poignant poetry. He brings all of himself to these songs -- the honest, unglorified truth.
Arguably OK came together swiftly on the heels of Kingman's stark 2017 solo debut Wannabe. The morning after Wannabe's release party, the band left Portland and drove across the state to the prairies of northeast Oregon to make a very different album. Arguably OK was recorded in three days in Enterprise, a quiet cowboy town at the foot of the snow-capped Wallowa Mountains. It was made live, with no overdubs, on stage at the historic OK Theatre, where most of their budget was spent on keeping the heat on. Built in 1918, the theater is a striking testament to the old west. After putting their name on the old marquee, TK & The Holy Know-Nothings went to work. Engineered on the fly by Thompson with the help of old buddy and local theater resident Bart Budwig, the band recorded the entire album by way of whole set run-throughs, stopping only at the end of each day to kick back in the theater's seats and listen through its speakers.
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