Words by Courtney Thomassen
Autumn, that beautiful time of year when the leaves change color and start to fall and the perfect backdrop for Noah Kahan’s Stick Season tour. There’s just one problem – we’re in Florida. While most Jacksonville residents can wholly relate to the idea of “masochistic” weather, it’s probably not for the same reasons the Vermont singer-songwriter was imagining when writing his song “Homesick.” After what felt like an especially brutal summer, it was as if Mother Nature herself was on Kahan’s payroll when the first cold front of the season blew in the very weekend before the show, providing much needed relief from the grueling heat and letting the locals pretend they were in New England for a little while. Temperatures that dropped below 60 on the night of the show had the line that formed outside of VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena looking like a sea of boots and flannel.
After the impressive release of his 2022 album Stick Season and the highly acclaimed deluxe reissue Stick Season (We’ll All Be Here Forever) in June of 2023, Kahan’s summer tour was extended. New date after new date was added as the original shows continued to sell out and, eventually, Florida was added to the list with a Jacksonville stop scheduled at Daily’s Place. Once demand was recalculated during pre-sale, the venue was upgraded to the higher capacity VyStar Arena. Even though the move doubled the available tickets, the show sold out.
Over 11,000 concertgoers packed VyStar when the doors opened at 6:30PM. Following the sole opening act by fellow singer-songwriter Samia, the floor was buzzing with positive energy as fans laughed and traded friendship bracelets while they waited for the headliner to take the stage. On either side of the stage, large screens displayed the text “Take action to support mental health” between sets. The message, with accompanying QR code, was in connection with The Busyhead Project, a fund started by Kahan that aims to increase awareness surrounding mental health.
Once showtime neared, the screens and venue faded to black. Warm lights shining through the drum and piano risers cast an orange glow to reveal the silhouettes of each band member, followed by Kahan, as they took their places. “Northern Attitude,” the popular opening track from Stick Season, also took first position on the set. Kahan took multiple pauses between songs to talk to the crowd, thanking them for their support and even taking a moment to accept a few friendship bracelets thrown to him from the pit. Jacksonville, the singer explained, was a milestone for him. Not only was it the hometown show for most of his band, it was his first headlining show in Florida. The setlist continued on, consisting almost entirely of tracks from the titular album. The majority of the deluxe album would be played by the time the show was through. “False Confidence” from Kahan’s 2019 debut album Busyhead was the only track not on Stick Season to make the set. While some of Kahan’s music is somewhat upbeat with catchy choruses like that of “False Confidence,” the majority of Stick Season has been described as depressing. After the lighter 2019 track, Kahan pulled out all of the stops to hit the audience with some of his saddest songs back to back. “Call Your Mom” and “You’re Gonna Go Far” were already getting some tears flowing in the crowd, but arguably the most emotional of the album came next with “Orange Juice.” The narrative track introduces two characters who have grown apart following trauma caused by an accident. As one wrestles with apparent guilt and anger over the situation while on the road to sobriety, the other struggles with loss as they grieve the person they once knew. As the first few words rang out over the crowd, orange lights flickered on throughout the entire arena. A fan organized project distributed small slips of colored paper that could be placed over a phone flashlight to create the effect. The unity of the crowd in that moment compounded the already heavy lyrics, creating an emotional peak, or more appropriately valley, for the evening.
Right after throwing the crowd into the metaphorical trenches, Kahan yanked them back out with fan favorite “Dial Drunk” to close the regular set. After affectionately referring to him as Folk Malone, fans everywhere were ecstatic when a version of “Dial Drunk” featuring Post Malone was released earlier this year. Since then the track has only grown in popularity and was a fitting final song. Calls for an encore were met with three more songs to follow, including “The View Between Villages,” “Homesick,” and the extremely popular titular track “Stick Season.”
When asked in an interview with Genius about the album Stick Season, Kahan previously expressed feelings that the songs may not resonate with those who grew up outside of New England. Even though references to the harsh winters and the literal stick season experienced by those up north may not be so relevant to the rest of us, the overarching themes explored throughout the album have clearly struck chords in people across the country. Even in Florida, the American antithesis to Vermont, Noah Kahan sold out an arena to over 11,000 fans who came out to scream along to every word.