Pam Tillis’ Acoustic Set Shines on Country Music Roots

Pam Tillis Trio v1
Pam Tillis Trio v1

The only thing missing during last evening’s performance by Pam Tillis was the fireplace to go along with her fireside chat and show.  It was that comfortable.  She was accompanied by budding music professionals in their twenty-somethings, Haley Sullivan – keys/guitar/vocals and Apple Valley native, Aria Stiles – fiddle/mandolin/vocals. These two gals have that Belmont University acumen and skillset, for just such an occasion.

pam tillis closeup image of her playing guitar at paramount center for the arts
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J. Allen Wood – Music in Minnesota/Pam Tillis shares great stories of life in the music biz

The Show Must Go On

And it goes without saying that the legend of Pam’s father, Mel Tillis, also accompanied her in every way—something she acknowledges and is proud of.  His streak of 60 albums, however, is a bar few will ever match, not that she’s trying.  She is still raw from the recent wound of his death in November.  But much like the character in her tune, “Don’t Tell Me What to Do,” she’s a big girl and is pushing through the struggle.  She also pushed through not feeling well, her showbiz DNA that says ‘the show must go on.’

And though her father’s legacy is alive and well, the very long road she has paved for herself is what brought her to St. Cloud’s Paramount Center for the Arts, where she played two shows for an enamored base of fans who love her indelible 90’s era music.

fiddle player aria stiles showcases her talent with pam tillis in st. cloud minnesota
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J. Allen Wood – Music in Minnesota/Fiddle player Aria Stiles showcases her talent with Pam Tillis

An alert young artist would do well to observe her stage presence and finesse around her fan base, and how she takes time for autographs (‘like daddy always did’) and small group photos during intermission and the post-concert wrap-up.  This personal engagement with an artist seems harder to come by in these days of streaming music.

The concert was filled with poignant anecdotes. Tillis told stories about napping in her father’s guitar case as a child as he wrote songs for a publishing company and shared her memories about his life with the queen of country comedy, Minnie Pearl. Her gracious song, “Two Dollar Hat” celebrates those memories and Minnie’s important influence on her father’s career.  Hanging around such country music royalty has undoubtedly played a factor in her quick-witted thought process and personal songwriting.

Pam’s Paternal Instincts Kick In

The audience was pleased by these personal reflections as Tillis transitioned into her popular hits such as “Let That Pony Run” and the hand-clapping “Cleopatra.”  She had the audience in stitches after explaining her mother-hen warnings to her young protégés. She cautioned them about the deeper motivations of single guys while out on tour.

This was further explained with her 2007 release “Train Without a Whistle,” a metaphor about guys who she describes as “fixer-uppers.”

This performance was an acoustic set without a rhythm section, and it offered a slightly less commercial version than what audiences are accustomed to on the radio. Seeing raw talent in its beautiful natural state can be refreshing.  Pam is an accomplished guitarist, adding stylized drop D keys and manipulations to match a song’s emotional color.  Haley and Aria had opportunities to shine in their own right, with their three-part harmonies and instrumental digressions.

musician haley sullivan backs up pam tillis on keys and vocals on stage in st. cloud, minnesota
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J. Allen Wood – Music in Minnesota/Haley Sullivan backs up Pam Tillis on keys and vocals

Pam Tillis is a take-me-as-I-am kind of woman who forgives herself for performance imperfections.  Her easy-going nature affords easy forgiveness from her audience.  She commonly asks her backup band ‘is that the right key?’  And if it’s not, she’ll stop and get in the right key.  It’s all good.  No worries.

What’s Next

If someone is new to Pam Tillis and her legacy, she will be touring elsewhere this year as part of the Grits and Glamour show she does with her pal Lorrie Morgan, as well as the Chicks with Hits gig with Terri Clark and Suzy Bogguss.  Also, she is working on a new album that is likely to include a song inspired by her time at brother Sonny Tillis’ vineyard.  She affectionately shared the tune, called “Last Summer’s Wine,” with her beloved fans in St. Cloud.

Written by J. Allen Wood

I switched gears from a successful 20-plus year truck driving career to a more interesting digital media field after finishing my BFA in New Media at Indiana University South Bend in May 2016, complemented by minors in creative writing, marketing, and business management. I am pleased to put my creativity to use during this digital renaissance as a casual music photojournalist, when I’m not creating digital or music content in my small studio.

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