No danger of Steve Earle faithful losing their religion in Bangor
Steve Earle: Open House Festival, Bangor Abbey
It was very much of a case of the preacher and the congregation last night.
Steve Earle - the original country folk troubadour - took to the stage in the grand ecclesiastical backdrop of Bangor Abbey to a sold-out crowd as part of the annual Open House Festival.
And while some 400,000 country fans were left dejected following news stadium-filling US giant Garth Brooks had pulled out of his Dublin shows, the real, raw, and ragged-edged voice of Americana was on stage last night to a crowd of just hundreds.
Now grey-bearded and balding, Earle began the set with with a new, unreleased track, before starting into a deluge of his back-catalogue with a rapturous crowd response to tracks such as I Ain't Ever Satisfied.
With swathes of religious iconography, bathed only in candlelight, many of his finger-picked songs reverberated around the church with an ethereal, haunting quality.
Last year Steve returned to Belfast following the release of The Low Highway – supported by the latest incarnation of his band, the Dukes and Duchesses.
This time he was back to a one-man show.
The backdrop couldn't have been more apt, with Steve Earle's mixture of solemn storyteller and a touch of the old firebrand preacher evolving through the course of the performance.
The 59-year-old has had his ups and downs over the years, whether it be drink, drugs or numerous failed marriages, but when flowing in his inimitable prophet-like guise, he's hard to beat.
Amid stories of his former days of abuse in its many guises, and anecdotes about his dear friend and fellow musician Townes Van Zandt, he gradually built rapport with the crowd.
And you could hear a pin drop during the most intimate moments.
“I'm probably pushing it with this one,” he said as he broke into Tom Ames Prayer – a surprisingly uplifting direct plea to God by a man facing execution.
His guitar pickup cuts out halfway through - “See?” he responded.
The subtly and nuances of tracks such as Valentine's Day, Goodbye and CCKMP were given an unbelievably intimate platform, along the classics that made his name in the early days of the club circuit.
Of course, he played Galway Girl - the man's calling card for those unfamiliar with his work – performed on the mandolin, before drawing things to a close with the booze-fuelled lyrics of Copperhead Road.
Steve Earle has always been embraced in Northern Ireland with a die-hard reverence, normally associated with senior men of the cloth.
Last night, Bangor was no different.