Solar Sunday concert wows crowd with Mae Estes backed by Wyatt Putman
Sunday evening at Fair Park’s CMC stage more local talent came to play, this time headliner Mae Estes, a Hope native just named by Country Music Television as one of their 2024 Next Women of Country and Wyatt Putman, a much in-demand Spring Hill purveyor of hard-edged country . Both brought a lot of confirmed fans but surely made new ones with impassioned sets that reminded us how much stellar talent is clustered in our neighborhood. 

Attendees could dine on meals from the Hope Band Concession booth or an Amigo Juan’s food truck while fresh lemonade and kettle corn were also on offer.  People brought their kids, their dogs, their portable chairs and their love for good songwriting, playing and singing as early as an hour before the shows began as the sunlight gentled and music played through onstage speakers. 

After an introduction by Mayor Don Still, Parks Superintendent Summer Chambers and Hope Advertising and Tourism and Promotion Commission Chair Sharon Caldwell, Putman ran on stage. A little trouble with speakers and monitors interrupted his first song and Putman did a bit of talking while the techs worked out the issue. But in just a couple minutes, the sound was righted and Putman and his band unleashed what he called in an interview earlier today “dirt road country,” with the appropriately named “That’s What a Dirt Road’s For.” Putman’s tenor has smooth cement to it, but also nostalgia and pride that really sends songs like “Country Field” up a level. During his set, Putman said he had recently moved back home, found band members and found himself playing as often as he did when living in Nashville. His and his band’s performance made clear why they’re in demand. 

Mae Estes honored us with two hours of energetic, well-sung, well-played magic that was all the more spellbinding for the running autobiographical storytelling between the songs. With that voice, she showed she can do almost anything. There were the rollicking pop-country romps but also the forays into R and B, acoustic folk, traditional country balladry and even British rap (Jessie J’s “Bang Bang”). From the first song to the last, her pipes were strong and she continually used them to evoke awe with surprising turns, rolls and melisma.  I probably said “Whoa” a dozen times. 

It is remarkable now how complete a show Estes can put on. After nine years in Nashville, her performance and her songs portray what she called during the show her “onion personality” that is fun-loving, experienced in life’s highs and lows, reveling in the little details that flavor our days and often devastatingly funny and disarmingly honest. Her song lyrics abound in sparkling wordplay but also arresting images and soul-baring. Her voice seduces but her material keeps you coming back. 

Estes, who played a lot of the new music she will be releasing later this spring, sang the sun down and made sure he was firmly tucked in, ready for his superstar-turn at tomorrow’s tailgate and viewing party at the Hope Municipal Airport as well as the gathering at UAHT.  Bring your special glasses, your sunscreen, your portable chair and crossed fingers (so the clouds don’t impinge) for what could be Arkansans’ best chance to see a total eclipse since 1834.  Gates open, Mayor Still said, at 8:30 a.m.

Photos taken by Ethan Houk & Atlas Scott