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Where you read it first | Saturday, June 22, 2024

'Walmart yodeling boy' dazzles Boston with impressive musical talent

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Mason Ramsey performs in Boston's Brighton Music Hall on Oct. 11, 2019.

Mason Ramsey, the now 12-year-old “Walmart yodeling boy,” brought some twang with him to Boston’s Brighton Music Hall last Friday night. After a video of him singing Hank Williams’ “Lovesick Blues” in a southern Illinois Walmart went viral in spring 2018, Ramsey launched a rather impressive career. Within just a few weeks of his video landing on the internet, Ramsey appeared on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," performed at the Grand Ole Opry and took the stage at the 2018 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. He has now released the albums “Famous” (2018)and“Twang” (2019), was featured on a remix of Lil Nas X’s record-breaking “Old Town Road” (2019) and lent his voice to "The Angry Birds Movie 2" (2019)

This remarkable list of accomplishments ultimately brought Ramsey to headlining his own 30-date national tour, cleverly taking the title "Hows Ur Girl and Hows Ur Family" from the lyrics of his Billboard-charting debut-single “Famous” (2018). Ramsey sold out the 476-capacity venue for his tour’s only stop in New England, performing for an energetic and excited crowd of teenage girls, college students and men in their mid-twenties drinking lots of beer. Fans were decked out in “yodeling boy” t-shirts, and it was sometimes difficult to see the stage over the sea of cowboy hats lining the crowd. 

Before the main event, concertgoers listened to openers Jenna Paulette and Ernest, who delivered short but fun sets. Paulette sang country songs about love and heartbreak. Ernest, a carefree and relatively unkempt artist who took the stage by putting some White Claw cans on a stool next to him, introduced himself to the crowd as Mason Ramsey and jokingly said it had been a tough year.

The two were a strange pair to open for a 12-year-old country star, and it was clear that the vast majority of the audience was simply there for Ramsey. While performing one of his numbers, Ernest was even interrupted by a rude but honest chant of “Mason” by many of the audience members. In essence, the first half of the night was characterized by fans of all ages in cowboy hats, many of them drunk, anxiously awaiting the appearance of the pre-teen meme and country sensation who had promised to yodel and sing love songs for everyone. It felt like we were all in on the same joke, but also that no one was kidding.

Once Mason Ramsey finally took the stage, it was obvious that his performance and his career were indeed no laughing matter. After seeing live videos of his performances on Instagram and YouTube, I was honestly a bit worried about what to expect from his live singing abilities. Yet, he hit practically every note and amazed the audience with his smooth voice and impressive vocal stamina. His yodeling was even more extraordinary, bending his voice in a way that left audience members overcome with awe. He has the kind of voice that just cannot be properly captured with amateaur recording devices, which seem to distort the sound of his high-pitched singing. 

Ramsey wore his classic cowboy attire: blue jeans, a blue collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up, cowboy boots, a black cowboy hat and his iconic belt buckle. He started off his set with “The Way I See It” (2018) off “Famous,” going on to perform all but two songs of his 38-minute discography. 

He performed his hits “How Could I Not” (2019), “Puddle of Love” (2019), “Twang” (2019) and “Famous,” bringing the entire crowd to a roar over his rendition of “Old Town Road.” He also played a variety of covers by Hank Williams and Johnny Cash; one of which was of course Williams' “Lovesick Blues” (1922), the song that launched his career. He introduced his performances of other Hank Williams covers, such as “Hey Good Lookin’” (1951) and “Jambalaya (On The Bayou)” (1952), by explaining that he grew up listening to Williams with his grandfather and that Williams has always been his biggest inspiration.

At one point, Ramsey took off and hung up his cowboy hat, not even lasting a minute before instinctively putting it back on again. It seemed as if he was trying to break out of his country, cowboy mold a little bit, but that he was not quite ready to take that leap. His only other noticeable fumbles of the night stemmed from memory troubles, forgetting the name of a co-writer of one of his songs and falling silent in the middle of “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” after forgetting the lyrics. It was moments like these that reminded the audience that this artist singing about love and fame is still just a 12-year-old boy, lacking the seriousness and professionalism of more typical performers. Yet, this was exactly what made Ramsey so lovable and fun for the audience. 

Ramsey owned the fact that he is just a kid while simultaneously exuding a confidence that was shocking compared to the shyness and awkwardness of the kid who first yodeled in Walmart a year ago. He had a commanding stage presence, laughed off his mistakes, made the audience swoon over his adorable dance moves and basketball shot motions, and had everyone begging for an encore. He also seemed to be playing up the meme of his fame while trying to transform into a young heartthrob, having audience members fight for his attention as well as signed t-shirts and guitar picks that he threw into the crowd. 

The night amusingly ended with the venue’s DJ playing a song by Alvin and the Chipmunks, almost as if the audience needed a final reminder of Ramsey’s youth and high-pitched voice. Despite his musical talent and outstanding vocal abilities, it seems that Ramsey has largely been relying on his reputation as a meme to keep fans interested. He has been remarkably successful at turning his viral fame into a career. Yet, his impressive performance this weekend made it very clear to that once his voice develops further, I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts to be taken more seriously among mainstream listeners, no longer needing to rely on the unique humor of his career to attract attention. 

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