Arlo McKinley with special guest Brandon Laxton at Big Draft Brewing

All Ages
Saturday, August 13
Doors: 7pm
$15

It’s proof that the bad days do get better…It’s proof that love is still alive . . 

In 2019, Arlo McKinley played a show at the High Watt in Nashville. While he had years of such gigs on the DIY singer-songwriter circuit behind him, this night was different. In the audience was one of his musical heroes, John Prine. When they met briefly beforehand, Prine, who never gave praise lightly, told Arlo he was a fan. 

McKinley recalls, “Just that moment, if that’s where it ended, it would’ve been one of the coolest things that ever happened to me, something I remembered forever.” 

But it didn’t end there. Shortly after, he was signed to Oh Boy Records, Prine’s indie label. Arlo came into 2020 with the momentum of a new album on deck – his first with a producer and a street team – and an international tour booked. Then things took a strange turn. 

“Right before the record came out, my mother passed away,” he says. “She had always supported me and she didn’t get to see this stuff happen for me. Then one of my best friends died shortly after. And I lost two other friends to drug addiction. I was trying to navigate through all the emotions of that.” 

And of course, like all musicians that year, he couldn’t tour. 

A soft-spoken introvert who’s open about his past drink and drug addictions, McKinley had to look to himself to find comfort. And in the process, he wrote the songs for what’s become his latest release, the aptly-titled This Mess We’re In. 

When talking about his music, McKinley often uses the word “navigate.” And indeed, the eleven songs on This Mess We’re In feel like compasses to help orient himself in an uncertain world. The opener “I Don’t Mind,” an ode to self-forgiveness that gathers a quiet power through each verse, sets the mood. From the plaintive reckonings of lives in limbo on “City Lights” and “Back Home” to the delicate devastation of “Stealing Dark From The Night Sky” and the catchy, Neil Young-grooved “Rushintherug,” through the gorgeous, widescreen piano-and-strings balladry of the title track and the hymn-like “Here’s To The Dying,” these are songs that take their time revealing their secrets.  They come from deep inside and go deep inside, speaking to you through McKinley’s warm, oaky voice and leaving you a little different than how you came in. They make you feel seen, recognized. 

That feeling is borne out by the many personal letters that Arlo receives from fans.  “When I wonder if I’m doing the right thing or not with my life, these messages make me realize that I am,” he says. 

Music has always had special meaning for McKinley. Born and raised in Cincinnati, he started singing in Baptist church when he was eight. At home, the family record collection included everything from George Jones to Otis Redding. As a teen, inspired by his dad and uncle, who played guitars in church, Arlo learned some power chords and figured out every song on the first Social Distortion album. “From there, I taught myself,” he says.

But a full-time music career was still years away.  Through his twenties and early thirties, he worked at a record store, gigged with a duo called The Great Depression and “dabbled in songwriting.” Weirdly, it wasn’t until he found himself in what seemed like a dead-end job delivering tuxedos that he decided to pursue music. “I did that for years, driving from Cincinnati to Detroit and back, but it gave me a lot of time to think and listen to music. That’s when I started writing the songs that led to up to what I’m doing now.”