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Eli Young Band and others go acoustic for pared-down show at the VooDoo

Mike Eli and his Eli Young Band were among three acts at the “Acoustic Christmas” benefit for the Salvation Army Wednesday at the VooDoo.
Mike Eli and his Eli Young Band were among three acts at the “Acoustic Christmas” benefit for the Salvation Army Wednesday at the VooDoo. Special to The Star

Wednesday’s show at the VooDoo was an acoustic showcase, a cast of modern-country performers showing off their singing and songwriting chops for a good cause: Proceeds went to the Salvation Army, which rang no bells this evening but, thanks to a $10-a-person gate, clearly benefited from a crowd that approached 900.

The headliner, if there was one, was the Eli Young Band, a modern-country/rock troupe from Denton, Texas. The co-headliner was supposed to be Maren Morris, a country newcomer who this week scored four Grammy nominations, including one for best new artist. The nominations were announced Monday.

Unfortunately (or “coincidentally”), the day after her Grammy nominations, Morris informed the VooDoo that she would have to miss the show because she wasn’t feeling well. Dang the luck.

In her absence, the rest of the lineup delivered nearly 90 minutes of modern-country reverie, most of it delivered on acoustic guitars by guys sitting on bar stools, evoking a shoot-the-bull, campfire style.

Wednesday’s show was dubbed “An Acoustic Christmas,” though it included no holiday music. It was delivered in an “in the round” presentation. Each of the three groups or performers took a turn. The stage was populated solely with men, 12 in total, all of them part of the other three acts: the Young band; Love and Theft; and Jackie Lee, a country upstart with a few singles, but no albums, under his belt.

Perhaps because of the show’s stripped-down, informal spirit, much of the VooDoo crowd treated it as if the performers were providing background music. There were bursts of applause and recognition, especially during Young’s set, which included “Always the Love Songs,” “Saltwater Gospel” and “Crazy Girl.” He also paid tribute to Morris, performing her hit “ ’80s Mercedes.”

Most of the songs were about love and heartache, like Love and Theft’s “Candyland” and “Runnin’ Out of Air.” The mood got serious during “Whiskey on My Breath,” a song about sobriety and addiction that includes the verse: “I ain’t afraid of dying / But what scares me to death / Is meeting Jesus / With whiskey on my breath.”

Lee apologized a couple of times for having material most people wouldn’t recognize, but he aroused some noise and scattered singing during “Leave the Light On,” a libidinous number with lyrics that recall Randy Newman’s “Leave Your Hat On”: “Baby take off that dress / Take off your high-heel shoes / Now take off the rest.”

Young closed the show with another of his hits, “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” a song about pursuing dreams, no matter the obstacles and disappointments along the way. He fused that with Tom Petty’s “Learning to Fly,” a song with a similar lyrical theme. The crowd, which took Morris’ absence in stride but seemed only half-engaged for much of the show, gave that song one of the evening’s loudest singalongs.

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain