Stick season is approaching and Noah Kahan is here to invite us into his woodland world with the ease of just the strum of his guitar. The New England native got his start in his home state of Vermont, later residing in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts while his career began reaching new heights. Only age 25, Kahan’s recent soar in success set him playing to a sold out crowd of 5,400 at Boston’s new premier music venue attached to Fenway Park, the MGM Music Hall.
With three albums and two EPs under his belt, Kahan has built a grassroots fan base after getting discovered on SoundCloud at 17 and signing to Republic Records at 18. Currently he boasts streaming numbers of nearly 8 million and his third LP, Stick Season, is the number 14 album in the entire country and has sold 21,000 records to date. Released on October 14, Stick Season finds Kahan truly embracing his love for folk music, without the pop-centric embellishments he leaned towards in his preceding albums. It is the first album in Kahan’s catalog that he co-produced, and leans completely in the direction of folk. With a killer 4-piece band that includes Boston natives and Berklee graduates, the sounds of Stick Season are fully brought to life and encapsulate the quintessence and charm of life in New England.
Prior to taking to the stage, Kahan posted earlier in the day on his Instagram stories, “Boston I have been waiting for this show my entire life. See you tonight”. With the help of TikTok sending the title track into a viral frenzy, the artist was quickly established as one of the year’s biggest breakout acts. Emerging singer-songwriter Adam Melchor opened up the show, following the release of his second LP, Here Goes Nothing!, on October 21st and prepped the crowd for a night full of lively folk and special sentiments.
As Kahan and band took the stage at 9:10, the audience was palpably yearning for his presence. Opening the set with Busyhead hit “False Confidence,” followed by newer track “All My Love,” the energy in the room was tangible as all 5,000 people screamed with a force that shook the floor. “Boston, Massachusetts!” he proclaimed with a jubilant smile. “There are so many people here, holy hell. There’s endless people here. New England, I’m happy to be back home. Thank you for being here. My name is Noah Kahan, I’ve been called the Jewish Ed Sheeran,” he joked with the crowd before jumping into “Everything, Everywhere”.
The pure astonishment Kahan displayed was carried with him throughout the show, and often resulted in dumbstruck expletives or stepping back to take it all in. “I have a feeling this is gonna be one of the best nights of my life,” he repeated many times throughout the show. Some artists contain an inherent magical quality, and Kahan has truly tuned into his. The crowd often sang louder than the band, especially on Boston-oriented tracks like “Homesick,” and “Mess”. “Northern Attitude”, the album’s opening track, comes in as the midpoint of his setlist, and provides one of the most memorable moments of the night as the entirety of the venue shouts Kahan’s lyrics (“Forgive my northern attitude/Oh, I was raised out in the cold”) with a fervent passion that reinstates how close to home these sentiments are. “New England, that one was for you all the way baby”. Claiming to lose his voice, he does not fret because the crowd has it covered. “I’m losing my voice but it sounds like you guys might know the words to these songs,” he smiled. Later, after the epic “Homesick,” an ode to his Vermont roots and calls on Boston, he stated, “You guys blew my eardrums out so I’m gonna be incredibly flat on this next song, fair warning”. It is undoubtedly the most lively track in the set, while it equally compels emotion and feels like a collective experience that is being shared. It is difficult to create that sense of intimacy with thousands of people, but Kahan does it effortlessly.
Mental health and loneliness are common themes woven throughout Kahan’s catalog. With cunning lyricism, and a type of raw sincerity we don’t often find in popular music today, the fundamentals of which Stick Season was created unravel Kahan to his core, for audience consumption. The relatability that results has established the artist and connected him deeper with his devoting fan base, who eagerly sing back at him at unprecedented volumes. The concept of stick season, the time of year where trees are bare and the sun disappears from the sky, often results in a bleak mindset and outbursts of depression. Kahan cleverly spun that into a harrowing tale of redemption and optimism that results in an outburst of raw emotion.
“I started going to therapy when I was twelve years old,” he admitted to the crowd halfway through the show. “I would go and I would talk around all my problems. I wouldn’t say anything to the guy, I’d just talk about anything I wanted to talk about… I got older and a couple of years ago I started going to therapy and acting trying to deal with some of these issues. Gotta take care of this mess going on here,” he joked. “I wrote a song about how I felt before when I was kind of just kicking the can down the road, and wasn’t learning anything new about myself. It’s called ‘Growing Sideways’,” he introduced one of the most earnest songs on his new record, before adding, “There are five thousand people in this room and I don’t care how happy you are. I think you should all be in therapy. I think it’d be good for you. Y’all need therapy, alright.” While presented as lighthearted, the sincerity in his admissions contributes to breaking the stigma around mental health, especially with men. This only adds to Kahan’s charm and emphasizes his focus on empathetic emotions. His music is like a lifeline for people experiencing the same feverous feelings, and he articulates his feelings and experiences so eloquently.
Kahan and his band are a dynamic and powerful force, clearly designed to bring these songs to life on stage, of course in front of a forest backdrop. “New Perspective” proved itself as a stellar live track, utilizing the full band and giving ample opportunity to jam out and also showcases Kahan’s dry humor (“The intersection got a Target/ And they’re calling it downtown”). Other highlights include “Glue Myself Shut,” “Orange Juice,” and “Youngblood,” all in which fans scream with conviction. The crowd varied in age, yet it did not dictate who poured their love back to Kahan on the stage. People of all ages knew even the newest songs word for word, and cheered with conviction. Older and newer fans alike, Kahan’s fandom is visibly strong. Not often do you witness this kind of intense, high energy reaction to a folk singer, which is a remarkable testament to his music.
Only moments after walking off stage, cries for an encore began at nearly deafening volumes. The entirety of the venue shook with vibration and admiration for the singer. Emerging back on stage minutes later, Kahan was clearly taken aback by the sheer amount of love being propelled his way. After bearing his soul on an album he created in his mother’s house in the midst of quarantine, any feelings of that isolation or loneliness vanished before his eyes. “Boston we have three more songs for you all. I don’t want it to end though,” he said. “This has been one of the best nights of my life. Thank you so much… There are people here who have been riding with me for a long time. Three years ago I played to a venue of three hundred people in this city. And I hope you guys are here when I play for ten thousand next time. I love you guys so much. The best fans in the entire world y’all”.
The opening of Stick Seasons’ closing track, “The View Between Villages,” begins his encore in an utterly haunting, chill-raising echo. Kahan penned the track to reflect the drive to his home in Strafford, Vermont, and the emotional impact returning home often has on him. He sings, “I am not scared, I’ve got dreams again,” reflecting on the progress he has made. The song’s build up has a satisfying pay off, and proves it is a track that is truly meant to be performed live and shared with an audience who can so strongly relate to the seclusion small town New England can bring. After much anticipation, Kahan performed the viral sensation and album namesake, “Stick Season”. This moment was unlike any other point during the show, and absolutely brought the house down. His love, gratitude and state of awe was so apparent, that it moved the crowd to a raw state of unabashed emotion. The song exemplifies Kahan’s mastery of this difficult and poignant kind of lyricism as he has perfectly recreated the universal feelings of being left behind.
2019 hit “Mess” closes out the show on a high note, with Kahan introducing the track, “This next song is about taking the highway to Boston. And I’m telling ya this much- it ain’t fucking 93 dude. It’s 89 and you get on 93. You guys are always in my DMs saying ‘you don’t go on 89 to Boston’. Well I go on 89 to Boston!” he laughed. “Boston, I love you. This song is called Mess.” Reflecting back on the set, fans scattered throughout the venue could be heard gushing about what they just experienced and how it was one for the books. Kahan, clearly feeling the same way, took to Instagram early the next morning to once again call it the best night of his life. If the success of this show and his album response is any indication, Noah Kahan is well on his way to global superstardom. The entirety of the Stick Season Tour is officially sold out, including not one, but four upcoming shows in Burlington, Vermont. New England raised him well, and the environment that shaped him will live on in his music forever.