An Old-Time Revival

Patrick Davis and the Midnight Choir preach the gospel at The Evening Muse this month.

Camden, S.C. native and University of South Carolina alum Patrick Davis isn’t a minister. But he can turn a stage into a pulpit and fire up the faithful—and the faithless—like an old-time evangelist.

His concerts at The Evening Muse in NoDa have always felt like something of a tent revival, albeit a slightly profane one. (One of his signature songs, “Big Ole Cock,” is about the Gamecocks of Columbia, S.C.—but fans belt it out with a knowing grin.)

Since he formed a full band—and christened them the Midnight Choir—in early 2016, he’s taken his ordination to a new level. The group, which includes his father, Rusty Davis, sister, Megan Davis Campbell, and various friends, dresses up in what passes at a bar for their Sunday best.

But these are no choir boys. Davis’ stories (and he is a master storyteller) occasionally focus on randy men and their quest for, well, let’s call it love. (One song praises “her perfect you-know-what.”)

And yet, Davis and company always play “Amazing Grace” and “People Get Ready” with the fervor you’d expect from the AME Zion choir. The band’s also been known to do a rocking version of the gospel classic “I’ll Fly Away.” Davis’ shows have the feverish intensity of a charismatic Baptist convention…but the raw energy of a rockabilly concert.

Davis’ on-stage banter is as engaging and assured as his songwriting. He admits there may be some exaggeration in his stories but swears there’s “at least a hint of truth” to every yarn he spins.

He’ll make you laugh one minute (his story about meeting Jimmy Buffett, who recorded one of Davis’ songs, gets a little more outlandish with each retelling) and get weepy the next. Davis’ song “Numbers,” is about how numbers— like the date his younger brother brother died in a car accident—that used to mean nothing suddenly “mean everything.”

Davis and his dad manage to get through the song without crying. But I’ve yet to.

Doing 72 in a 65 on I-24 in a four-wheel drive.

Got a 10 o’clock on 16th Ave.

And there’s a 30 percent chance of rain all week.

And the high today is gonna be 83.

Playing ‘Highway 20 Ride’ on 102.5

An 18-wheeler by my side …

Many of Davis’ songs are about family and his small-town roots. (“Summer in the South,” “Life’s the People that You Love,” “Where I’m From” are just a few.) He counts Bruce Springsteen among his influences—but was also influenced by his USC education. “Songs of the Civil Rights Movement” was the title of his senior thesis.

Before he became a touring musician, Davis wrote songs a lot of other artists recorded. Lady Antebellum did “The Love I Found in You.” Davis’ friend Darius Rucker had a hit with a song they co-write—“Be Wary of a Woman.” And Jewel has recorded 12 songs she and Davis co-wrote.

He didn’t always want to be a musician. He played sports until he was age 16. But, music was in his DNA: His dad’s always been a guitar player, and his mom sang in the church choir. But Davis discovered something when he first picked up a guitar: “The female population likes it when you play guitar,” he says. “Suddenly, pretty girls who’d never paid me any attention began to notice me. It was a game-changer.”

But he needed to see the world—or at least his corner of it—to be able to write about life outside his un-air-conditioned Southern home. He got an education on the road after his formal education at USC. “My Harvard and Yale were smoky bars from the Carolinas to Key West,” he says. There, he continued to write, but also discovered a talent for connecting with people. That’s now the thing—even more than songwriting—that sustains him. “We all want a connection,” he says. His audience is always in communion with him.

That audience connection it so important to Davis that he continues to play The Evening Muse, even though he could play much bigger venues. He’s taken to doing two shows on back-to-back nights to maintain the intimacy with his audience. He says, “I want everyone to feel like they’re part of something.”

Going to a Patrick Davis concert is more than being part of something; it’s like being baptized into the South’s most raucous church.

 Learn more at patrickdavismusic.com. Buy tickets online for Patrick Davis’ Jan. 13 and 14 shows at www.eveningmuse.com. Like a Baptist “Pack a Pew Night,” Davis’ shows are known to sell out in advance.