Colter Wall at The Mystic Theatre, by William Wayland
Colter Wall (photo: William Wayland)

Cattle still graze and the town still has a livestock auction yard. Petaluma still has a feed mill and the grain elevator is the tallest structure in town.

When Colter Wall played the historic Mystic Theatre on Saturday, there were so many men in cowboy hats you could have mistaken it for Mr. Wall’s hometown of Swift Current, Saskatchewan instead of a North Bay suburb of San Francisco.

Which is good, because Colter Wall sings cowboy songs. Not kitschy, Gene-Autry cowboy songs. Honest-to-goodness Western songs that could have been strummed on a distant range a hundred and fifty years ago.  Except they weren’t, not with songs about shot up Camaros and drug addicts looking for a score.

It helps that Colter Wall’s voice is from another era, too. There’s no way he’s only 23 years old. With an earnest baritone like Johnny Cash, he makes you think he’s lived these songs. When he sings “I put three rounds into Kate McCannon,” you think, Isn’t anyone going to investigate?

The cowboys at the Mystic on Saturday weren’t the strong silent types, though. I didn’t mind the occasional shout or the excited whoop. It’s the loud talking I could have done without, and maybe the drunks could have taken the fight outside.

Texas folk singer Vincent Neil Emerson was a welcome addition to the bill.  Almost the opposite of Colter Wall, Mr. Emerson brought a more lighthearted honky-tonk sound to kick off the evening. Petaluma was the last stop on his first West Coast tour.