The ocean in Seaside Heights, NJ, this misty Friday, August 20, 2021 evening is a vibrant blue. Although the sun is beginning to set in the west, it still illuminates the white, sandy beach where country music fans are streaming in for a live concert by the New Jersey-based country duo, Williams Honor.
Williams Honor is comprised of vocalist Reagan Richards and singer/guitarist/composer Gordon Brown. As a youngster, Richards performed on the Steve Allen Radio Show, and went on to sing with such established musicians as Les Paul, Joan Jett, and Lisa Loeb. Brown toured and recorded with a number of bands including Mr. Reality, Samhill, and Highway 9. After spending time in Nashville writing, recording, and working with other artists, in 2014 the pair met at a benefit for Hurricane Sandy victims and Williams Honor was born.
The duo’s eponymous first album was released in 2015. In 2018, they had their first MusicRow Country Breakout hit with “No Umbrella,” the same year they were chosen by another Jersey band, Bon Jovi, to open the group’s sold-out performance at New York’s Madison Square Garden. In 2020, Williams Honor dropped their newest single, “Step,” and their latest album is scheduled to be released this Fall.
As music lovers wait for tonight’s concert to begin, we step backstage to chat with WH’s Gordon Brown who says, “Tonight, we’ll be doing a lot of songs from our first record, in addition to some from our upcoming album, Ex.” Revealing, “It’s a ‘break-up album,” Brown explains, “but it’s not coming from a place of weakness or sadness. Rather, it’s coming from a position of empowerment where the idea is: ‘You’re behind me, not in front of me.’”
“In addition,” continues Brown, “we’ll be doing our latest single, ‘Step,’ for all of our ‘WH Army’ fans and, interspersed among the originals, we’ll do a few cover songs by artists like Lady A, Luke Combs, and Miranda Lambert.”
When asked how he would describe Williams Honor’s unique brand of “Jersey Country,” Brown replies, “I’d describe it as almost E Street-ish. We have seven people in the band, so there’s this massive sound — with clean Telecasters and vocal harmonies — plus the stories of country music.” With regards to playing a live concert here in Seaside Heights following a year mainly filled with streaming performances on the internet, Brown contends, “Reigniting country music right here on the Jersey Shore is something that’s key for us to do.”
A misty fog rolls in as the sun sets, turning the sky pink and orange behind dark gray clouds. A series of speakers dots the seascape, extending the sound of pre-concert recorded music to the beach and beyond to the boardwalk and enticing curious passers-by to join all of the music lovers already situated in the sand.
Here, we take a moment to chat with several on the beach including a number of “WH Army” fans like Jerry from Howell who tells us, “I love Williams Honor; I’ve been a fan since the beginning.” Recalling, “I’ve followed Gordon in three different bands: Mr. Reality, Samhill, and Highway 9,” Jerry notes, “and we just saw Gordon and Reagan perform together last week on the Seaside Heights boardwalk as a part of Big Joe Henry’s Variety Show.”
Adds Lynn from Forked River, “I love both Gordon and Reagan! They’re great, individually and together. We’ve seen them a number of times, but you can’t beat seeing them right here on the beach!”
Renee from Toms River echoes Lynn’s thoughts when she asserts, “We’re fans of the beach and anyone who plays on the beach! As long as our feet are in the sand, we’re happy!” before concluding, “The sun goes down, the lights come up, and it’s a great free event — what else could you ask for?”
Lastly, we chat with Andrea from Toms River who reveals, “The last time I saw Willams Honor was in a small bar in Asbury Park, and I’m really looking forward to hearing them perform together right here on the beach!”
JerseyShoreCountry.com radio DJ Captain Jack takes the stage stating, “Jersey doesn’t like country. Is that true?” to which the crowd responds with an emphatic “No!” Announcing, “Here’s a group that really knows how to put on a show,” Jack introduces tonight’s headliners by asking, “Are you ready? Ladies and gentlemen, Williams Honor!”
As Gordon Brown and the band launch into WH’s country-rocker, “I Can’t Wait to Be Ashamed,” Reagan Richards makes her entrance inquiring, “How you doin’ tonight?” Her rich alto with a country twang rings out as she sings, “I can’t wait to be ashamed/I’ll go out, take no blame/Ain’t no way you boys’ll be the same/I can’t wait to be ashamed,” and attracts even more people from the boardwalk onto the beach where the music vibe is happening.
Kids happily dance on their blankets to the appealing Williams Honors’ sound.
“Seaside Heights, you look great!” exclaims Brown, before explaining, “That last one was from our upcoming record.” WH continues with a mix of songs including “Gun Powder and Lead,” a Miranda Lambert cover on which Richards invites audience members to move closer to the stage to dance. The group follows up with a number which Richards describes as “a little tune I wrote” called “Safe” where Brown’s smooth vocal tone blends with Richard’s powerful cutting edge voice, and some audience members can even be seen doing a country two-step in the sand to the sounds of strumming guitars.
Declares Reagan at the end, “That song was about being shy, but we don’t want you to be shy!”
A highlight of tonight’s show is WH’s rendition of “Loser.” Jokes Richards, “Everyone here knows someone who’s a loser! We want you to clap your feet and stomp your hands on this song which kicks off our first record.” Audience members respond to this swamp-rockin’ country tune where Reagan sings with gusto, “You’re a loser/An abuser/Just a loser,” holding out the notes long and clear with impressive breath support as the moon glows pink and the mist rolls in off the ocean.
A driving country beat characterizes Williams Honor’s cover of Luke Combs’ “Lovin’ On You,” before Richards sings lead with three-part harmony on Brown’s composition, “Stand Here Waiting,” a country-rock number which features back-up singer Emily Grove and multiple resonating guitars.
Richards says, “This next song is dedicated to someone who has been there for you,” and she and Brown share a lead vocal on “Learned To Walk” from Ex, their voices deftly complimenting one another much to the delight of the cheering crowd.
“Ransom Note” has a Band Perry-like articulated melody along with shuffling twangy guitars, whereas “Trapped” opens with a percussive guitar ostinato with overlaid synth sounds that get audience members clapping along on this hypnotic arrangement of a Bruce Springsteen song.
“Mr. Reality fans know this one!” declares Richards, and the crowd cheers when Brown begins to sing the rhythmic “Waiting For September.” Richards joins in before Brown looks out at the full moon over the water and exclaims, “What a joy singing that song with the August moon!”
Another highlight of the evening is Williams Honor’s performance of their latest single, “Step.” Explains Richards, “The first line is ‘Get up!’ so we want to see a lot of you stepping up on the Jersey Shore beach!” Singing, “Left/Left/Left-Right/Left,” WH fans dance in the sand in front of the bandstand and Richards and Emily Grove parade around the stage as a banjo adds it’s plucky voice to this infectious country rocker.
At the conclusion, the crowd cheers and Brown remarks, “Nice job, Reagan — and let’s hear it for the Williams Honor Army!”
After acknowledging, “It feels great to be in front of live people again,” Richards and WH perform Highway 9’s “Tug of War.” Singing, “The memories we made that you can’t forget/The tears break like waves/And our words wash away in the sand,” the duo’s undeniable chemistry can be seen, heard, and felt by the beach crowd on this rhythmic country-rocker.
Richards’ voice is spotlighted on “Mama Please,” a lively tune which features soulful and funky banjo playing and driving distorted electric guitars. After Brown is featured on the Lady A cover, “What If I Never Get Over You,” he trades licks as dueling electric guitars light up “Let’s Stay Up All Night and Fight,” a country-rocker with a funky vibe that segues into Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” and its sustained multi-part vocal harmonies.
Richards publicly thanks both the members of the band and the audience when she says, “We’re honored to have these guys playing with us and honored to have you here,” adding, “This song ends our first record fittingly.” Here, Richards and Brown slow things down for their engaging ballad, “Say Goodbye,” before ending the show with, among others, a boardwalk-and-beach shattering rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” where Richards’ vocal power and control dazzle the crowd, and a live rendition of the group’s MusicRow-charting country hit, “No Umbrella.”
As we make our way off of the misty beach and back onto the boardwalk, we talk with several audience members who share their reactions to tonight’s concert with us.
First, we chat with Richard and Vicki from Whiting. Says Richard,“I’ve been a fan of Williams Honor from the beginning. We were there when they opened at Madison Square Garden for Bon Jovi, and we always come every time they play at the beach.” Continuing, “Reagan and Gordon play a wide variety of music, and they’re also really nice folks,” Richard further adds, “I loved everything about tonight — both their music and their personalities.”
Vicki from Whiting agrees, commenting, “And I loved the new songs they played tonight; all of them were really good!”
Next, we chat with Dan, Bethany, and Joseph, a family from Fair Lawn. Explains Dan, “We’re here for the weekend. When we heard an announcement on the boardwalk about tonight’s show, we decided to come down to the beach and listen, and we all really enjoyed it!” Son Joseph, 6 — who is grasping a lemonade cup — agrees. Clarifies mom, Bethany, “Joseph loves music. He really likes the beat, and he likes to dance. Tonight, his boogie board became his stage and his lemonade cup was his microphone!”
Lastly, we chat with Kiresten and Johnny from Connecticut. Declares Kiresten, “I really enjoyed this concert! Before tonight, we weren’t familiar with Williams Honor, but they played a really good variety of music. Between the full moon and the music, it was just a beautiful night!”
Johnny concurs, adding, “We’re here on vacation and we heard the music and came down to enjoy it on the beach.” Exclaiming, “It was awesome — Williams Honor is really amazing!” Johnny concludes by proclaiming, “I wish they had concerts like this everywhere! It was so cool — I wish they would have played all night long!”
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