This summer, Tim McGraw resurrected the old Joe Stampley/Moe Bandy chart-topper “Just Good Ol’ Boys,” turning it into an anthem for his tour. At the end of each show he invited opening acts Kenny Chesney and Mark Collie to join him onstage for the song.
Playing the last concert of the tour Saturday night (Aug. 25), before a capacity crowd of more than 17,000 at Nashville’s AmSouth Amphitheatre, McGraw got a bonus. For the encore, Stampley and Bandy strolled out to sing with the cast as they brought the curtain down after playing more than 40 cities.
McGraw fell to his knees, bowing repeatedly to the country veterans to signal his respect. In the audience, McGraw’s stepdad, Horace Smith, and country artists Tanya Tucker , Carolyn Dawn Johnson and the Warren Brothers cheered him on.
Staged in their hometown and filmed for a possible TV special, the last show stuck close to the script of the first, back in June, in Albuquerque, N.M. Faith Hill , McGraw’s spouse and occasional duet partner, did not make a surprise appearance. There was little of the horseplay that has become common at the end of a country tour.
That’s not to suggest that fans left disappointed. The singers packed the show with an abundance of hits. Eager to please, the good ol’ boys made good on their promise to entertain. Chesney asked the crowd to check any worries at the door, and the audience seemed to take his request to heart. Many in the jovial crowd stood from beginning to end, responding enthusiastically throughout.
Not everything came from the singers’ own repertoires. Collie opened with a Johnny Cash tribute that included “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Ring of Fire” and “Rock Island Line.” Chesney worked the crowd with a cover of Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right” and appealed to the ladies, in particular, with his rendition of Conway Twitty ’s sexy “Love to Lay You Down.” Appearing suddenly from within the crowd, McGraw opened his set with Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” singing and making his way to the stage amid a heavy security contingent.
Though he performed Twitty’s tune, little else about Chesney’s 12-song set recalled the late Country Music Hall of Famer. Twitty reached audiences without pandering or putting style before substance. Chesney has natural charisma, but relied on concert clichés and pumped-up stage antics to carry the majority of his show. Not content just to accept enthusiastic applause, he appeared to gloat over the reaction he provoked.
Backed by a seven-piece band, Chesney leaned heavily on hits including “Don’t Happen Twice,” “She’s Got It All,” “Fall in Love,” “Me and You,” “I Lost It” and “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.”
McGraw, dressed in tight blue jeans, camouflage shirt and black cowboy hat, played 25 songs – eight in a medley – with his band, the DanceHall Doctors. The maudlin lyrics to “Don’t Take the Girl” were scrolled across giant, wraparound screens behind McGraw. On cue, the audience turned the song into a giant singalong, rivaled only by the crowd participation during “I Like It, I Love It.”
McGraw’s 100 minutes on stage were divided between his older hits and nine songs from his new album, Set This Circus Down, including “Forget About Us” (penned by Collie) and “Grown Men Don’t Cry.” He sang the title track, about leaving the road and settling down, accompanied by candid, compelling video footage of his band, crew and family on tour.
Lines such as “One of these days/We’ll find a piece of ground/Just outside some sleepy little town/And set this circus down” seemed especially poignant in the closing moments of the long tour. “One of these days … ,” the singer teased following the song. “But not as long as you keep coming to see us.”
Without Chesney and Collie in tow, McGraw plays his final summer date Monday (Aug. 27) at the New York State Fair in Syracuse. When tallies are figured, his recent circuit will be one of the biggest country tours of the year. The high-profile outing should earn him an entertainer of the year nod when the Country Music Association reveals its award nominees Tuesday (Aug. 28).