Under clear skies in Nashville’s Adelphia Coliseum, the enthusiastic audience at Thursday night’s (June 13) RCA Label Group (RLG) showcase had no reason to complain -– about the weather or about a lack of big stars at Fan Fair.
Brooks & Dunn launched the show with their rousing “Only in America.” To give form to their patriotic excitement, they shot red, white and blue streamers into the crowd. Then the duo moved through a sampling of their hits – “Ain’t Nothing ‘Bout You,” “My Heart Is Lost to You,” “Brand New Man,” “My Maria,” “Mama Don’t Get Dressed Up for Nothing” – before bowing out with “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” and lots and lots and lots of colored confetti. The duo’s good-time, pumped-up sound has influenced contemporary country music as much as Garth Brooks — and they’re still a hoot to watch.
But B&D have nothing on 70-year-old George Jones , who looks as spry as any of today’s country contenders. While others hype the latest single, how refreshing to hear the classic “He Stopped Loving Her Today” from the greatest living country singer in the world. Jones capped a six-song set with “I Don’t Need No Rockin’ Chair.” He darn sure doesn’t.
Sound glitches muted the first verse of Diamond Rio ’s “Unbelievable” and turned “One More Day” into a tribal dance song, with heavy drumbeats emanating from massive speakers and bouncing around the Adelphia walls. The six-man band performed their newest hit, “Beautiful Mess,” and a new song Skip Ewing song, “I Believe,” from an album due in August. Dedicating “One More Day” to those lost in the Sept. 11 attacks, Diamond Rio closed with a sped-up version of their first hit, 1991’s “Meet in the Middle.”
Next, only the big screens around the stadium offered proof that, no, Celine Dion had not dropped in for four songs. Kellie Coffey, enjoying her first country hit with “When You Lie Next to Me,” is a former background vocalist. She clearly has taken cues from her old boss, Barbra -– Streisand, not Mandrell. Coffey is incredibly poised and can sing ballads like there’s no tomorrow. If CMT starts a VH1-style Divas series, she’s a shoo-in. She already has the hand gestures down pat.
Coffey’s style has little in common with Brad Paisley ’s. The West Virginia native keeps it country, and the crowd loves him for it. The instant he stepped on stage, wearing a black T-shirt and cowboy hat, the fans leapt to their feet. Without much stage banter –- and with some pretty hot picking on his paisley Telecaster –- Paisley shot off four hits – “Wrapped Around,” “We Danced,” “Me Neither” and “I’m Gonna Miss Her (The Fishing Song).” Judging from his comfort on stage, Paisley has the goods to outlast his up-and-coming contemporaries.
Though she has shifted to a more pop-leaning sound in recent years, Sara Evans remains a favorite with country fans. During her Fan Fair set there was way too much musical discord going on behind her, but Evans maintained an enjoyable and flirtatious stage presence throughout. She told the Adelphia crowd she is newly pregnant and performed her four most recent singles: “I Keep Looking,” “Saints and Angels,” “I Could Not Ask for More” and “Born to Fly.”
Anybody who doubts that Chesney is ready for the big time truly needs to check out his live show. Yes, he’s a showboat and he struts around a lot, but given the amazing year he’s having, who can blame him for acting a little cocky? “Young” is built to last, and Chesney can be forgiven for bowing to Buffett by breaking into “Margaritaville” midway through “How Forever Feels.” If the catchy “Big Star” isn’t his next single, it ought to be. A decade of hard work and persistence is paying dividends; after Chesney’s seven-song set, host Bob Kingsley of radio’s American Country Countdown even predicted an entertainer of the year trophy in Chesney’s future.
Though Chesney hogs the country music headlines lately, McBride deserves equal attention for her own recent career upswing. A lesser singer would have saved “When God-Fearin’ Women Get the Blues” for a show-stopping finale, but she kicked off her set with the rousing album version of the hit song. McBride wailed flawlessly through “Whatever You Say,” “Blessed,” “Where Would You Be,” and the stirring, partly a cappella “Independence Day.” The audience rewarded her with the only encore of the night, “I Love You.”
If there’s one thing you can count on in life, it’s that Jackson will deliver a memorable Fan Fair concert. Headlining the show, he dipped into his catalog of classics and delivered hits from his current bestseller, Drive. Right after “Don’t Rock the Jukebox,” he revived the Eagles’ “Seven Bridges Road,” noting that he’d been playing it live for the last 20 years. Wisely, he followed with “Pop a Top” and his latest No. 1 hit, “Drive (For Daddy Gene).” At the end of his 12-song set, Jackson said nothing to introduce “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” but he didn’t need to. Country fans have heard it countless times by now, and it provided a somber end to a thrilling night of music.