BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Anyone who still doubts that Tim McGraw is a superstar should have been in Birmingham Friday (March 7) night. Onstage at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex Arena, the man could do no wrong.
Fans had worked themselves into a near frenzy even before McGraw hit the stage for his much-anticipated Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors’ One Band Show tour. Despite a few lighting glitches early on that went largely unnoticed, the tour’s opening night was a rousing success. Fans snapped up more than 16,200 seats — though they very rarely used them during the two-hour-plus show. Instead of sitting, they mostly danced and waved signs declaring their love for McGraw. A few exuberant audience members even stormed the stage, only to be gently hauled away by security staff.
The One Band Show is McGraw’s first outing since his 2001 tour with buddies Kenny Chesney and Mark Collie . This time out there are no opening acts; it’s just McGraw and his longtime stage band, the Dancehall Doctors. The unusual move is aimed at showcasing the band members who recorded in the studio for the first time on McGraw’s latest album.
“The longest you can usually play is an hour and 45 minutes or two hours with opening acts and curfew strikes and everything,” McGraw told CMT News. “We just couldn’t think of any other way to get in all the stuff we wanted to play from the new album and all the hits the fans want to hear. Plus, the guys [Dancehall Doctors] get to be a lot more active. They’re active anyway, but they get to do more.”
In fact, since being featured on the album and in the accompanying book, McGraw’s band members have become celebrities in their own rights. Bandleader and lead guitarist Darran Smith was stopped by fans seeking autographs as he made his way into the venue. He said he and his bandmates are pumped about their expanded role in this year’s tour.
“It’s a little bigger undertaking, but we’re ready for it,” Smith said. “We’re ready to rock tonight. We’ve been working on the show for a couple of months now, and we’re just happy to be as much a part of it as we are.”
The day before the show, McGraw was nursing a sore throat as he went through one last day of rehearsals. He walked the Birmingham stage, calling out lighting and staging cues for the technical crew. After breaking for a Mexican-themed kick-off party under a tent inside the arena, McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors worked well into the night perfecting the new set.
On show day, McGraw’s voice held out. Decked out in a Roberto Cavalli shirt, painted-on jeans and trademark black cowboy hat, he opened the concert with “Comfort Me,” a Celtic-flavored cut from Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors. He then quickly moved on to classic hits “For a Little While” and “Where the Green Grass Grows” before going back to the new album for his latest hits “She’s My Kind of Rain” and “Red Ragtop.” While McGraw featured keyboardist Jeff McMahon and guitarist Bob Minner during a slower, intimate portion of the show, the singer kept up the energy by featuring mostly up-tempo songs for the rest of the night. Sprinkled among his own hits were a couple of McGraw’s ’70s rock favorites, including “How Long” (Ace) and “The Joker” (Steve Miller Band).
The new multi-level stage was set up in the round and featured a long runway that stretched out into the floor seats. The design gave McGraw and the band members more opportunities to work the crowd. In fact, McGraw pulled one random guy onstage to sing with him. The fan launched into a passionate off-key rendition of Lionel Richie’s hit “Easy” which elicited howls of laughter from the crowd and McGraw.
A few songs into the set, Faith Hill slipped into the sound booth area unnoticed to watch her husband’s show. Dressed down in a ball cap and khakis, she rocked out and clapped her hands over her head during the more up-tempo tunes. McGraw said Hill, who is on a break from touring, and their three daughters will be out on the road with him during most of the tour.
“We have a bus that’s set up for their school room, so they go to class every day,” McGraw explained. “They’re excited. This will be Audrey’s first tour. Gracie and Maggie grew up on tour, but this will be Audrey’s first one, so they’re excited to get out there and show her the ropes.”
In addition to the scheduled concert stops, McGraw says he’s also reviving the “Bread and Water” shows — unannounced gigs he and the band will play at local clubs. Half of the proceeds from ticket sales to those surprise shows will go to the town’s local Red Cross chapter. McGraw will donate all the money raised from sales of a special McGraw-Red Cross T-shirt sold at all concert dates. The singer has also recorded public service announcements touting the Red Cross’ disaster relief fund.
McGraw’s One Band Show tour will run through June. For a complete list of tour dates, go here.