Jackson, Brooks & Dunn Rock the Coliseum

Less really is sometimes more. That’s a cliche, of course, but the concept — to use yet another cliche — is solid as a rock.

By necessity, abbreviated sets during Fan Fair’s concert series force artists to perform only their strongest material. And when acts such as Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn and Martina McBride are offering their finest work, it’s a level of excellence that’s hard to match.

Fan Fair’s Friday night (June 6) concert was presented by the RCA Label Group of labels, including RCA, BNA and Arista Nashville. Even without the aforementioned acts, the others on the three and a-half hour show offered enough to please any reasonable country fan. Brad Paisley, Phil Vassar, Diamond Rio, Sara Evans and Lonestar rounded out the lineup.

The outdoor concert took place at the Coliseum, home of the Tennessee Titans football team. The evening would have been more enjoyable had clear skies prevailed, instead of the steady drizzle throughout the evening. However, despite what some people in Nashville might lead you to believe, even RLG chairman Joe Galante can’t control the weather.

Jackson performed a generous 11-song set that once again served as a reminder that he’s contributing a truly significant thread to the fabric of American music. It’s astounding to realize that somebody responsible for a song as playfully goofy as “Chattahoochee” could write something as profound as “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning).” To his credit, Jackson’s music addresses many emotions between those two extremes. He explored those, too, Friday night, in songs such as “Livin’ on Love,” “Drive (For Daddy Gene)” and “Where I Come From.”

Following a brief lull in their career a few years back, Brooks & Dunn got serious again about their music. Admirably, they bounced back both artistically and commercially. With the title track of their upcoming album, Red Dirt Road, they’ve just released one of the best singles of the year — and perhaps the best of their career. Their performance of the song highlighted Friday’s nine-song set, although the gigantic inflatable rockin’ cowgirls towering over them during “Rock My World (Little Country Girl)” proved to be a memorable moment — or at least a potential acid flashback for anyone whose life experiences ever included a Pink Floyd concert.

While Brooks & Dunn’s production went a little overboard by bringing two Marines and some confetti cannons out for the closing song, “Only in America,” the best part of any Brooks & Dunn’s concert is always Ronnie Dunn’s voice. To hear him hit the high notes on “My Maria” in a live performance is something that everyone needs to experience at least once.

Given the sheer power of McBride’s voice, having her sing at an outdoor concert could raise concerns over rattling windows several blocks away. At Friday’s show, she seized the moment to introduce a new song from her upcoming album, but she otherwise stuck with tried-and-true favorites, including “Blessed,” “Independence Day” and the soulful “A Broken Wing.”

Maybe it was all the time Lonestar spent on George Strait’s stadium tours, but the quartet’s music is just geared for huge settings. Especially on songs like “What About Now” and their latest hit, “My Front Porch Looking In,” Lonestar created a bigger-than-life sound that reached to the uppermost levels of the Coliseum. Even more sedate songs, including the mega-hits “Amazed” and “I’m Already There,” welcome a broad stroke of the musical brush.

Evans sang Wednesday (June 4) when the concert segment of CMT’s 100 Greatest Songs of Country Music was taped in Nashville, but Friday’s concert marked her first extended performance since a blister on her vocal cord resulted in a doctor-ordered vocal rest. She sounded in fine form as she glided smoothly through hits such as “I Could Not Ask for More” and “Born to Fly.”

Opening with their 1991 debut single, Diamond Rio’s concert segment also featured back-to-back hits, including “One More Day,” “Beautiful Mess” and their latest No. 1, “I Believe.”

In all honesty, traffic delays prevented me from arriving at the show in time to hear Paisley’s set, but a friend assured me that it included plenty of hot guitar picking. Paisley’s certainly got a knack for that. I was in the car, too, for Vassar’s performance, although I did hear “American Child” and “Another Day in Paradise.”

Helpful hint: If you ever plan to listen to a concert while stuck in a line of cars at the Coliseum in Nashville, keep in mind the acoustics get worse at the corner of Titans Way and Victory Avenue but improve after you take the right turn.

Calvin Gilbert has served as CMT.com’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.