George Strait brought his country caravan to Nashville’s Adelphia Coliseum yesterday (April 30) and with it a surprise appearance by his duet-mate, Alan Jackson.
Ten songs into his 29-song, nearly two-hour set, Strait told the crowd that he had invited a “friend” to join him on the next number. He then swung into “Murder on Music Row.” A few lines into the song, Jackson moseyed on stage, sending the already supercharged audience to even higher levels of euphoria.
Some hometowners expected Faith Hill might drop by to sing one or two with husband Tim McGraw. But McGraw, the final act on the bill before Strait, stuck to his solo hits in the 14-song program.
In spite of reports to the contrary, the stadium was not filled. While all the seats on the floor and in the first tier were occupied, a sizable number in the top two tiers remained vacant.
Whatever its precise size, the audience gave rousing support to every act, cheering easily and often singing along without being prompted. For the most part, the acts were on and off stage almost to the minute scheduled. Faced with such tight deadlines, the performers wisely opted to sing more and talk less. Still, most alluded to the delight of playing in Nashville, a ploy that invariably drew disproportionate applause.
Mark Chesnutt, who followed Asleep at the Wheel and Lee Ann Womack in the lineup, put on a spectacular show, one fully equal to that of any of today’s country headliners. Often reserved and taciturn in private, Chesnutt became a real dynamo on stage. Grinning broadly as if he were having the best time of his life, he clicked with the audience from the first note. Apparently intent on shedding the artistic albatross of being seen as the “savior” of traditional country music, Chesnutt opted for the energetic and the upbeat. He even offered his own pulsating version of “Jump, Jive and Wail,” complete with a scalding horn section. His re-visits to “I’ll Think of Something” and “Too Cold at Home” left no doubt that he remains a master of the doleful country ballad, but the effect of this 10-song set was to demonstrate his remarkable stylistic versatility. Not surprisingly, he encored with the pop-flavored “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.”
Kenny Chesney kept the audience on its feet for much of his 10 songs, starting with “She’s Got It All” and wrapping up with a loose, riffing version of “How Forever Feels.” Adding to the excitement and sense of familiarity was Chesney’s extensive use of his music videos as a backdrop. “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” — introed with clattering sound effects — earned the most effusive reaction from the crowd.
It took Martina McBride the first few of her 14 songs to get the concert-goers firmly in her corner — even after changing the line “My baby loves me just the way that I am” to “Nashville loves me just the way that I am.” But once she had them, they remained hers. In telling why being a part of the Strait tour was such an honor, she prefaced her explanation with, “I’ve done some pretty exciting things in my life. I’ve had some duets I was proud of. I got to sing for the President. I was eight and a half month’s pregnant at the time. I figured I was pretty safe. A girl’s got to think of those things, you know.”
When McBride sang “Valentine,” she was backed by home videos of her husband and two daughters. “They’re pretty cute, aren’t they?” she asked. “Especially the one with the mustache.” Her impassioned reading of “A Broken Wing” earned her a standing ovation. And by the time she ended her set with the call-to-war delivery of “Independence Day,” clusters of women throughout the stadium were on their feet and thrusting triumphant fists into the air.
Asleep at the Wheel opened the proceedings at 1 p.m. in an abbreviated set that featured 11-year-old guest vocalist Bill Gilman on three songs — “Roly Poly,” “Little Bitty Pretty One” and his upcoming Epic Records single, “One Voice.” Whether the tenor tot has staying power remains to be seen, but he certainly handled the audience with the aplomb of an old-timer.
Lee Ann Womack was utterly engaging during her seven numbers. While “The Fool” sparked the biggest response (with “I Hope You Dance” a close second), Womack clearly had the most fun with the transcendently bitchy “I’ll Think of a Reason Later,” mugging her disapproval and urging the audience to recall rivals in their own lives who had inspired similar rancor.
While most of the acts (and all the ticket-holders) had to suffer through unctuous introductions by local DJs, Tim McGraw showed his star power by meandering on stage unannounced and thereby driving the throng wild. That his voice often sounded strained on the high notes seemed to matter not at all.
Strait’s show was a pleasant trip through country music’s eternal virtues of simplicity, sincerity and storytelling. Besides offering a wealth of his own original hits, he also sang songs made famous by Hank Williams (“Lovesick Blues”), Webb Pierce (“There Stands the Glass”), Bob Wills (“Take Me Back to Tulsa”), Waylon Jennings (“Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line”), George Jones (“Love Bug”) and Johnny Cash (“Folsom Prison Blues”).
For those who accepted price-gouging as an authentic concert experience, there was $5 beer, $6 mixed drinks and $3 pretzels. A ticket-buyer from Columbia, Tenn., lamented that he had paid $150 for tickets and $15 for parking, only to have guards relieve him of the two bottles of water he’d brought along. Inside, they were selling for $3 each. Murder on Music Row indeed!