Sony Show Rocks Fan Fair — For a Long, Long Time

It was bump-and-Grinder’s Switch — a sweaty, high-decibel amalgam of pelvis-thrusting rockrobatics and back porch folksiness. With its menu of 14 acts and 52 songs, the Monday night (June 12) Sony Records show unquestionably gave Fan Fairgoers their money’s worth. The seamlessly sequenced marathon barreled on for a full 3½ hours.

Except for its extreme fringes, the grandstand was packed, as was the area directly in front of the stage.

Actress and singer Bobbie Eakes served as the show’s host and sang a rafter-ringing duet with Collin Raye as the evening wound down. (Eakes plays the character of Macy Alexander in The Bold and the Beautiful series.)

A whirl of attitude in her black hat, blue, navel-baring blouse and tight black pants, show-opener Danni Leigh set the pace for the rest of the bill. Her four-song set included the torchy “If the Jukebox Took Teardrops” from her Decca days and a subdued cover of the 1984 Ray Charles/Willie Nelson hit “Seven Spanish Angels.” She closed with her new single, “I Don’t Feel That Way.”

Wade Hayes sang his current chart-climber, “Goodbye Is the Wrong Way to Go.” Newcomer Tammy Cochran belted out “If You Can” with operatic verve and power. In less competitive climes, it would have been a show-stopper.

Ty Herndon, who appeared fourth in the lineup, came closest to setting the stage — and the crowd — on fire. Clad in form-fitting black and strutting like a Chippendale dancer on steroids, he was magnificently in command from the moment he took the mic. Blazing through “Living in a Moment,” “Steam” and “I Want My Goodbye Back,” Herndon blew out all the restraints (few though they were) with a thoroughly nasty reading of “You Can Leave Your Hat On.” He did not, however, leave on the black hat he had donned for this particular minidrama, electing instead to caress himself all over with it.

Eakes offered perhaps the most eloquent summing up of Herndon’s incendiary performance. “Oh, God,” she said, “Woooo!”

It was Ricochet’s ill fortune to have to follow Herndon. Looking a bit blinded by it all, the group chugged dutifully through a medley of its hits (“What Do I Know,” “He Left a Lot to Be Desired,” “Seven Bridges Road,” “Daddy’s Money”) and the debut of its forthcoming single, “She’s Gone.”

With only one song allotted him, 12-year-old Billy Gilman could not build the momentum with the audience he’s been achieving on the just-concluded George Strait tour. Nonetheless, his performance of the slow, contemplative single, “One Voice,” earned a rousing response.

The Kinleys and Yankee Grey worked the stage hard and valiantly. But both seemed a bit overwhelmed within the supercharged context.

Even consummate balladeer Joe Diffie played it safe by trotting out uptempo material — “Third Rock From the Sun,” “It’s Always Something,” “Pickup Man” and “Honky Tonk Attitude.” He wrapped up his enthusiastically-received set with “John Deere Green.”

Hard-driving Billy Ray Cyrus reclaimed much of the territory Herndon had abandoned the hour before. After running through a couple of familiar stage-stompers, he treated the faithful to “Burn the Trailer Park Down” and “Hey, Elvis” from his forthcoming Southern Rain album. He capped his show by turning his back to the crowd, turning his face to the sky and dousing himself with bottled water.

Unflappable as ever, John Anderson simply ambled on stage and seized the audience instantly with just his muscular voice. Starting with “Money in the Bank,” he moved on to “Nobody’s Got it All” (the title cut of his upcoming album), the always inciting “Swingin'” and finally to the bittersweet “Seminole Wind.” Business done, he ambled back off again.

Montgomery Gentry then tornadoed in with “All Night Long” and kept the sweat (both theirs and the crowd’s) pouring through “Lonely and Gone,” their new “Self Made Man,” “Daddy Won’t Sell the Farm” and “Hillbilly Shoes.” Before it was all over, Eddie Montgomery had shucked off his black frock coat and hurled it into the crowd and Troy Gentry was taking life-restoring pulls on a “tall boy” of beer.

When it came time for Collin Raye to close the musical proceedings, it was edging past 10 p.m., and the audience had dwindled considerably. The remaining devotees, however, clogged the area in front of the stage to hear Raye’s soulful renderings of “A Long Way to Go,” “Couldn’t Last a Moment” and “I Want to be There.” Eakes joined him for the blistering duet, “I’m Tired of Living This Way” (which appears on his new album, Tracks). Raye bowed out with “She’s All That” and the emphatic “That’s My Story.”

All in all, it was a real musical meltdown.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to