ATLANTA — “Did y’all save me any food?” Reba McEntire joked to the picnicking crowd on Saturday night (Aug. 7) in the cozy Chastain Park Amphitheater. The folks in the first few rows held up all manner of chicken, salads and desserts.
After politely declining and without missing a beat, she deadpanned, “But what are you drinking?”
It’s a rare treat to see McEntire in a smaller venue like this, nestled in a well-heeled suburb of Atlanta. Gone are the pyrotechnics, dancers and costume changes from her days of touring in the ’90s, but that’s not to say she’s slacking off when it comes to entertaining her audience. The woman owns the stage.
Without an opening act, McEntire strolled out in her glittering black outfit, sang a few tunes, then told the crowd she had simply picked some of her favorite songs throughout her career and that she hoped they were the audience’s favorite ones, too. All but “Whoever’s in New England” were released since 1990, thus leaving out familiar oldies like “Somebody Should Leave,” “Little Rock,” “One Promise Too Late” and “The Last One to Know.” Of course, for a music catalog that started in 1976, something had to be scrapped.
Yet, listening to so many of her hits in concert, it’s really no surprise she turned to acting. The most enduring selections — “You Lie,” “And Still” and “Fallin’ Out of Love” — definitely prove she has quite a flair for the dramatic. She perked up the audience by talking about her dad, a rodeo cowboy, and all the things he could do when she was a child. But rather than deliver a light-hearted story about those days, she turned on a dime, admitting that he had a hard time telling others that he loved them. Then she promptly launched into “The Greatest Man I Never Knew,” one of her saddest songs in a catalog of tearful tunes.
“Forever Love,” a McEntire hit from 1998, doubled as a tribute to the soldiers serving in Iraq. The screen behind her showed troops leaving their families or reuniting with them after their tour of duty. At the end of the song, military tombstones appeared on the screen, acknowledging the ones who didn’t make it back. “I’m glad y’all feel the same way I do,” she declared, appearing taken aback by the standing ovation in the middle of her set. “Aren’t we a bunch of lucky people?”
Thank goodness for that big screen, too, and not just as an excuse to watch the “Fancy” video during the encore. Indeed, watching McEntire’s facial expressions is one of the most entertaining aspects of the show. While she’s a pioneer in using music as a platform for various social issues, she’s not too serious to ham it up during “Is There Life Out There.” Now that’s a video worth seeing again, if only for the priceless dialogue. (“What have you done?!”)
Linda Davis is touring with McEntire again this year as a harmony vocalist. About halfway through the show, Davis gave her boss a breather by stepping out for a version of Bonnie Raitt’s “Love Sneakin’ Up on You.” She also reprised her role in the famous duet, “Does He Love You,” at the end of the set. However, other duets, such as “If You See Him/If You See Her” and “The Heart Won’t Lie” didn’t make the cut.
McEntire has been touring sporadically this summer, balancing her music with a TV filming schedule and other demands. She told the crowd she’d be starting her fourth season of Reba this week, then performed that show’s theme song, “I’m a Survivor.” She also sprinkled a few selections from last year’s Room to Breathe album, such as “Love Revival,” “Somebody” and “I’m Gonna Take That Mountain.” But by the end of her 90-minute set, it was hard to imagine there are any mountains she hasn’t already taken.
“So Good Together”
“Whoever’s in New England”
“How Was I to Know”
“The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”
“I’m Gonna Take That Mountain”
“The Greatest Man I Never Knew”
“Fear of Being Alone”
“Fallin’ Out of Love”
“Love Sneakin’ Up on You” (sung by Linda Davis)
“One Honest Heart”
“I’m a Survivor”
“Take It Back”
“Why Haven’t I Heard From You”
“Is There Life Out There”
“Does He Love You”