NEW YORK — While it remains to be seen exactly how many country music fans live in the Big Apple, almost 1,100 were alive and accounted for Thursday night (Nov. 10) during Brooks & Dunn’s sold-out show at Irving Plaza.
And if you were given the task of proving the power of country music to New York, it’s hard to imagine many acts that could have delivered the message better than the superstar duo. It was a mission gladly accepted by Kix Brooks, who not only forms one-half of the duo but who has served this year as the Country Music Association’s chairman of the board.
The Brooks & Dunn concert, like several events taking place this week, is a precursor to Tuesday night’s (Nov. 15) CMA Awards at Madison Square Garden. Marking the first time the awards show has taken place outside Nashville, the one-time move is aimed at widening country music’s appeal among consumers and, more significantly, major advertisers and media companies.
At one point during the Irving Plaza concert, Brooks told the crowd, “It wasn’t that long ago that they were saying, ‘What the hell are y’all doing taking country music to New York City?’ Right now, I’m thinking, ‘What the hell took so long?’”
But the concert was short on cheerleading and long on the rock-laced brand of country that has made Brooks & Dunn one of country’s most successful acts for well over a decade. The Grascals opened the show with a 40-minute set that wisely took a wide aim by mixing traditional bluegrass with country classics such as Merle Haggard’s “Today I Started Loving You Again” and George Jones’ “White Lightnin’.”
As for the headliners, Ronnie Dunn easily demonstrated — as he does every night he’s onstage — why he’s one of the greatest vocalists in the history of country music. Opening with “Little Miss Honky Tonk,” Brooks & Dunn immediately followed with “Red Dirt Road” and kept the pedal to the floor for most of the night. They eventually slowed the pace somewhat with “Neon Moon” and Brooks’ turn on “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone.”
But by packing the set with the faster material, including “My Maria,” “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” and “She’s Not the Cheatin’ Kind,” the band was able to provide the power to convince previous non-believers that country music can deliver the sonic punch of a rock show.
It was an enthusiastic crowd, too, with audience members singing along and dancing during several of the songs. However, this is New York, after all, and that can mean a tough and demanding crowd. After more than an hour onstage, Brooks & Dunn closed with “Mama Don’t Get Dressed Up for Nothin’,” but there was not an immediate, thunderous response for an encore. People weren’t leaving the room, and they were clearly pleased when the duo returned for the big musical messages of the night — “Play Something Country” and “Only in America.” They just weren’t going clamor for anything.
After the confetti cannons blew a snowstorm of paper through the theater, they brought a special guest — Charlie Daniels — along for the second and final encore of the evening. Daniels played fiddle as Dunn sang Rodney Crowell’s “Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This.” Maybe it was the confetti or Daniels sawing away on his fiddle. Or maybe the full force of Brooks & Dunn’s show finally sank in, but the night ended with the crowd yelling and screaming that they really did want more.