NEW YORK — With the Country Music Association doing everything it can this week to convince national advertisers that country music can appeal to a younger audience, a pivotal event had to have been Monday night’s (Nov. 14) concert at the Nokia Theater in New York’s Times Square. Covering three facets of country, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Dierks Bentley and headliner Pat Green certainly packed the place with a young and enthusiastic crowd.
Even before Green hit the stage, fans were yelling out his name. In fact, they were shouting out three names although it’s highly doubtful that his birth certificate lists the middle one — a two-syllable word that begins with the letter “F.” But the boisterous crowd was yelling in absolute adoration for Green, a Texas-based singer-songwriter who somehow makes everyone in the audience feel like he’s their best friend.
“I don’t give a damn if it’s a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday night,” Green told the audience. “Sit back, relax and have a good time. We’ll do all the heavy lifting.” Later in his set, he assured them, “Ain’t none of y’all going to work tomorrow. I’ll go by and tell them you’re not going to be there.”
It’s not that anybody really believed they had a free pass for acting irresponsibly beyond midnight, but it always seems like spring break when Green performs — even if it is just a few days before Thanksgiving. Opening with “Carry On,” Green spent a little more than an hour performing “Wave on Wave,” “Baby Doll,” “Three Days” and other hook-laden songs that have made him a favorite among college students.
Monday’s concert underlined the importance of hard work and long hours in establishing a career. And a lot of that work takes place on the road. Green and Cross Canadian Ragweed toured in Texas and Oklahoma for many years before securing the major record deals that made them national acts. Although Bentley hasn’t logged as many miles on the road as the other two acts, he’s been making up for lost time ever since he released his debut album in 2003. For all three, the time they’ve spent onstage shows at every level from musicianship to the close connection they forge with listeners.
Bentley hit the Nokia Theater stage with a cover of “Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This,” a Rodney Crowell song popularized by Waylon Jennings. Avoiding a note-for-note copy, Bentley and his excellent band provided enough dynamics and rhythmic kicks to make the song his own.
At this early point in his career, Bentley is beginning to generate several hits that he’ll be singing for the rest of his life. Indicative of his ear for choosing strong material, songs such as “Come a Little Closer” have the timeless quality of a Conway Twitty hit. Until other true classics come along, Bentley can anticipate long shelf lives for “What Was I Thinkin'” and “How Am I Doin’.”
If Bentley leans toward traditional country, Cross Canadian Ragweed probably owe more to bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top and Crazy Horse than they do to acts such as Alabama. They opened the night with a rather appropriate cover tune — Steve Earle’s “N.Y.C.” — before moving into original material. Emphasizing music from the new album, Garage, the band introduced its new single, “Fightin’ For.” However, the high point of the night was the audience singalong on “Boys From Oklahoma,” an anthem to the pastime of smoking weed. Even Bentley showed up onstage to sing a verse although he insisted he prefers his buzz from domestic beer.
Monday’s concert was one of many events leading up to the CMA Awards show on Tuesday night (Nov. 15). Few mentions were made of the awards show although Green did joke about one of his celebrity encounters.
“All the country bands in the world are in New York,” he said. “I ran into Wynonna in the elevator today. She didn’t even say hi. It kind of pissed me off.”