Rascal Flatts Wow Connecticut Fans

New Staging Unveiled at Opening Concert of Trio's Summer Tour

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Without a doubt, Rascal Flatts made perfectly sure their fans still felt good.

Opening their aptly titled Still Feels Good summer tour Friday night (July 13) — which will end just before the Sept. 25 release of their new album of the same name — the trio played a veritable merry-go-round of their greatest hits to the crowd at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.

During the 90-minute set, Gary LeVox, Joe Don Rooney and Jay DeMarcus sprinkled in some songs from the upcoming album but mostly reveled in favorite standbys and easy crowd pleasers.

Making a grand entrance, Rascal Flatts surfaced from inside a miniature rotating circular stage during the opening of “Me and My Gang,” the rousing title track from the 2006 smash album. The mini stage sat like an island across from the main stage, but a bridge descended from above to connect the two performance areas. This allowed the band to interact with more fans, but it also hurt the sound of the performance somewhat, as the smaller stage wasn’t equipped to handle the noise level.

Other songs during the energetic first run included “Oklahoma-Texas Line,” “My Wish” and “Take Me There,” the first single from Still Feels Good. The crowd didn’t respond overwhelmingly to the latest hit until LeVox asked the fans’ opinion.

Sporting a pair of studded jeans, lead vocalist LeVox sauntered across the stage throughout much of the show, and all three members took advantage of the rising platforms on either side of the dual-level stage. The second level, reached by stairs, held space for keyboards, drums and steel guitar. Seats above the stage remained, allowing some fans to receive a bird’s eye view of the show. At stage level, a path extended from the middle, then branched out, creating two separate pits for fans who wanted to get close to the band.

Rooney and DeMarcus took to the smaller stage for the middle portion of the set, making it a more intimate, almost roots-style jam. With drummer Jim Riley joining, they performed “some of [their] favorite songs,” including “Pieces” and “To Make Her Love Me” on the rotating stage.

After a few songs, LeVox joined the boys for a few campfire-style tunes, including “Yes I Do,” which morphed into the Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker.” This wasn’t the only time classic rock found its way into the trio’s set. Rooney struck a guitar solo featuring the lead riff of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” and even Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” had its chance to shine.

The biggest tunes came with the most entertaining visuals. “Me and My Gang” ended with a flurry of fireworks, “Backwards” implemented a video presentation of red, white and blue and images inspired by the song’s lyrics, and “Here’s to You” — the first of two songs during the encore — featured a handful of blinding green lasers.

Videos were presented via multiple smaller screens. The largest hung above the second stage level, while four other screens rested against the wall of the structure. During some songs, rich colors filled these screens, creating the type of light show the overhead illumination wouldn’t justify. Some spotlights drifted in the crowd, while the stages — both large and small — were lined with small bulbs that changed colors with the video screens and overhead lights. And while some of the accompanying videos were merely colorful designs, “What Hurts the Most” and the recent No. 1, “Stand,” were both backed by their official music videos.

Three additional box-shaped video screens hung from the rafters. While they showed the same images as their stage-level counterparts during the concert, they featured a nice innovation before the show. Fans were prompted to text messages to a number displayed on the screens. The messages went directly from phone to screen, giving fans the chance to read everything from fan admissions of obsession to marriage proposals.

Tour merchandise included T-shirts, hats and calendars, with shirts the most expensive at up to $30. A Rascal Flatts blanket was a little pricier at $75.

Rascal Flatts’ encore — which came only one minute after finishing the set — ended with one of their biggest crossover hits, their cover of “Life Is a Highway,” a song that had the entire crowd singing along and feeling very good.

Opening for the trio, up-and-coming star Jason Aldean also performed his big hits. He stood out in a bright red shirt and cowboy hat, brandishing his guitar for all but one song.

Though he started out stiff, Aldean gained composure and looseness through his Top 10 hits, “Johnny Cash” and “Hicktown.” During the latter, he paraded across the large stage, playing drums, slapping hands and even singing autographs. Fame is still new to Aldean, who was showing obvious pride to his recent fourth No. 1 song on CMT’s Top 20 Countdown.

“I figured out how to get to No. 1 on CMT,” Aldean said gleefully. “A lot of beer, hot chicks and big trucks.”

Tim Malcolm is a writer for the Norwich Bulletin in Norwich, Conn.