A country artist’s first headlining gig at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium should always be a special thing, but rarely does it happen as it did for Gary Allan, who made his arrival on Thursday (Nov. 12) to a sold-out crowd.
“I’ve got a lot of family and friends in the audience,” Allan said to a chorus of screams. “It’s gonna be a good night.”
“A good night” may have been an understatement as Allan, the Eli Young Band and Jack Ingram entertained for more than three hours. By the end of the night, the Ryman’s balcony would be tested by stomping fans, a bottle of Jack Daniel’s whiskey would be passed around onstage and a dog would somehow come into play.
Allan handpicked the opening acts for his Get Off on the Pain tour, and even though it just got underway, the lineup and their musical styles seemed to mesh together easily.
The Eli Young Band, a homegrown Texas group whose Jet Black & Jealous album debuted in the Top 5 on the country chart, made good with their time by introducing the crowd to the night’s country-rock theme. With low slung guitars and lots of distortion, they offered a set that included “When It Rains,” “Guinevere,” “Always the Love Songs” and their recent Top 10 single, “Always the Love Songs.”
They were warming up the crowd for Ingram, not that he really needs any help. Ingram is a complete showman with a funny story for every song and a way of urging an audience to its feet. His set was a string of hits that included “Measure of a Man,” “That’s a Man,” “Wherever You Are,” “Love You” and “Barbie Doll.” He invited Patty Griffin to the stage for a duet on their current single, “Seeing Stars.” And let’s not forget “Barefoot and Crazy,” where he took off his boots and socks only to have one foot written on by a fan. (I’m guessing it was a phone number.) Needless to say, everyone at the Ryman was in good spirits.
The excitement level rose even more when Allan made his entrance in front of a huge video screen, launching into the title track from his upcoming album, Get Off on the Pain. A high-pitched squeal from the crowd started and didn’t stop for the rest of the night, showing that Allan’s loyal fans are nothing if not enthusiastic. In fact, almost every song became a singalong, and the shrieking only intensified when each one ended.
Part of the reason for that was Allan’s set list is heavy with hits. “She’s So California,” “A Feelin’ Like That,” “Nothing on but the Radio,” “It Would Be You” and “Learning How to Bend” started the show off and led into “Best I Ever Had” — which, in turn, led to the first round of Jack Daniel’s for the band.
Allan said this show was the highlight of his year, but he also explained that things had taken a turn for the worse in August when a tornado caused a stage collapse at a festival in Canada, killing one fan. He used the opportunity to fittingly segue into “Life Ain’t Always Beautiful” and “I Just Got Back From Hell.”
At this point Allan’s band, which represented his varied musical influences by including an organ, congas, fiddle and steel guitar, left the stage. Earlier in the day, Allan said in an interview that he had reached a point in his career where he didn’t “feel the need to do anything that [he didn't] want to.” In evidence to that spirit, he performed a solo, acoustic version of “Right Where I Need to Be.” He then used the special occasion to offer his 16-year-old daughter, Dallas, her first taste of the stage. She had recently learned The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and performed on keyboard while Allan sang, receiving the first standing ovation of the night.
Sharing a hug, Allan said, “She has impeccable taste in music.” He looked as though he was about to become teary-eyed. It was a moving moment.
Going forward, he offered a subdued version of “I’m the One,” which he called “way too sappy,” although his legion of mostly female fans didn’t seem to mind. “Half of My Mistakes,” “Her Man” and his current single, “Today,” followed.
After that, it was rock ‘n’ roll time. The intensity picked up with “Songs About Rain” (featuring an extended guitar and drum solo), “Man of Me” and the always singable “Watching Airplanes.” In another highlight of the evening, Ingram reluctantly returned to the stage, boots on, and sang and strutted along to “Alright Guy.” After only a few shows together on this tour, it looks like Allan and Ingram are becoming fast friends.
Not ready to go home, the crowd stuck around and stomped their feet calling for Allan’s return. The entire balcony in the 117-year-old building began to shake noticeably. Thankfully, as a testament to the Ryman’s solid construction, it held its own.
The nightcap was provided by “Like It’s a Bad Thing” and Allan’s favorite drinking song, “Drinkin’ Dark Whiskey.” This song somehow caused a dog to storm the stage, running wildly back and forth while chasing the band members who never missed a beat. The dog seemed perfectly comfortable up there, almost as if it had been waiting all night for its big moment, until at last it knocked over a microphone stand that Allan just barely caught. It was nice to finish the night with a laugh, and Allan and his audience happily parted ways.
Allan has always seemed comfortable just outside the mainstream of country music, and judging from the Ryman show, it doesn’t appear he intends to change his ways. But that doesn’t mean he’s immune to wanting to live out his childhood dreams of country music glory.
“When you play these places, you kind of mark them off in your mind,” he told the crowd. “And this is definitely a big one for me.”View photos from the concert.