It may have been a charity event, but Jamey Johnson and Randy Houser held nothing back Tuesday night (Dec. 8) at Nashville’s Wildhorse Saloon. The Parade of Pennies event, benefiting the Nashville Rescue Mission, turned out to be a four-hour concert with the two friends bringing their unique CMT on Tour experience to the sold-out club. The evening also included a guest appearance by Kellie Pickler.
The Parade of Pennies concert, sponsored by Nashville radio station WSIX, is held every year around the holidays, but this year’s event was more than just a casual gathering of singers and musicians. Johnson and Houser have been on the road with CMT on Tour for a few months now and have honed their performances into outlaw country revivals with all the swagger that goes along with the music.
From the first few notes, Houser seemed to relish his role as the hell-raiser who starts the show. The energetic set was punctuated by infectious laughter and hard-rocking numbers off his debut album, Anything Goes. “My Kind of Country,” “Boots On” and the title track were clear crowd favorites, but covers of Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings’ “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” and Hank Williams’ “Kaw-Liga” were just as well received.
Those songs filled the large floor area and kept the bartenders busy, but Houser was quick to seize this rare hometown opportunity to preview some new music. Calling Nashville “the greatest songwriting community in the world,” he must have felt at ease while singing songs from an upcoming release that’s still in its early stages.
“It’s Hard to Be a Hippie Anymore” got some laughs, but the supremely country “A Man Like Me” may have been the standout song of the night. Houser is a sly craftsman when it comes to a chorus, and this song’s chord changes drew the audience in immediately. It would not surprise me to hear it all over the radio in the coming months, and it would be a welcome addition.
Johnson was the big draw of the night, and after a quick break, it was his turn at the mike — which he used exclusively for singing. I got the impression that Johnson doesn’t need to talk to get his message across, and although some fans mentioned that Houser gave more of a show, they wholeheartedly backed Johnson’s music and mystique.
Flashy showman or not, Johnson had the crowd in the palm of his hand. They were there to hear songs from That Lonesome Song and sang along readily to “High Cost of Living,” “Mowin’ Down the Roses,” “The Door Is Always Open” and “Mary Go Round,” among others.
The steel guitar rang slow and sad at the end of each performance, and in an extreme case of a practice I usually don’t care for, Johnson sang only a few lines of “In Color.” It’s always better to hear the star of the show sing one of their most popular songs, not an incoherent crowd, but the effect was incredible this time. After offering the first line, Johnson stepped back while the audience took over note for note, word for word, loudly and all together. Johnson came back only to sing the last chorus but was almost drowned out by the crowd.
Right about then, some people starting thinking the show was over and headed for the exits. They were only off by about two hours, I guess.
Houser and his band returned to the stage, and Johnson finally addressed the audience, saying “If you feel like staying, we’ll all have some drinks and have a good time.” From there, it was a long list of big, baritone duets on Johnson and Houser’s favorite songs by the likes of Johnny Paycheck (“Take This Job and Shove It”), Charlie Daniels (“Long Haired Country Boy”), Merle Haggard (“Ramblin’ Fever”), George Jones (“Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes”), Hank Williams Jr. (“Dinosaur”) and Bob Seger (“Turn the Page”).
About halfway through the set, as weary concertgoers called it a night, Houser remarked, “It looks like we got rid of the faint of heart, so say hello to Miss Kellie Pickler.” Earlier in the evening, she appeared at the nearby Schermerhorn Symphony Center to assist the Country Music Association in presenting a $1 million donation to Metro Nashville Public Schools for musical instruments and education.
Sporting a large peace symbol on the back of her black jacket and a return to her usual blond hair, she only sang one song, Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man.” After sharing hugs with the two burly frontmen, she left the stage. Amid cheers for her return, the list of roadhouse favorites continued on.
“Still Doin’ Time,” “That’s the Way It Goes,” “Write Your Own Songs” — which may have hit a little close to home for some in attendance — “Behind Closed Doors” and “Hoochie Coochie Man” were played as the crowd continued to slowly thin. At this point, the end seemed near. Incredible song choices aside, it had to be getting close to closing time.
About 10 songs later, the Wildhorse staff still stood impatiently with mop buckets in hand, but it wasn’t until the last note of “Give It Away” that Johnson and Houser shed their guitars and took a bow.
At just about four hours in length, you almost needed a meal to get through it. But as far as charity events go, this was a smashing success. No one went away unsatisfied. And if even a sliver of the bar proceeds are donated to charity, the Nashville Rescue Mission will be requesting Johnson and Houser again next year for sure.View photos from the Parade of Pennies concert.