Vince Gill’s marathon set at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium on Thursday proved why he’ll be celebrated on CMT series “CMT GIANTS.” The singer’s nearly four-hour show spanned his vast catalog of hits and musical influences as well as highlighted his vulnerabilities and humor. The concert was part of the Country Music Hall of Famer’s 2022 trek, which marks the first time Gill has toured with his band in three years as he’s been on the road with the Eagles since 2017.
In between telling candid and comical stories about his life and career, Gill performed more than 30 songs with his all-star band. The band includes “The Voice” Season 21 runner up Wendy Moten, who announced Gill’s latest career achievement during her mesmerizing five-song set.
“Mr. Vince Gill is going to be honored very soon in September by ‘CMT: GIANTS,’” Moten said. “It’s a big deal. Only five other icons have had this honor. They’re going to celebrate his legacy, they’re going to celebrate his music, his life in country music. … He earned it! It’s going to be the greatest artists of all time performing Vince Gill’s songs. The guests are heavy hitters. The band also is going to be there and all they do is win awards every year.”
Thursday’s Ryman performance was just a glimpse at Gill’s massive catalog and a preview of the upcoming television special, which premieres Friday, Sept. 16 on CMT. Throughout the evening, Gill was backed by a band that featured frequent collaborator and award-winning steel player Paul Franklin alongside famed Nashville studio musicians, including guitar player Jedd Hughes, drummer Billy Thomas, bassist Jimmie Lee Sloas and keyboard player John Jarvis. Guitar player Jack Schneider and singers Moten and Gill’s daughter Corrina Grant Gill rounded out the eight-piece ensemble.
Gill launched his first of four back-to-back performances at the Ryman with No. 1 songs “One More Last Chance,” “Tryin’ to Get Over You,” “Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away” and “I Still Believe In You.” He joked that it was a collection of songs “that allowed me to buy a house I can no longer afford to live in.”
“Then along came that Amy Grant girl, saved my ass!” he continued. “My bride Amy is doing fine. She had a bicycle wreck last Wednesday over in Percy Warner Park and thank God she was wearing her helmet. She was knocked unconscious for 10 or 15 minutes.”
The Ryman concert was Gill’s first time back on stage since Grant’s bike accident and he and his daughter’s emotions were visible. He introduced spellbinding ballad “Whenever You Come Around” as, “My favorite song to sing about my favorite girl.” Later, he’d give the spotlight to Corrina for “When My Amy Prays.” She changed the lyrics to “When My Mama Prays” and choked back tears during the powerful performance, which garnered a standing ovation.
Gill’s set spanned his musical influences. His love of bluegrass was showcased on “High Lonesome Sound,” as was his appreciation for Merle Haggard and Buck Owens with standout covers of “The Bottle Let Me Down” and “Together Again,” both featured on his 2013 Bakersfield album with Franklin. “You gotta know where you came from to ever know where the hell you’re going,” Gill said.
He also performed his first co-write with Whisperin’ Bill Anderson with the pensive “Which Bridge to Cross (Which Bridge to Burn)” as well as shared one of the many life lessons he learned while writing “Look At Us” with Max T. Barnes.
“If we didn’t have people that taught us how to do this, it wouldn’t go on,” Gill commented. “We have to learn in our own way, play in our own way, figure out how to keep it going.”
Gill’s set included several new songs he wrote during the pandemic. The Nashville Songwriters Hall of Famer captivated as he told the stories behind each one. The powerful story songs covered love and loss from the perspective of a parent whose child went off to war on “When a Soldier Dies” and the poignant “Benny’s Song,” which Gill penned after the death of his oldest friend, Benny, in 2020.
“It’s hard to put yourself out there and be vulnerable sometimes, but it means the most when you are,” he said.
Additional highlights included “Go Rest High on That Mountain,” a song he dedicated to his late brother, fan favorite “When I Call Your Name” and rollicking set closer “Liza Jane.” Gill’s first of four nights at Ryman Auditorium exemplified his “GIANTS” status as the singer’s marathon set showcased his many hits as well as his power as a comedic and thoughtful frontman. All the while, Gill’s concert displayed his unyielding passion for music.
“I’ve been doing this professionally for 50 years,” Gill said. “Somebody, when I was 15 years old, said they’d pay me a little bit of money to come play at their beer joint and I haven’t stopped since. … What I know – without any doubt – if I never had any success, I would still be playing some Holiday Inn bar six nights a week. I love music that much.”
Gill’s tour continues tonight at the Ryman Auditorium. “CMT GIANTS: Vince Gill” premieres Friday, Sept. 16, on CMT. Previous artists featured in the franchise are Reba McEntire (2006), Hank Williams, Jr. (2007), Alan Jackson (2008), Kenny Rogers (2020) and Charley Pride (2021).