Country music displayed its infinite variety Tuesday night (June 7) at the 38th annual International Fan Club Organization show at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium. The talent ranged from a 10-year-old yodeler, who flacked her albums like a pro, to a reminiscing 67-year-old member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Apart from Craig Morgan, who headlined the show, the acts drawing the loudest and most sustained applause from the mostly middle-aged crowd were Trick Pony, Jimmy Wayne and Bryan White. Also on the bill were Mark Wills, Connie Smith, Con Hunley, Bill Anderson, Aaron Lines, Chalee Tennison, Jason Aldean and IFCO talent-contest winners Austin Cody, Leah Durrelle, Tresa Street and Taylor Ware.
Despite the size of the lineup, it was a fast-paced evening. Each of the name acts was limited to two songs and each opening performer to one. There were no encores.
Although not officially connected with it, the IFCO show was the first major musical event of this year's CMA Music Festival, which runs Thursday-Sunday (June 9-12). Proceeds from the concert are to be donated to the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
Music journalist and historian Robert K. Oermann emceed the show, his 10th year in that role. Joe Bob Barnhill's superbly versatile Route 66 Band -- 10 players and three vocalists -- backed most of the performers.
The 10-year-old Ware was the first to stir the audience from its polite attentiveness as she paced the stage singing (and illustrating) "He Taught Me to Yodel." When she finished to roaring applause, she announced, "My CDs are available in the gift shop, and I'd love to sign one for you."
Lines previewed his new single, "It Takes a Man," which he said was based on a true story of a teenager who shouldered his parental responsibility after he made his girlfriend pregnant. Aldean rocked the room with his first chart hit, "Hicktown." Wills set heads to swaying dreamily as he revisited his megahit, "Nineteen Somethin'."
Oermann was barely into his introduction of White before the crowd began cheering wildly. It maintained the enthusiastic pitch as the still youthful-looking singer (who's now 31) crooned through "Love Is the Right Place," his Top 5 hit from 1997, and a new composition, "The Little Things," which he dedicated to his wife and their 19-month-old son. He said he's expecting another arrival in the family in "about four weeks." White noted he's recorded an album which will be out soon on an independent label.
The applause was even louder and longer for Wayne. His performance of "Stay Gone," his first hit, was far more bluesy and soulful than it was when he introduced the song at his IFCO debut two years ago. He said he hopes to finish recording his second album this week and to have another single out in July.
With her catch-in-the-throat renderings of "The Hurtin's All Over" and "The Latest Shade of Blue," Smith reminded fans that country is essentially a region of heartaches. And Country Music Hall of Famer Bill Anderson drove that point home with "Bright Lights and Country Music" and his incomparable "Still."
IFCO founders Loudilla, Loretta and Kay Johnson presented Anderson the organization's Tex Ritter Award for his "extraordinary contributions to country music." Anderson recalled that he and the late Ritter had been good friends and that he had "criss-crossed the state" of Tennessee in 1970 to support Ritter in his ultimately unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for U. S. Senate.
Hunley delivered a subtle but scorching rendition of his 1982 hit, "No Relief in Sight," demonstrating that he remains one the most powerful vocalists in this or any other genre. But Trick Pony had sections of the crowd on its feet as soon as the trio trotted on stage. The eclectic crowd gave Pony's cover of Bonnie Tyler's 1978 pop hit, "It's a Heartache," the same riotous approval one might expect it to show a country classic such as "He Stopped Loving Her Today."
Show-closer Craig Morgan, backed by his own band, hit the stage with his declarative "I'm Country" and proceeded to prove that assertion by singing "Almost Home," surely the most moving country lyric of the past decade. He segued into his latest hit, "That's What I Love About Sunday," with the chorus from "Amazing Grace" and concluded the set with his new single, "Redneck Yacht Club."