VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- Alan Jackson and Brooks & Dunn are pretty laid-back guys, but it's still surprising to see how they always make it look so easy. And now that they're touring together, a country fan could hardly find a more pleasant way to spend a spring or summer evening.
The two acts kicked off their tour on Thursday night (May 10) at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Virginia Beach, Va., condensing their plentiful hits into hour-long sets, leading listeners to realize just how dominant they've been on the radio airwaves since the early '90s.
Jackson held the second headliner spot, pumping up the crowd immediately with "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere," then led into a few more up-tempo hits that sounded mighty nice on a clear night. He also encouraged the crowd to "drink, dance or do whatever you need to." Mostly that included singing along to "Pop a Top," "Remember When" and "Drive." After singing "Like Red on a Rose," he dedicated "A Woman's Love" to all the mothers just in time for Mother's Day. He also talked about visiting Virginia Beach as a 12-year-old during the first family trip he took from his hometown of Newnan, Ga.
Jackson and Brooks & Dunn both made excellent use of the six rotating LCD video screens behind them. While the duo mostly showed miscellaneous footage that suited the songs, Jackson relied on his deep catalog of music videos. Isn't it funny how people still get a huge kick out of watching him wipe out on the water skis during "Chattahoochee"? More than just about any country artist, Jackson has clearly benefited from the popularity of music videos throughout his career.
Brooks & Dunn usually bring a high-tech show on the road, but they've scaled it back a little bit for the shows with Jackson. But with as many hits as they have, you don't really miss all the whiz-bang gadgetry. "Hillbilly Deluxe" got things going, followed by really early hits ("Boot Scootin' Boogie") and potential future singles ("She Likes to Get Out of Town"). Still, it's hard to beat those ballads such as "Neon Moon," "It's Getting Better All the Time" and "Believe."
There wasn't a lot of chitchat, although Ronnie Dunn did take a moment to gently toss a gigantic belt buckle into the audience -- a "gift" from a fashion stylist who had suggested he ditch the boots and tight jeans. Although Dunn was obviously not persuaded, it isn't hard to imagine outsiders telling both artists how they could change their look to appeal to a wider audience. But who needs that when they both can play a solid hour's worth of hits? And not just past singles, but genuine, chart-busting hits. The guy behind me didn't know anything about country music. (When the screens showed Denise Jackson, he asked, "Is that his wife?") Afterwards, with some awe in his voice, he conceded that the music was pretty good. Many of those attending the concert could have shared this particular insight with him years ago, even though some of the extremely enthusiastic girls up front weren't yet born when Jackson's "Don't Rock the Jukebox" or Brooks & Dunn's "Brand New Man" were first on the charts.
Two new artists opened the show. Catherine Britt came on about 15 minutes before the show time listed on the ticket. A new artist from Australia who is signed to RCA Records, she's been trying for a few years to catch a break. The audience seemed receptive to her strong voice and her new single, "What I Did Last Night."
Jake Owen also received an appreciative response to his candid new single, "Startin' With Me," in which he recounts all the failures in his life while vowing a determination to change his ways. With this tour rolling over the next few months, both Owen and Britt stand a chance in getting some traction with people who like to chill out in the summer air with some easygoing country music.
As for the headliners, some would suggest that if you want country music to grow, you have to keep one eye on tradition and the other one focused on a younger audience. Alan Jackson and Brooks & Dunn continue to achieve that.