Any touring artist surely relishes the time spent at home, and Rascal Flatts have logged more miles than most in their 13 years on the road. So for their hometown stop Friday night (Oct. 19) on the Changed Tour 2012, the Flatts guys and their pals made themselves comfortable in Nashville's Bridgestone Arena.
After sets from Little Big Town, the Eli Young Band and Edens Edge, Flatts filled the arena with layered vocals and positive, peppy messages.
But before things got underway, a homecoming gift was presented signifying another milestone in Rascal Flatts' long career. Grinning for photographers backstage, the band grabbed hold of a giant ticket stub commemorating their 7 millionth concert ticket sold.
Despite that long-term accomplishment and the name of the tour, though, the band's squeaky clean image and wide musical appeal hasn't really changed, and that's just fine with their fans.
Arriving under a neat beaded curtain of lights, the headliners launched into their recent hit "Banjo" as huge LED cubes descended from the ceiling to add to the visual excitement. With their wide catwalk, all three Flatts members can mosey out into the crowd at once, and they immediately did so, reaching out to grab the hands of fans squished up against the stage.
Working methodically through tracks like "Summer Nights," "Fast Cars and Freedom" and "These Days," singer Gary LeVox had plenty of help from the eager audience who sang along with every chorus and frequently took over when the front man offered up his microphone during almost every song's most memorable part.
As the band settled in, they began an easy dialogue between themselves and the Nashville crowd -- talking about being home, bassist Jay DeMarcus whispering jokes to LeVox, some goofy dancing and talk-singing and of course, thanking all those fans for laying down their hard-earned money.
After weaving a bunch of local flavor into the old "which side of the arena is the loudest" test, the boys started taking requests from the crowd. Who knows how they managed to hear over the rabble, but "My Wish," "Mayberry" and "Take Me There" were all played in shorter versions.
(Props to Gary and Jay at this point for a little self-deprecating humor, asking fans to "please pick Rascal Flatts songs" and lamenting that no, they do not "do the things that make the speakers go boom boom.")
As the set started to wind down the audience was treated to a few ear-pleasing covers (Bill Withers' "Lean on Me" and Journey's "Open Arms"), the warm/fuzzy feeling of destiny on "Bless the Broken Road" and a guitar solo by Joe Don Rooney which led into "Me and My Gang" and included -- of all things -- a theremin.
As "Life Is a Highway" and "Here's to You" teased the end of the night, fans were whipped up into a frenzy but didn't have to wait long for the big finish, a moving performance of "What Hurts the Most."
With one last call of "Who wants to rock and roll?" from LeVox, the band jumped into the 1973 Grand Funk Railroad hit "We're an American Band," bringing out Little Big Town, Eli Young Band and Edens Edge to join in the fray.
All four groups took turns with verses, before locking into one giant harmony on the song's closing strains.
Little Big Town arrived before Flatts with a giant eagle as their backdrop -- a fitting symbol for the group's soaring vocal lines. Along with hits like "Little White Church," "Pontoon" and "Boondocks," the band mostly played songs from their new Tornado, currently the No. 1 country album according to Billboard. Standouts included the swampy feeling "Front Porch Thing," "Sober," the darkly sexy "Tornado" and Kimberly Schlapman's endearing personality.
The group's other female singer, Karen Fairchild, took the lead on the majority of Little Big Town's songs to the delight of the audience. Her connection with the crowd was always solid, especially during the highlight moment of the band's set, her duet with husband Jimi Westbrook on "Your Side of the Bed."
The couple stood on opposite sides of the stage as spotlights shined, singing in defeated agony about a struggling marriage. Gradually they worked their way toward each other, delivering an emotional high as they finally stood face to face, willing their relationship back from the brink of collapse.
Eli Young Band took hold of the show's second opening slot, showing energy and successfully getting the crowd amped up. "Even if It Breaks Your Heart" struck a special chord with its uplifting message, while singer Mike Eli thanked all those fans who requested "Crazy Girl" on the radio even when they didn't know who sang it.
Sweet-singing Edens Edge, whose singles include "Amen" and "Too Good to Be True," opened the show with three-part harmonies and a gentle sound that fit well with the diverse Rascal Flatts audience.