Locked & Loaded Tour
Featuring Eric Church and JT Hodges
Comcast Theater, Hartford, CT
September 16, 2011
Summer was clearly over on this cold mid-September night when the “Locked & Loaded Tour” rolled into Hartford, Connecticut. This night would be the final night of the summer’s country music concerts series at the Comcast Theater (formerly known as the Meadows) and was arguably the best. Despite the unusually cold temperature, the sold out crowd and jam packed lawn section was alive and rocking.
I was fortunate, again, to score a meet and greet pass with Eric Church. Eric has quickly shot up the list of my favorite singers and it has been a real pleasure to meet him twice in the past few weeks. Despite all his energy and moxy on stage, he is a very humble and evel keel guy. We spoke for a moment about the Tour and his upcoming single (which he hinted would be “Springsteen”). I look for great things from Eric in the future.
I was able to take my seat, 5th row center stage, in time to catch JT Hodges. JT had recently signed to Toby Keith’s record label and has served as the opening act along the Locked & Loaded Tour. I did not know what to expect from him since I really only knew his single “Hunt You Down” but he showed a lot of potential. He was at best when he was at the forefront of the stage with a microphone and interacting with the crowd rather than set back behind the microphone stand with his band. Overall, he had a good sound and has some solid lyrics. I look forward to his first cd release. I was also able to meet him after his set and he was easily one of the nicest artists I have met to date.
Eric Church came on stage with his patented avaitor sunglases and Von Dutch denim Trucker Hat. He ripped into “Before She Does” and pumped his fist, pounded his chest, and shouted to the crowd for the next hour. As I stated in my review two weeks ago, Eric has an unique performance style that combines swagger and bravado with a party style bad boy image.
He changed his setlist up a bit and added a new fan favorite “Jack Daniels”, which a video clip is included down below. The song is a humorous take on the morning after a night out drinking whiskey.
Eric was energetic throughout, and really seemed to love when he was singing the new songs of his recent #1 album “Cheif”. He actually stated to the crowd at one point, “thanks to you guys I had the #1 album in the world for two weeks. So Jay-Z and Kanye can kiss my rift!” This comment is evident of who Eric Church is, an artist who does not care about taking on the music industry in the way he wants to.
Eric was at his best on songs such as “Lotta Boot”, “Springsteen”, “Love Your Love the Most”, and “Gettin’ Stoned”, all of which sound nothing alike. That is the beauty of Eric’s music, he never makes a similar song, but they are all country to the core – in his own gritty way. Which is why Hank Williams Jr.’s “Country Boy Can Survive” fit so well into his set. Eric is doing country music his own way and is surviving very well.
He ended his set with the booming “Smoke A Little Smoke” and had the entire amplitheatre on his feet as the sprays of smoke dominated the stage behind Eric and his band. I fully expect this man to be headlining his own tours very soon – it is just a matter of time.
For as much as Eric is on the rise and put forth a great performance, you could tell the majority of the crowd in Hartford that night came to see the headliner. And just after 9:30 p.m., the lights went low and the big screen produced a short comedic sketch which pushed Ford Trucks, the sponsor for Toby’s tour. Upon the end of the sketch, the first of a multitude of pyrotechnic M-80 blasts exploded and Toby walked to the front of the stage. Dressed in his usual cowboy hat and a strange short sleeve aqua blue “Hawaiian” style button down shirt, Toby exploded into “Bullets in the Gun”.
Toby was in playful mood that night as he was full of smiles, jokes, and lyric change-ups to make some of his songs more humorous. On tracks such as “Just Talking About Tonight” and “I Love This Bar”, his lyrics were changed to lyrics of more jokingly suggestive sexual nature which the ladies in the crowd obviously enjoyed.
Toby’s latest top 5 “Made in America” and a rarely sung single from the beginning of his career “Does That Blue Moon Ever Shine On You” were two of the highlights of this show. Both songs were sung with deep passion, one for the Country he loves and one about a woman. The notes Toby is able to hit on both songs are so far ranging that I would be surprised if any other singer in country music could hit them, besides maybe Ronnie Dunn. It was really spectacular.
However, the true highlight of the night for me was when Toby brought out fellow songwriter Scotty Emerick. Toby and Scotty have been long time friends and have penned powerhouse singles together such as “Beer For My Horses” and “I Love This Bar”.
On this night, Toby and Scotty went the way of the humorous “bus songs” they wrote together and had the crowd clapping along and laughing to two acoustic versions of “Weed With Willie” and “The Taliban Song”. Both songs are hilarious takes on topics some might find “un-PC”, but for anyone who can take on a joke can really get a laugh out of. I have always enjoyed Scotty Emerick’s writing and even some of his own recorded music, so it was a pleasant surprise to see him out there in the spotlight with the Big Dog.
Toby had to rush through the last couple songs of his set, probably since it was getting very late and there is an ordinance in Hartford. There is usually a few minute period where the lights go dark and the convential encore happens. Instead, he went right into “American Soldier” after singing “A Little Less Talk”. I enjoy the darkness period where the crowd chants “USA” before this patriotic encore better, but Toby made it work nonetheless.
Toby brought up a number of our Country’s military men and had them at the fore-front shaking hands with fans and standing alongside him in a proud and exhalted manner. As he sang “American Soldier” and the thunderous “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” alongside these soldiers, Toby reminded Connecticut that you should “never apologize for being patriotic”.
The entire “Locked & Loaded Tour” show that night was phenomenal and truly showed that Toby Keith is still at the forefront of country music’s finest artists and performers, that Eric Church is on his way up to the top, and JT Hodges has real potential. Sadly, the Connecticut Country Concert Season was over, but it ended at its highest point of the Summer.
3) Hell On The Heart
4) Drink In My Hand
5) Guys Like Me
7) Getting Stoned
8) Jack Daniels
10) Lotta Boot
12) Country Boy Can Survive (Hank Williams Jr. Cover)
14) Smoke A Little Smoke