Who’s Next: Pat Lattin

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MILLERTIME MUSIC SPOT PRESENTS: Who’s Next
Pat Lattin: Latin 101
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              With the release of his new CD, Lattin 101, Pat Lattin is ready to break into the newest echelon of singer-songwriters. A native of Bridgeport, Connecticut, Pat has been serious about music since he picked up his first guitar at the age of twelve. He attended Berklee College of Music in Boston where he studied performance and songwriting. He formed his first bands soon thereafter and recorded several demos.  After some time, he assembled a group of studio veterans and laid down an EP.

            Lattin 101 marks a new direction for Pat. At the helm is fellow Berklee musician, drummer and producer Tyler LeVander. The songs range from ethereal to contemplative to no-holds-barred rock and roll. All have the stamp of something that is not just innovative, but mold-breaking.

            Flying in the face of conventional artists, Pat Lattin—and his music—defies description. One may hear familiar melodic structure, but then comes the unexpected: complex, unique chord structures; songs with multiple “movements”; rhythmic adventures with wonderfully jarring changes.

            Unlike some other singer-songwriters, Pat Lattin can play. Acoustic, electric, rhythm, lead, you name it. Listeners will hear subtle nuance, supple backing and scorching leads, all combining in a sound that, quite simply, breaks new ground.

            “I feel new songs,” says Pat. “Some picking can become a head, a verse or a chorus. I have a simple rule on guidelines: I disregard them. Some songs are culled from others. I just assemble what sounds ‘at home’ to me.” The result: tunes that comfort, provoke, and surprise. Some veer close to a precarious edge but somehow never lose control. They can turn heads and startle, but concurrently seem to bring the listener to a landing—if not a seamless, safe one.

            Pat is equally adept at playing solo as he is with his band. At every venue, he manages to invite the audience into his world—a world of wonder, texture and new horizons. Perhaps an early listener described a Pat Lattin performance best, “I don’t know what I just heard … but I need to hear it again. Right now.”

            Speaking thematically, Pat Lattin compositions touch on friendly discord (“Thanks for the Advice”); a Poe-like walk through the macabre (“Mad Hatter”); the plaint of a lonely sailor (“Edge of the World”), and possibly the world’s first song about a baggage claim (“Queen of the Carousel”).

            Audiences can pick up Lattin 101 on June 20th. The album will be available via all popular digital outlets. Physical copies will also drop on that date.

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            For more information, contact press@patlattin.com.

Billy Joel Continues His Historic Garden Run

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BILLY JOEL – MADISON SQUARE GARDEN – NYC – MAY 27, 2016

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I had the extreme privilege of seeing yet another musical icon, amidst a recording breaking run of sold out shows at the “World’s Most Famous Arena”, when I saw Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden.  I have been to a low of shows in my lifetime, and dozens at Madison Square Garden and can say that this venue always has a unique aura of electricity from the crowd.  And this night was no different, as the sold out crowd was loud and proud to be Billy Joel fans all night long.  And Billy returned the favor, treating the crowd as if he personally knew them.

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Billy was seated at a rotating piano for the entire show sans the encore.  During the set, he played mega-hits, such as Movin’ Out, New York State of Mind, and The River of Dreams, and expectedly received beams of applause from the dancing crowd.  But, early on, he did something I’ve never seen another live performer do before.  Two separate times, he announced two songs and asked the crowd to pick between the two by their applause.  The winning songs were Vienna (over The Stranger) and Zanzibar (over Big Man On Mulberry Street).  It truly showed how comfortable Billy Joel is as a live entertainer.  At no point did anything he or his band did seem staged or practiced.  It was just a man and his band going out and playing for a bunch of people who felt like they knew him.  And knew his music they did.

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Other highlights included Billy bringing out twenty or so members of the Navy during Goodnight Saigon.  Not only was it Memorial Day weekend, but also Fleet Week in New York City.  Chants of USA thundered down from the entire arena during this moving moment.  On the other side of things was when Billy dedicated The Entertainer to Donald Trump.  I personally think, based on the lyrics of the song, that it was done as a jab at Trump.  But, the Presidential Nominee obviously did not think so since the next day he took to Twitter to thank Billy personally for the dedication.   However, there was no louder portion of the show than when he ended his set with two of his most famous songs, Scenes From an Italian Restaurant and Piano Man, the latter of which the crowd did most of the singing with Billy sitting there in awe.

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Billy came out to a stirring six song encore chock full of classics.  And instead of sitting at his baby grand, he took to the edge of the stage with an electric guitar and jammed out.  During the final song, Only The Good Die Young, you could literally feel the arena floor bouncing.  All in all, the concert was a great experience and one that everyone should get a ticket to as Billy continues his run as the first ever music franchise.

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SETLIST:

  1. Seen The Lights Go Out on Broadway
  2. Pressure
  3. Summer, Highland Falls
  4. Summertime Blues
  5. Vienna
  6. Zanzibar
  7. Movin’ Out
  8. Layla
  9. The Entertainer
  10. The Boys of Summer
  11. Allentown
  12. New York State of Mind
  13. My Life
  14. Goodnight Saigon
  15. Keeping the Faith
  16. Sometimes a Fantasy
  17. She’s Always a Woman
  18. Don’t Ask Me Why
  19. The River of Dreams
  20. Summer in the City
  21. Scenes From an Italian Restaurant
  22. Piano Man
  23. We Didn’t Start the Fire (Encore)
  24. Uptown Girl (Encore)
  25. It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me (Encore)
  26. Big Shot (Encore)
  27. You May Be Right (Encore)
  28. Only The Good Die Young (Encore)

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ZBB’s Tour Opener in Hartford

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ZAC BROWN BAND: BLACK OUT THE SUN TOUR

MAY 19, 2016 – HARTFORD, CT

WITH SPECIAL GUEST, DRAKE WHITE & THE BIG FIRE

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Last night, Zac Brown Band kicked off their new Black Out The Sun Tour in Hartford, Connecticut and absolutely captivated a sold out crowd.  This show had a little bit of everything for the music fan in everyone, from country to rock, with a little reggae and electronic mixed therein.  More than anything, what separates a ZBB live show is the fact that, every night of the tour, you are going to get a completely different setlist, not the same 18 songs in the same order like most of the other acts out there touring.  Of course, this was night one of the tour, but you could tell the song choices were strategically chosen and masterfully executed.

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For anyone who has been to a ZBB show before, a highlight is always what covers are they going to play.  Because, not only are they a band who has pumped out 15 #1 hits and 4 #1 albums, but they are probably the best cover band out there as well.  In years past, I’ve seen them cover songs from Metallica, Rage Against the Machine, Bob Marley, Tom Petty, Queen, and so many more.  This night did not disappoint in the least, as they performed four amazing and very diverse cover songs: “No Way No” by Magic, “S.O.B.” by Nathaniel Riley, “Wrong Way” by Sublime, and “Teenage Wasteland” by The Who.  Yes, you did not read those four titles wrong.

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On top of it all were the hits, like “Homegrown”, “Toes” and “Chicken Fried”, as well as a great acoustic portion which featured “Sweet Annie”, “Colder Weather”, and a rare song found on ZBB’s first album which was an independent release, called “On This Train”.  Only the diehard ZBB fans know about that album, and many having been dying to hear that song live, which was a special treat.  The stage was intense, with multiple levels, a new horn section, and graphics that were very high tech.  During the song “Tomorrow Never Comes”, the Black Sun illuminated the entire amphitheater and turned it into an intense rave with trippy colors and the band jumping in unison.  Overall, the show is a can’t miss this summer from music’s most talented live band.

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And not to be overlooked in the least, was Drake White & The Big Fire, who opened the show to much intrigue and acceptance.  Sometimes being a relatively unknown act without an album for fans to get exposed to your music may be held against an artist in a live setting.  However, Drake White took to the stage with the performing swagger of a season veteran.  He pumped out country anthems such as “Back To Free” and “Living The Dream” as well as feeding to the ZBB crowd with covers such as a Beatles classic.  “It Feels Good” had the crowd grooving as Drake used every inch of the stage and showed no signs of being a rookie.  I caught up with him after his show and he told me he was excited about his first album and that he is shooting for an August release date.  Fans need to get ready, because he is going to be around for a long time.

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ZBB SETLIST:

  1. Toes
  2. Whiskey’s Gone
  3. Homegrown
  4. Let It Go
  5. No Way No
  6. Remedy
  7. Day That I Die
  8. Teenage Wasteland
  9. Sweet Annie
  10. On This Train
  11. Colder Weather
  12. Castaway
  13. SOB
  14. Chicken Fried
  15. Goodbye In her Eyes
  16. Tomorrow Never Comes
  17. Wrong Way
  18. Knee Deep
  19. Heavy Is The Head
  20. Beautiful Drug

Music, Mexico & More at Zac Brown Band’s Castaway

 

 

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Zac Brown Band’s Castaway With Southern Ground

at the Hard Rock Hotel – Riviera Maya, Mexico

with Trombone Shorty, Dawes, Michael Franti, Kacey Musgraves, The Wailers, Brett Dennen & Darrell Scot

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This past January, Zac Brown Band embarked on a familiar mission of giving its fans a healthy dose of great music, food, and entertainment, but this time, in a not so familiar setting.  I have been a fan of the Zac Brown Band since their beginnings.  I have been a member of their fan club, the “Zamily”, since its first few weeks of its existence.  So, when I heard that ZBB was putting together an all inclusive concert vacation at the Hard Rock Hotel in Riviera Maya, Mexico, I was all in.  While this is not the first time a band or artist has put together a concert vacation experience, and it was not ZBB’s first time (they previously did one a few years ago in Punta Cana), they are usually paired up with similar artists in the same genre.  What I love so much about ZBB is that you cannot fit them into any single genre, and this was so evidenced by the acts that Zac hand picked to be a part of the four night extravaganza.  Instead of your typical country music festival feel that acts like Luke Bryan or Lady Antebellum have put together in resort settings, Castaway was much more than that.  With acts such as Trombone Shorty, Dawes, Michael Franti, Kacey Musgraves, The Wailers, Brett Dennen, and Darrell Scott, the music side of Castaway became a true celebration of all music.

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When putting together an event like this, all details must be worked out ahead of time, and ZBB, Could 9, the Zamily, and the Hard Rock Hotel did this and more.  Not only was the resort enormous and beautiful, but it was kept clean and had all the options you could think of for a resort vacation.  What was very cool was they gave each resort guest a number of resort credits that could be used in a variety of ways.  My wife and I used them to upgrade menu choices at some of the restaurants, private cabana’s on the beach, and for entrance to the spa as well as services there.  There were various pools located at the resort where the party crowds seemed to gravitate towards, while the guests who wanted to relax and unwind had a plethora of choices along their enormous beach front.  And right in the middle of it all, was a huge stage fit for any large music festival, where the musical magic went down at night.

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Each night had a different line-up consisting of different artists and different set times.  The first night was kicked off by Brett Dennen, an eccentric musician who has a very different delivery, but one who I enjoyed a great deal.  He has had some hits that have showed up on different commercials and movies, such as “Comeback Kid” (look it up, I am positive you’ve heard it).  When he hit the stage, the Castaway guests were chomping at the bit for some music, so his show was accepted very positively.  With the music playing, the cool Mexican breeze blowing and the neon lights flashing in the sky, you knew you the next few nights were going to be something very special.  The second act of the night was The Wailers, Bob Marley’s old backing band who has continued to tour after his untimely passing.  And for fans of the old Bob Marley & The Wailers Greatest Hits, there show contained every single one of the classics.  The lead singer did very well to engage the crowd as the entire concert courtyard turned into a dance party.  “One Love”, “Jamming”, “Exodus” and many more were full out sing-a-longs as The Wailers played on to midnight closing out a very fun and diverse first night of music.

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However, the second day was the one all the guests were looking forward to the most as Zac Brown Band was set to take the stage right before sundown.  I caught up with Clay Cook, multi instrumentalist for ZBB and a solo artists in his own right, and he told me how much he was looking forward to taking the stage because the band hadn’t played together for a few months.  He told me he was meeting up with Zac that afternoon to discuss the setlist because “they knew it had to be something different and special”.  And different and special it was, as ZBB performed a flawless two hour set full of song from each one of their projects, including songs I had never heard live before despite the fact that I’ve seen them live more than two dozen times.

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Naturally, their set began with “Castaway” and was finished off by “Toes”, two of their island themed songs.  But it was tracks such as “Day That I Die”, “Cold Hearted” and “Natural Disaster” that made this set so memorable for the die hard Zamily members who paid their way out to Mexico hoping to see their favorite band celebrate their career.  Of course, there were the hits such as “Free”, and “Homegrown” thrown in, because, well, ZBB has hits.  But it was refreshing to hear all of their catalogue played live.  And to make this set even more memorable for me, personally, was the fact that I got to watch the majority of the show from a rooftop suite overlooking the stage with the ocean in the background at sunset, thanks to a few good friends I made while on the vacation.  This set, for me, will always be one of my favorite two hours of live music that I’ve ever witnessed.

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After ZBB’s set it was announced by T-Bird, the Zamily’s Manager, that Brian Collins was going to be performing at one of the bars on the resort.  I had never heard Brian Collins’ music before but my friends urged me to go and see him and I am happy I did.  Brian has a true Southern Ground type feel to his music and he performed a stirring acoustic set with his guitar and harmonica, as well as help from ZBB’s Daniel De Los Reyes and John Driscoll Hopkins.  The catchy song “Healing Highway” really stood out to me and made me buy his album when I got back home.  And I unfortunately did not get to see Michael Franti’s performance that night, but from what I heard, he had some of the best energy of any of the performers and hope to catch him in the future.

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The next day we were treated to a songwriting seminar with Coy Bowles of the ZBB and a guacamole cook off with Chef Rusty Hamlin, the band’s touring chef.  The seminar with Coy was outstanding as he spoke on how the band comes up with lines in songs and musical breakdowns.  For instance he told us that the band goofily created the song “Castaway” based off a dance some older women were doing in the front row of a ZBB show.  Or how the intro to “Colder Weather” was just stumbled upon at 5 am by Clay Cook at a piano at Kid Rock’s house, while he was still half asleep.  To hear how some of the songs ZBB fans love were created was truly priceless.  I even got to meet the lead singer of Dawes, Taylor Goldsmith, at the bar that afternoon.  Overall, it was a solid day with lots of fun and personalized options for the fans.

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That night we were treated to shows by Dawes and Kacey Musgraves.  For me, aside from the ZBB sets, the two hour set by Dawes was the most memorable of the four nights.  I had never heard their music before they were announced as a performer at Castaway and I spent the months leading up to the vacation, experiencing their four albums on vinyl.  And wow, was I blown away by their live performance.  I would describe Dawes as a folk-rock-jam band as they take a folk like approach to their songwriting with a lot of rock rifts, but then jam out for minutes at a time on almost every other song.  “My Time Comes”, “Things Happen”, and “All Your Favorite Bands” are probably their most well known songs, but it was other tracks such as “I Can’t Think About It Now” and “Somewhere Along The Way” that were most impressive live because each of the band members absolutely owned their instruments with bombastic jam outs.  They completely won me over and I will now see them live every time they are in my area.

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Up after Dawes was country sweetheart, Kacey Musgraves.  She put forth a low energy, free flowing set that paired very nicely with the breezy Mexican night.  Kacey’s first album, “Same Trailer, Different Park” has become one of my favorite albums, although her second album did not really connect with me the same way.  Her stage persona has changed a bit as she used to be very earthy, but now dresses in a strange tutu as her bandmates dressed in pink suits.  It all comes across as a bit cheesy to me, but her songs, nonetheless, are pure country and of much quality.  I watched half the set with the crowd and half the set from my friend’s rooftop with a cigar and some whiskey, which really brought together the relaxing atmosphere that Kacey creates.

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The final day of Castaway included tequila tasting seminars, a dance class with Daniel De Los Reyes, and a Tropical Sunset dinner prepared by Chef Rusty with acoustic music from Darrell Scott.  The food was amazing as Rusty cooked up suckling pigs and some freshly caught fish along with lots of authentic Mexican food.  Darrell Scott performed on a stage that was in the middle of the ocean with help from ZBB band member Matt Mangano.  It was a perfect kick off before the final pairing of Trombone Shorty and Zac Brown Band.

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Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue performed on the main stage first on the final night and they put forth an equally impressive and energetic set.  Trombone Shorty himself is a dynamic performer who uses every inch of the stage while he sings, raps, and plays a number of instruments, most notably, the trombone.  His band members were extremely skilled as his guitarist ripped filthy solo’s and his horn and sax sections had their time to shine as well.  Trombone Shorty had everyone dancing and grooving from start to finish and was much more than just a warm up for the finale of the vacation.  I even got to hang with him in the crowd during ZBB’s set and he was incredibly personable.

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ZBB performed the finale set of the Castaway experience with another two hour set chock full of hits and rare cuts from all of their albums.  Incredibly, they did not repeat a single song from their previous Mexican set two days earlier, which I dare you to find me another act who can do that.  “Quiet Your Mind”, “Settle Me Down”, and “Different Kind of Fine” were some of the rarely heard live songs that were performed, along with hits such as “Keep Me In Mind”, “Goodbye in Her Eyes” and “Beautiful Drug”.

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A few highlights included Darrell Scott coming out for the song he co-wrote with Zac, “Remedy”, fiddler Jimmy De Martini’s face melting solo on their cover of “Neon”, and the “Broken Arrows” performance that Zac is featured on with the EDM artist, Avicii .  Over all, the show was high energy and Zac and the boys were amped up throughout.  Fittingly, the four night concert experience was capped with ZBB’s breakout hit, “Chicken Fried”, which made the courtyard feel like a family style sing-a-long.  It was a masterfully executed event on all fronts as the music, food, resort, and personal attention were impeccable.  Zac told the crowd he wanted to do this again next year right back at the Hard Rock.  Mark my words, if they do it again, I will be there.  It truly was easy living down in paradise

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Springsteen’s The River Tour Runs Through Hartford

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Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band

February 10, 2016

The River Tour

XL Center – Hartford, CT

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Thirty Five years ago, Bruce Springsteen released an album which catapulted his career to new heights, that album was The River.  Bruce has often stated that The River was the gateway to his future writing.  The songs on this project were created during a recession in America, where a lot of people were struggling just to make it by.  The twenty songs that make up the album fully showcase why people consider Springsteen a voice of the blue-collar, hard-working people of this country.  And last night, at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut, Bruce and his E Street Band performed the entire album, in order, to a sold out and boisterous crowd.

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I’ve seen Bruce live now almost a dozen times and no show of his is just the “greatest hits” that so many artists go out and perform the same set night after night.  It is a three and a half hour celebration of his entire career.  So if you come to one of his shows, you need to come prepared with an appreciation for his full catalogue.  However, the first two hours last night was a beautiful rendition of the classic The River album which had a mixture of energy, pain, and truth.  Whether he was crowd surfing during Hungry Heart or playing a flawless harmonica during The River, or showcasing his band’s many talents in songs such as Sherry Darling or Cadillac Ranch, the full understanding of how each of that project’s songs tied together really brought the performance to a special level.  I thought the most moving moment of the night was during Point Blank where most of the stage was dimmed and the dark lyrics really shined through and captivated the entire arena.

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And in true, Bruce Springsteen fashion, once the entire The River was performed, he blasted into another twelve songs which had the crowd up, dancing, and jumping around.  This double encore of sorts, included hits such as Born To Run, Thunder Road, and Dancing In The Dark.  One of the best parts of the evening was seeing the interaction between Bruce and his new saxophonist, who happens to be the late Clarence Clemons’ nephew, Jake Clemons.  Jake’s uncle would be very proud of him as he did his best to fill the void that Clarence’s death left on the Band and the music community as a whole.  And he was very impressive as he used every bit of the stage and belted out tons of sax solo’s to the crowd’s absolute delight.

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All in all, I have yet to attend a Bruce Springsteen show that disappoints and this was no exception.  In fact, due to the fact that the entire two track The River was performed in its entirety, made the night even more special.  Bruce shows no sign of aging as both his voice and his energy on stage seemingly have not changed in forty years.  I hope he and the E Street Band continue to do more tours celebrating their storied past while continuning to give their fans new music during their journey as living legends.

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SETLIST:

  1. Meet Me In the City
  2. The Ties That Bind
  3. Sherry Darling
  4. Jackson Cage
  5. Two Hearts
  6. Independence Day
  7. Hungry Heart
  8. Out in the Street
  9. Crush on You
  10. You Can Look
  11. I Wanna Marry You
  12. The River
  13. Point Blank
  14. Cadillac Ranch
  15. I’m a Rocker
  16. Fade Away
  17. Stolen Car
  18. Ramrod
  19. The Price You Pay
  20. Drive All Night
  21. Wreck on the Highway
  22. No Surrender
  23. Cover Me
  24. She’s the One
  25. Loose Ends
  26. Because the Night
  27. The Rising
  28. Thunder Road
  29. Born to Run
  30. Dancing in the Dark
  31. Rosalita
  32. Bobby Jean
  33. Shout

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Erik Dylan Impresses at Mohegan Sun

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Erik Dylan – Live at the Wolf Den, Mohegan Sun – November 19, 2015

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A multitude of music fans were treated to an impressive ninety minute set this past Thursday night, by one of Nashville’s up and coming singer-songwriters, Erik Dylan.  For those of you who say you have not heard his name before, that could be entirely true.  However, based on what is on Erik Dylan’s current plate, that is all about to change.  Erik took a few days off from his busy schedule on Nashville’s Music Row, where he is busy writing songs under his publishing deal with Cornman Music, as well as putting the finishing touches on an album he hopes to release in the first half of 2016.  Backed by a full band at the intimate Wolf Den located in the heart of Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut, Erik showcased songs about his Kansas roots, love and relationships, life’s struggles and losses, and a few tunes about having some good old fun.

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This was Erik’s second time playing Mohegan Sun, but my first time seeing his live show.  I was very familiar with his music from the songs available for download on iTunes and the numerous clips from his die hard fans on YouTube.  His set flowed seamlessly starting off with a touch of party mixed in with a couple classic rock covers, including mash-ups with songs from Steve Miller and Tom Petty.  And his fans, who filled the Wolf Den to almost capacity, seemed to know each and every word to songs such as “Where The Party At”, “Beer For That”, “Hot Thing” and “Living For A Friday Night”, the latter of which has been getting steady airplay on Country 92.5’s morning show, the Electric Barnyard with BroadwayErik has a very relaxed stage presence that is both smooth and soulful.  The way he annunciates his lyrics is done with genuine confidence that would make you think he has been on the big stage for decades.

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The most impressive part of the set, in my opinion, was when Erik and his female guitarist were the sole people on stage for an acoustic set.  The songs chosen for this portion were fan requested and it really highlighted who Erik Dylan is as an artist: a masterful songwriter who can paint a picture with lyrics.  The songs “Experts On Sin” and “13th Floor” are as good of a song as I have heard all year as they touch on topics most songwriters won’t go near: the self reflective and suppressing feelings.  “Fishing Alone” tugs at the heart strings as much as any tune out there, and “That Girl That Got Away” is relatable to virtually everyone.  Erik performed a phenomenal cover of Garth Brooks’ classic, “Much Too Young To Feel This Damn Old”, but it was his version of “Comeback Kid” that had the crowd singing the loudest all night.  Erik co-wrote the song with Jeff Hyde, Ross Copperman, and Kip Moore and it is featured on Kip’s sophomore album, Wild Ones.  Erik explained that each songwriter connects with that song in a different way and that he wrote it with his wife in mind.  In fact, the version he played that night featured a different second verse than the one that appears on Wild Ones.  The entire acoustic set was masterfully executed and made the fans feel like they could have been sitting at a table at the Bluebird Café in Nashville.

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Erik cranked things up for the last portion of his set, which was highlighted by a stirring cover of “Copperhead Road” by one of Erik’s favorite artists, Steve Earle.  His band hit on all cylinders complete with soaring guitar rifts backing Erik’s poignant vocals.  The final two songs “Your Way Down” and “Hearts on Desire” are on two totally different spectrums both lyrically as well as sonically.  But, it speaks to the versatility that Erik Dylan possesses.  I caught up with Erik after the show where he shed some light on his upcoming project.  He said the party tunes will not be a part of the album and, instead, there will be songs that really reflect who is as a person and where he came from in Kansas.  He has been working with some of the best musicians and producers in Nashville and says that it is getting a lot of buzz on Music Row.  He hopes to release it in the first half of 2016, but is not sure of the exact date yet.  He also said a bunch of Nashville’s current radio mainstays, such as Eric Paslay, Justin Moore, and others he could not yet name, are cutting his songs and will be on their next albums.  But, if Erik’s live show indicated anything, it shows that he has the chops to be one of those household names himself.

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SETLIST:

  1. Living for Friday Night
  2. Beer For That
  3. Hot Thing/The Joker (Steve Miller Band Cover)
  4. Fall Into My Love
  5. Small Town Summertime
  6. Give It Back
  7. Lot About Drinking Beer
  8. Where the Party At
  9. Night Crawlers
  10. This Town Is You/Free Fallin’ (Tom Petty Cover)
  11. That Girl That Got Away (Acoustic)
  12. 13th Floor (Acoustic)
  13. Much Too Young To Feel This Damn Old (Acoustic) (Garth Brooks Cover)
  14. Fishing Alone (Acoustic)
  15. Comeback Kid (Acoustic)
  16. Funerals & Football Games
  17. Copperhead Road (Steve Earle Cover)
  18. Young In America
  19. Crash The Plains
  20. Your Way Down
  21. Hearts on Fire

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VIDEO CLIPS:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The CMA Awards: Who Will/Should Win?

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The 2015 CMA Awards: Who Will Win? Who Should Win?

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Two times per year, I sit down at the TV excited to watch a country music awards show only to be usually very disappointed by who ends up winning the awards.  The CMA Awards and ACM Awards have become a political ass kissing fest, where the actual artists most deserving of the awards get slighted by the ones who play the games the Music Row wants them to, as well as have the “right” label backing them.  That being said, the Awards show are fun because the multitude of performances, including an array of collaborations.  The CMA Awards are usually much better than the ACM’s, in my opinion, because Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood are phenomenal hosts and their opening monologue is usually hysterical.  I know a lot of “bloggers” do a similar post like this, so I am not reinventing the wheel here.  But, rather than bitterly posting tweets about the award winners on twitter, I thought I would get out my arguments and anticipated frustrations ahead of time, so that I can enjoy a bottle of bourbon and country music on my television in peace tonight.  Here it goes, whether you agree or disagree, does not matter in the least to me:

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 SONG OF THE YEAR

  1. American Kids – Rodney Clawson, Luke Laird, Shane McAnnaly
  2. Girl Crush – Liz Rose, Lori McKenna, Hillary Lindsey
  3. Like a Cowboy – Randy Houser, Brice Long
  4. Like a Wrecking Ball – Eric Church, Casey Beathard
  5. Take Your Time – Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally, Josh Osbourne

Will Win: Girl Crush.  It was a polarizing and controversial song, for some reason.  I guess because people either did not listen to the lyrics or did not understand them.  But this song will most likely win this category.

Should Win:  Like A Cowboy would get the vote from me.  The song paints a great picture when you listen to it and that is what makes the best country songs.  Plus, the way it is written allows Randy Houser’s voice to soar on it.

Side Note: How in the world is Take Your Time nominated?  It’s not even a song that is sung by Sam Hunt, it is basically spoken word.  Awful.

SINGLE OF THE YEAR

  1. American Kids – Kenny Chesney
  2. Girl Crush – Little Big Town
  3. I Don’t Dance – Lee Brice
  4. Take Your Time – Sam Hunt
  5. Talladega – Eric Church

Will Win: I Don’t Dance

Should Win: Talladega would get my vote, but would not mind seeing Lee get the award either.  Both songs are about nostalgic moments in life and both are meaningful and reflective.  Talladega, to me, seemed like a song everyone was talking about all year.

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ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  1. Old Boots, New Dirt – Jason Aldean
  2. Pageant Material – Kacey Musgraves
  3. Pain Killer – Little Big Town
  4. The Big Revival – Kenny Chesney
  5. Traveller – Chris Stapleton

Will Win: Traveller – Chris Stapleton.

Should Win: Traveller – Chris Stapleton.  It is, hands down, the best album from start to finish, of the year.  It’s got unbelievable lyrics and soulful vocals on each and every song.  As DeeJay Silver told me earlier this year: “if this album was released 20 or 30 years ago, we would still be talking about it today as one of the best of all time.”  I think the voters will get this one right, but maybe I am giving them too much credit.  But with Chris being nominated for three awards and performing with Justin Timberlake, I think this is the Award he most deserves.

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NEW ARTIST OF THE YEAR

  1. Kelsea Ballerini
  2. Sam Hunt
  3. Maddie & Tae
  4. Thomas Rhett
  5. Chris Stapleton

Will Win: Sam Hunt.  The women love him and do not seem to mind that he is 0% country and wears leggings on stage.  But, this is probably one of the most predictable awards of the year.

Should Win:  I would like to make an argument for Stapleton but the radio just did not play him and his album sales were not as big as Hunt’s.  I would not vote for Hunt and would vote for Stapleton, but I can see why Thomas Rhett deserves some votes as well.  He has had numerous hits, been on big tours, and has had an album that sold pretty well.

VOCAL DUO OF THE YEAR

  1. Brothers Osborne
  2. Dan + Shay
  3. Florida Georgia Line
  4. Maddie & Tae
  5. Thompson Square

Will Win:  Florida Georgia Line.  This one is obvious however much I dislike their style of so called music.  They would also win the award for Douches Of the Year as well.

Should Win:  Maddie & Tae.  These two females came blazing on the scene with a song attacking bro-country and I respected them for that.  Their follow up songs have not been as popular, but since FGL puts out the same damn song time after time, I think M&T would get my vote her for being unique, at the least.

VOCAL GROUP OF THE YEAR

  1. Lady Antebellum
  2. Little Big Town
  3. Rascal Flatts
  4. The Band Perry
  5. Zac Brown Band

Will Win:  Little Big Town.  Apparently being a perennial opening act, selling a small amount of albums, having one polarizing song, yet having the right label to politic for you, wins you this award.  They certainly do not deserve this award from a strictly statistical position.  Both ZBB and Lady A have had more success this year than LBT, in sales, hits, and touring combined.  They will win this again, but it is an absolute joke.

Should Win: Zac Brown Band.  Did any of the other groups sell out 3 dates in Fenway Park, 2 in Citi Field, 2 in Wrigley Park, or Coors Field?  Did any of them play live on HBO with Bruce Springsteen and Dave Grohl?  Did they have 3 #1 songs, one even on the Rock Charts?  Did any of them sell more than 200,000 copies of their album in the first week?  No, I did not think so.  But Zac and company don’t do ass kissing well, thus won’t win.  And that’s what really grinds my gears.

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MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR

  1. Dierks Bentley
  2. Luke Bryan
  3. Eric Church
  4. Blake Shelton
  5. Chris Stapleton

Will Win:  Luke Bryan.  Big tour, big sales, politically correct.  He wins or Blake takes it because Music Row loves him as well.

Should Win:  Dierks or Church.  I can make arguments for both and absolutely loved “Riser” and “The Outsiders”.  They both had big tours and lots of hits.  They produce quality and have integrity.  Stapleton did not have any of the “stats” the other four had, but I would love to see an upset here.  If I was voting, it would be for Dierks or Church, with Eric probably edging him out.

FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR

  1. Kelsea Ballerini
  2. Miranda Lambert
  3. Kacey Musgraves
  4. Carrie Underwood
  5. Lee Ann Womack

Will Win:  Miranda Lambert, because she always does.

Should Win:  Carrie Underwood.  All of recent songs have been big hits and she deserves at least a split of these awards that Miranda seems to somehow get 100% of.  I would love to see Kacey win in an upset, but I do not see that happening.

ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR

  1. Garth Brooks
  2. Luke Bryan
  3. Kenny Chesney
  4. Eric Church
  5. Miranda Lambert

Will Win: Luke Bryan.  Same reasons as above.

Should Win: Kenny Chesney.  To me, Entertainer means live performances and touring.  Kenny and Garth had the biggest tours of the year.  Kenny sold out stadiums nationwide and had huge names open for him.  He won’t win and I could see Garth winning here in an upset.  But how Kenny does not win this every year with the Touring numbers he puts together is beyond me.

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Thomas Rhett & Brett Eldredge Kick Off Suits & Boots in NYC

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Thomas Rhett & Brett Eldredge’s Suits & Boots Tour – Terminal 5, NYC – October 29th, 2015

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Thomas Rhett and Brett Eldredge brought the opening night of their co-headlining “Suits & Boots” Tour, sponsored by CMT, to New York City’s Terminal 5 this past Thursday and put forth two very different yet rousing sets.  Both artists are coming off of new album releases which have both sold very well in the initial weeks.  Eldredge released “Illinois” and Rhett followed that a few weeks later with “Tangled Up”.  Both albums showcase different shades of today’s country music with Eldredge staying within the borders of today’s version of traditional country music, while Rhett stepped outside the genre and predominately made a pop album with a touch of twang.  Their sets followed suit and the crowd responded emphatically all night long.

 

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Thomas Rhett performed before Eldredge, but got a much bigger response from the crowd throughout his set.  His setlist was full of hits from his first album as well as multiple cuts from his newest release.  That being said, the crowd seemingly knew every word and danced and sang along with the country pop star.  He opened with “Anthem” and was dressed with a suit jacket, white t shirt and jeans.  He danced around the stage doing his best Bruno Mars/Justin Timberlake impression, but it was not forced or done so in a cheesy way.  His country-pop persona comes across very authentic and his set was very professional, with no lulls whatsoever.  The lyrics to “It Goes Like This”, “Make Me Wanna” and “Get Me Some of That” were so well known by the crowd that TR didn’t even have to sing at points.  And songs such as “Die A Happy Man” and “Playing With Fire”, the latter of which featured tour opener Danielle Bradberry, created a good change of pace from the otherwise non-stop party.  But, by the time TR finished his set with “Crash & Burn”, the crowd was fired up and having fun.  And in turn, you could tell Rhett was as well.  It was a spirited set throughout that was equally impressive and, simply, a lot of fun.

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Eldredge came out for the start of his set in a suit and tie, obviously taking the name of the tour quite literally.  His set did not garner the same crowd reaction as Thomas Rhett’s did, but I thought his performance was quite steady.  The setlist had some ups and downs as it was clear the crowd did not know the newer songs as much, but when he sang his many hits, such as “Beat of the Music”, “Mean To Me”, and “Lose My Mind”, the crowd reverted back to sing-a-long mode.  He seemed to really be excited about his new single, “Drunk On Your Love”, stating it was the catchiest song he’s ever written.  But, his song “Don’t Ya” had arguably the biggest reaction of any song that night.  Brett’s genuine charisma signed bright on that song as the tall and lanky singer stomped and flapped around the stage with a big old smile.  His final song choice, “The Shadow”, was rather head scratching as I find it to be one of the worst songs on his new album and did not connect with the crowd whatsoever.  I was a bit surprised that he did not sing the title song from “Illinois” nor “One Mississippi” as both ballads are some of his strongest songs to date.  That being said, his set was also fun and showcased his likeability perfectly.

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For the encore, both Thomas Rhett and Brett Eldredge came back out and sat on stools to do an impromptu acoustic set in which they each choice random songs and sang snippets.  I thought this portion of the show really fell flat as it seems very unrehearsed and quite sloppy.  They did way more talking than singing which made the whole encore quite choppy.  They sang songs such as Kanye West’s “Gold Digger”, Brooks & Dunn’s “Neon Moon”, and Frank Sinatra’s “How You Look Tonight”.  However, I hope as the tour progresses, this portion of the show cleans up quite a bit.  Otherwise, I really found the two stars’ sets to be enjoyable and well worth the money.  On the major down side was the venue itself.  The head seemed to be cranked to well over 100 degrees and way more tickets were sold than standing room was available.  Everyone was sweating quite profusely and I saw many people walk out saying they just could not see the stage.  Terminal 5 really did not deliver on that front.

 

SETLISTS:

 

Thomas Rhett

  1. Anthem
  2. South Side
  3. Make Me Wanna
  4. Vacation
  5. Tangled Up
  6. Uptown Funk
  7. It Goes Like This
  8. Die A Happy Man
  9. T-Shirt
  10. Playing with Fire (with Danielle Bradberry)
  11. Get Me Some of That
  12. Crash & Burn

 

Brett Eldredge

  1. Beat of the Music
  2. Fire
  3. Wasted Time
  4. Mean To Me
  5. Tell Me Where to Park
  6. Drunk On Your Love
  7. Lose My Mind
  8. Come back with a Smile
  9. Wanna Be That Song
  10. Don’t Ya
  11. The Shadow

ZBB Takes on Citi with an Empire State on Mind

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Zac Brown Band – Citi Field, NYC – August 21, 2015

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When Zac Brown Band’s Jekyll + Hyde album was released, most of the so called “critics” gave mixed reviews due to the diversity of the genres they attempted to cover.  However, if any of those critics were present at New York City’s Citi Field this past weekend, they would have completely understood ZBB’s mindset with that project.  I was in the pit for the first night of their two night stand, and witnessed a band truly transform into a Jekyll + Hyde monster.  One who could sing country music songs with the best of them, but could also jam out, rock, and get people raving to EDM without missing a beat.

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I’ve seen ZBB live numerous times before and have been at every one of their NYC shows, starting with Bowery Ballroom, and working their way up through Terminal 5, opening for Kenny Chesney at MetLife Stadium, opening for Dave Matthews Band at Citi Field, and headlining gigs at Madison Square Garden and Forest Hills Stadium.  The best part about seeing this band time and time again, in comparison to most acts, is that every night they put forth a different setlist.  Friday night was no different, as they opened with “Sweet Annie”, a song that just sometimes makes their setlists.

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What followed was a first half of the show that included hits such as “Toes”, “As She’s Walking Away” and “Knee Deep” as well as covers from Led Zeppelin, Charlie Daniels Band, and Billy Joel, as well as a bunch of the new songs, highlighted by the moving tribute to our military with the Jason Isbell penned “Dress Blues”.  During that song, two Marines came out to salute the crowd atop the third level of the ambitious stage ZBB is illuminating stadiums with on this tour.  Jimmy De Martini, the band’s amazing fiddler, broke into an emotional rendition of taps mid song, and Coy Bowles had a rockstar moment as he jammed out following the fiddle.  Zac Brown, who is far from chatty at his shows, took a few seconds to thank the US military post-song, as the sold out crowd berated the band with chants of” USA”.

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After a few t shirts were shot into the crowd by the band members, an acoustic set took place at the front of the catwalk.  Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” and the emotional song for all dad’s who have little girls like myself, “I’ll Be Your Man” (backed by a gospel choir) showcased the true musicianship that ZBB possesses.  Whether its classic rock, country, or just good old songs that tug at the heartstrings, I dare someone to show me a better live performing act in any genre of music today.

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After a ten minute intermission, the band upped the ante and brought some high energy excitement to the Mets Ballpark.  Whether it was the EDM inspired “Beautiful Drug”, which happens to be their new single, or the recent chart topper on the rock charts, “Heavy is the Head”, Zac’s face started to change to complete intensity.  The gospel choir came back out for a beautiful rendition of “Remedy” and Zac ripped into Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” mid way through the mega hit “Keep Me In Mind”.  ZBB kept the crowd guessing with what was coming next and, boy, was it fun.

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The last three songs of the set before the encore are a perfect testament to what kind of band ZBB is.  For all you critics out there, you need to listen up, this is not a country band.  You cannot label them as so.  Just sit there and watch them do a 21 minute version of “Who Knows” complete with Clay Cook absolutely shredding a guitar that would make Brad Paisley and Keith Urban jealous.  Then watch them pay homage to a band they opened for just five years ago in the same stadium, as they performed “Stay” by the Dave Matthews Band flawlessly.  Then watch them get every single person in the entire stadium singing along to “Chicken Fried”.  The live performance beast monster that they are touches on every single genre, just as their new album does.  It’s meant to create a spectacle live, and they do it better than anyone else.

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ZBB’s encore consisted of Zac coming out with his third different hat of the night, this time a throwback Mets hat, as he walked through the entire pit shaking hands and slapping five as he belted out “Colder Weather”.  And the band finished up with yet another full on sing-a-long as “Homegrown” was performed to perfection.  I heard people walking out stating it was the best show they’ve ever seen and it just made me smile.  The people who see ZBB live get it, this is not a country band.  It is a unique creature that executes on stage better than anyone else out there today.

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SETLIST:

  1. Sweet Annie
  2. Uncage
  3. Kashmir
  4. Devil Went Down to Georgia
  5. Knee Deep
  6. As She’s Walking Away
  7. Tomorrow Never Comes
  8. Dress Blues
  9. Castway
  10. Toes
  11. Piano Man
  12. I’ll be Your Man
  13. Beautiful Drug
  14. Day for the Dead
  15. Remedy
  16. Keep Me In Mind
  17. Empire State of Mind
  18. Heavy is the Head
  19. Lovin’ You Easy
  20. Who Knows
  21. Stay (Wasting Time)
  22. Chicken Fried
  23. Colder Weather
  24. Homegrown

Jason Isbell is Masterful at College Street Music Hall

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Jason Isbell – College Street Music Hall – New Haven, CT – 7/22/15

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Last night, I had the pleasure of attending the Jason Isbell concert at the pristine College Street Music Hall in New Haven, Connecticut and ended up witnessing one of the best shows I’ve seen in years.  I unfortunately missed the opening act, Blake Mills, but got there a few minutes before Isbell took to the stage.  I found my way to the left side of the front pit and settled in for what I expected to a great night of music.  However, my expectations were blown out of the water with the live vocal presence of Isbell, as well as the true artistry he and his band, The 400 Unit, displayed throughout the night.

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It took him no time to get going into some of my favorite songs from his catalogue.  He kicked things off with the funky “Palmetto Rose” and quickly transitioned into the folky “Stockholm” followed by his new single, “24 Frames”.  All three opening songs truly displayed the diversity that Jason Isbell has to offer.  What I did not expect was the exceptional skill that he possesses with the guitar.  He seemingly changed guitars each song with a more impressive one after another.  And the guitar riffs, solo’s, and jam outs were plentiful and masterfully executed.

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And there was no lull to the show as he kept the crowd guessing what he was going to perform next.  Whether it was the accordion backed bluegrassy “Codeine” or the impressive acoustic performance of the award winning “Cover Me Up”, the show was a rollercoaster of emotions, with the real star being the honest lyrics that Isbell creates.  It was very clear to me last night that Jason Isbell may, in fact, be the best musical storyteller of this generation.  From the sad military ballad, “Dress Blues”, which Zac Brown Band covered on their Jekyll + Hyde album, to the angry “Decoration Day” to the clever and witty “If It Takes a Lifetime”, there was truly no topic that Isbell could not make his lyrics connect with the crowd.

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The almost two hour set concluded with one of my least favorite songs, “Super 8”, but that did not bother me at all because the entire night was truly so impressive.  The overall setlist included songs spanning his entire career, including several songs from his time singing lead vocals for the Drive-by-Truckers.  Most of his new album Something More Than Free was also performed flawlessly and had concert goers flocking to the merch table to get their hands on some autographed copies.  All in all, my expectations were surpassed and has made Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit a must see act each and every time they will come back to the Northeast.

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SETLIST:

  1. Palmetto Rose
  2. Stockholm
  3. 24 Frames
  4. Dress Blues
  5. Decoration Day
  6. Codeine
  7. Different Days
  8. Traveling Alone
  9. If It Takes a Lifetime
  10. The Life You Chose
  11. How To Forget
  12. Speed Trap Town
  13. Cover Me Up
  14. Children of Children
  15. Alabama Pines
  16. Elephant
  17. Something More Than Free
  18. Never Gonna Change
  19. Goddamn Lonely Love (ENCORE)
  20. Outfit (ENCORE)
  21. Super 8 (ENCORE)

Kip Moore on Wild Ones and Comeback Kid

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I caught up with Kip Moore this past Friday before his performance at New York City’s 1st ever Farmborough Festival on Randall’s Island.  He sat down with me and spoke about two of the tracks on his upcoming album, Wild Ones, to be released on August 21, 2015.  Check out what to expect from the songs “Wild Ones” and “Comeback Kid”.

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WILD ONES

I can’t wait for people to hear this. The intro is just super stripped and we geeked and geeked until we found the most killer drum tone for it.  When people see what I’ve been up to behind the scenes with this song, people are going to flip.  It’s just raw and has emotion behind it.  I wrote it for my fans, but people are going to flip when hearing this and the rest of the album.”

Check out the intro and first verse of “Wild Ones” from the Farmborough Festival this past weekend:

 

COMEBACK KID

I have always felt like the underdog my entire life.  I have always had to scrap and claw for every single inch.  I think that has given me a chip on my shoulder for most of my life.  When I have seen things handed to others, when I have had to work so hard for it.  But for that, I have a different thankfulness than other people do and I have a sense of gratitude.  But, I’ve always had a supreme confidence when other people have doubted me.  I always think I am going to get where I am going to get.  It’s like a thing of destiny, but you are the only one in on that thing so that no ones knows where you are going, but you.   I think that song, man, it is just 100% me and its going to resonate with a lot of people not just here in America, but around the world.  It’s for all the people who scrap and claw with every inch– Kip Moore  

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A few months ago, I sat down with songwriter, Erik Dylan, who also discussed the song (see “Who’s Next: Erik Dylan”: https://millertimemusicspot.com/whos-next-erik-dylan/).  He had the following to say about his relationship to “Comeback Kid”:

I wrote a song called “Comeback Kid”.  There are actually four writers that wrote it, Ross Copperman, Jeff Hyde, myself and Kip… It was written for Kip but each of the writers related to the song from a different place with what the song means… My wife worked a day job for seven years and as a songwriter there are times you question whether you are good enough or if it is all worth it.  You need that someone there to support you.  So the song in my mind was all about my wife because I was the Comeback Kid… Meanwhile, Kip is the Comeback Kid in a different way because he had his share of ups and downs and so many people told him he would not be a country music singer and look at him now.” – Erik Dylan

 

 

 

Who’s Next: Chris Stapleton

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Who’s Next: Chris Stapleton

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For the past year I have been doing a monthly segment which I’ve entitled “Who’s Next”.  This month’s post is a bit different because its dedicated to an artist who I feel is going to break out as a solo artist, yet has seen various forms of success over the past decade.  He has penned over 150 songs that have ended up on major artists’ albums, such as Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, George Strait, Dierks Bentley, Adele, Luke Bryan, Darius Rucker, and Gary Allan.  He was the lead singer of the bluegrass band, The Steeldrivers, for a few years, and even founded a rock band called The Jompson Brothers.

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However, on May 5, 2015, Stapleton released one of the most refreshing albums I’ve heard in years, entitled “Traveller”.  The album has such an organic and traditional sound filled with songs that are edgy, dark, and moving.  The present day’s climate of country music makes the genre seem more like pop music with many of the artists making songs that are shallow and meaningless.  Yet, with “Traveller”, Stapleton wanted no part of the bro country phase and instead created a masterpiece from start to finish complete with songs with meaning.

I got to sit down with Stapleton for a few minutes while I was on official assignment for countrymusicislove.com before he performed at New York City’s 1st ever Farmborough Festival on Randall’s Island (you can see my recap of the Festival here: http://www.countrymusicislove.com/country-music-news/the-big-apple-goes-country-with-first-ever-farmborough-festival/).  Check out my interview below:

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MTMS: Do you take a different approach to songwriting when it comes to your solo career as compared to making a song for other artists?

Chris Stapleton: Not really, I just try to write the best song I can each day.  That is unless I am writing with another artist specifically for a project.  But, I do not sit down with any other intent than to write the best song I can write for that day.  Some days you get lucky and make one that someone wants to cut or can be a hit.  Other days I just take it as practice at writing a song.

MTMS: When did you start writing songs?

Chris Stapleton: I’ve been writing songs since I was teenager. Professionally, I got my first publishing deal when I was 23 in 2001.

MTMS: Have you recorded any of the first songs you ever wrote?

Chris Stapleton: You know, some of the songs that are fourteen, fifteen years old are on this record.  “Fire Away” and “Might As Well Get Stoned” are in that range.  I have songs that other people cut that I wrote before I even moved to town.  Like “Nobody’s Fool” that Miranda Lambert cut, I wrote that when I was 18.  Songs hang around and they will find a way if they can do the job.

MTMS: Did you expect the huge critical response you’ve received from “Traveller”?

Chris Stapleton: I don’t think you can ever expect anything like that.  You just have to try to write the best songs you can and sometimes you get lucky.  I will say this was a really wonderful and beautiful experience and probably the best one I’ve ever had.  It all flowed together organically and if you step back and look at things, it all came together.

MTMS: Do you have a favorite song on the album?

Chris Stapleton: They are all my favorite songs because I don’t look at them as individually songs, I look at them as a body of work.  They span such a long range of time so they are pieces of phases until they ended up on the record.  I really can’t pick one because I think they flow together.  I really like albums as a whole as much as I can appreciate individual songs, so these all tying together meant a lot to me.

 

Dierks Bentley’s Sounds of Summer Tour Opener

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Dierks Bentley – Sounds of Summer Tour – June 5, 2015 – Raleigh, NC

Guest Blog by Carrie Srebro (@corbers)

The summer concert season got off to a hot start (literally and figuratively) as Dierks Bentley kicked off his “Sounds of Summer” tour in Raleigh, NC on Friday, June 5, 2015. This is Dierks’ second year headlining the major amphitheaters across North America, and he, as always, gave fans a high energy show that packs a ton of punch!

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Canaan Smith kicked the night off promptly at 7 pm with a 5-6 song set which included his current hit single “Love You Like That,” as well as “Two Lane Road” and a cover of Nick Jonas’ “Chains.” Canaan’s music isn’t really my cup of tea, but he put on an enthusiastic and energetic performance to get the night started. I met him before the show out at the box office, and he was very nice!

Canaan Smith

Maddie & Tae were up next, and delivered an energetic performance. I find these girls to be refreshing – their backing band includes a fiddler!, and they both played instruments including acoustic guitar and dobro through the performance. In fact, the only time they put the instruments down was for a rousing cover of Dolly Parton’s “9-5” which the crowd loved. The girls have tight harmonies and sounded great live, and never stopped smiling through their set. The set included songs that are on their current EP (“Fly,” and fan-favorite “Sierra”) as well as some new music that will be on their upcoming full-length August release. “Shut Up and Fish” is a cheeky song about dating a city boy who won’t – well – shut up and fish, and a lot of fun. And of course the crowd went crazy for the duo’s first #1 hit “Girl in a Country Song.”

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Maddie & Tae Setlist:

  1. Right Here Right
  2. Now Shut Up and Fish
  3. Sierra
  4. Fly
  5. Waiting on a Plane
  6. 9-5
  7. Girl in a Country Song

Promptly at 8:15, Kip Moore took the stage, opening with the rousing anthemic song “Wild Ones,” the title track off his upcoming album. He then threw it back, so to speak, to his debut album with “Crazy One More Time” and “Reckless” before getting the crowd worked up with his hit single “Beer Money,” followed by an awesome cover of Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle!” I’ve only seen Kip one other time, at the Grand Ole Opry for a 3-song set, and was really looking forward to this longer set. Kip didn’t disappoint – his gravelly vocals sounded fantastic on “Hey Pretty Girl” which he then blended into “Stand by Me”. New songs included were his current single “I’m to Blame,” (which feels even shorter in a live setting), “Come and Get It,” and “Magic.” The set closed with Kip’s quirky #1 hit “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Truck” (which coincidentally was Dierks’ walkout music for the Locked and Reloaded Tour in 2013!), which the crowd loved!

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Kip Moore Setlist:

  1. Wild Ones
  2. Crazy One More Time
  3. Reckless
  4. Beer Money
  5. The Middle (Jimmy Eat World cover)
  6. I’m to Blame
  7. Come and Get It
  8. Hey Pretty Girl/Stand by Me
  9. Magic
  10. Somethin’ Bout a Truck

There had been a lot of press leading up to the kickoff of the tour this week, and the word of the week was “pyro” which admittedly had me a little worried. I’ve followed Dierks since his debut, and I’ve seen him over 35 times live, and I’ve just never felt like he ever needed to put on a big production to remain competitive in the live world. But, I guess they felt like it was time to pull out all of the stops this year! Thankfully, I didn’t really think anything was over the top, and even though the production is bigger, it still feels like a Dierks show – which means it’s super high on energy and crowd interaction. His 90-minute set kicked off with “Sideways,” “Am I The Only One,” and “5-1-5-0” and we got our first taste of fireworks at the end of “5-1-5-0” (the only time I felt like it was gratuitous, but I suppose in hindsight it was to close the big opening of the show). During the first three songs, Dierks was all over the stage, on the catwalk, giving high fives and fistbumps constantly, pointing out little white tank tops and pilot hats (obvious nods to his uber-popular “What Was I Thinkin” and “Drunk on a Plane”). He took a break to address the crowd leading into “I Hold On,” expressing his delight in opening the tour in Raleigh, commenting how far he’d come since 2005 when he played the 500-seat Lincoln Theatre, and mentioning his late father and telling the crowd “he’d get a kick out of this, y’all.”

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He also made a point of calling out all of the faces he recognized down front, his long-time followers, and exclaimed “We did it!” “I Hold On” turned into a massive singalong, with the crowd positively screaming the song back to Dierks. The tour showcased the live debut of “Sounds of Summer” which included another singalong, with Dierks remarking that was his “favorite sound of summer.” Upcoming single “Riser” was absolutely a highlight of the evening, as Dierks was lifted into the air as part of the stage came up. His performance was strong, stirring, and triumphant.

On last summer’s “Riser” Tour, Dierks utilized a B-stage at the back of the reserved area, close to the lawn seats, and he continued that this year as well. Much to the delight of fans, he walks out to the B-stage taking selfies, giving high fives and hugs while singing the fan-favorite “Come a Little Closer” as he… comes a little closer. He sang the anthemic “Home,” and then the band joined him for a “banjo-fied” cover of Nick Jonas’ “Chains” (which sounds strange, but it works) – and he joked about Canaan singing the song earlier in his set, too – and “Settle For a Slowdown.” They then worked their way back up to the main stage for “Up on the Ridge” where they really turned up the heat – flames shot out of the back of the stage for the latter half of the song, and if you’re down front, be prepared for the warmth! It was a cool effect and I felt like it added to the spooky kind of bonfire-esque feel of the song. His “regular” set ended with his most recent #1 single “Say You Do.”

Of course that meant that he hadn’t done the two biggest songs of his career, and sure enough, a video started to play of he and band members Cassidy and Dan attempting to “hood slide like Bo Duke.” It was pretty hilarious, especially when the General Lee and “Bo Duke” himself showed up. Of course that meant that “What Was I Thinkin” was coming, and the crowd was whipped into a frenzy once again. But nothing could top the response to show closing “Drunk on a Plane.” It was one massive sing along, and ended with more fireworks.

Dierks said he wanted to make sure the “Sounds of Summer” Tour was the best tour of the summer, and I would say he’ll make good on that promise for many fans. He continues to put on a high energy show full of crowd interaction and look like he’s having the time of his life the entire time. He’s also good to his openers, inviting Kip Moore out during “Lot of Leavin’ Left to Do,” and Maddie & Tae and Canaan joined him for “Free & Easy.” All four acts seem to get along really well, and even on night one there was an ease among them. If you have the chance to catch this tour, I highly recommend it!

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Dierks Bentley Setlist:

  1. Sideways
  2. Am I The Only One
  3. 5-1-5-0
  4. I Hold On
  5. Tip it on Back
  6. Every Mile a Memory
  7. Feel That Fire
  8. Sounds of Summer
  9. Riser
  10. Lot of Leaving Left to Do (w/ Kip Moore)
  11. Come a Little Closer
  12. Home Chains (Nick Jonas)
  13. Settle for a Slowdown
  14. Up on the Ridge
  15. Free & Easy (w/ Maddie & Tae, Canaan Smith)
  16. Say You Do
  17. Encore: What Was I Thinking
  18. Drunk on a Plane

Zac Brown Band Rocks Hartford

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  Zac Brown Band – Jekyll + Hyde Tour – June 6, 2015 – Hartford, CT

Guest Blog by Kellie Lambert (@kellie3lambert)

Throughout my entire life, I have been a rocker chick. My tastes may have drifted in and out of various genres, loving all types of music, by my heart lies in the sweet sounds of classic rock, of guitar-slinging musicians and poetic lyrics that far outweigh what is often offered on modern mainstream radio.

In the past year, I’ve delved much deeper in the county realm, as I discover how rock and roll it can be. And that’s how I discovered Zac Brown Band – a group that is as much rock as country, a musical chameleon that can change and morph into just about any style on stage. I became, shall we say, a little obsessed with how simple, yet how complicated, some of their songs were. Lyrics that seemed to be poignant and positive and accompanying layers of music with hooks that I could not shake from my head.

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When the band put Hartford on its list of “Jekyll + Hyde” tour dates this summer, I knew I would beg, borrow or steal to land in that audience on June 6. Luckily, my writing gigs allow me the chance to see concerts – as I often review them – so I was lucky to be at the Xfinity Theatre on Saturday to check out what has become one of my all-time favorite bands.

When Zac and company took the stage and launched into “Homegrown,” off its new album, the audience was clearly ready to join in the musical adventure. The band – which features eight core musicians – was set up on a two-tiered stage set with a walkway jutting into the general admission pit. The percussion and horn section was not hidden in the back, as in a standard concert set-up, but showcased on a higher level to be seen in its full glory. By the impressive structure, and large video screens within it, fans in every corner of the arena could appreciate the visuals.

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But beyond the flashy visuals was the completely organic, audio pleasure: Musical surprises tucked into the set list. Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” leading into Charlie Daniels Band’s “Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic,” a traditional mash-up with the band’s own “Free.” The Beatles’ “Let it Be,” performed in the vein it was intended. Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” an impressive undertaking yet the musicians’ paid homage to the classic. And The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge,” an alternative throw-back that was unexpected to the audience. Zac Brown Band is, in my opinion, one of the world’s best rock cover bands. Except you still appreciate them for their own twist on each cover.

However, Zac Brown Band is not just about performing other’s classics: The group’s own music is just as notable. The band played a bunch of tracks from “Jekyll + Hyde,” including the breezy “Loving You Easy,” as well as “Bittersweet,” “Castaway” “Tomorrow Never Comes,” and “Dress Blues,” the Jason Isbell song honoring our military, which featured a poignant, patriotic moment where a U.S. Marine came out on stage to salute.

The encores lasted deep into the night, ending two and a half hours of tunes, as the band pulled out many of its greatest hits for a sing-a-long with thousands of fans reaching up onto the dark lawn. “Knee Deep,” with its happy summer lyrics, pleased the Parrottheads, but the band turned the mood on its side with the next track, one appealing to the rock contingent: the heavy-hitting “Heavy Is the Head,” the Chris Cornell duet on “Jekyll + Hyde,” which was a total treat since it had not appeared regularly on this tour’s set lists yet.

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Confetti cannons filled the night air with paper snow as the band ended the concert with its classic hit “Chicken Fried,” the perfect finale choice with its simple, homegrown life lessons, quotable lines that remind us to appreciate our blessings – musical and otherwise – on this planet. It is funny how it’s the little things in life that mean the most, like a great concert by a talented band under the stars outside on a Saturday night.

The “Jekyll + Hyde” tour is in full swing this summer, and if you get a chance to grab a ticket, don’t hesitate. It’s worth every penny.

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SETLIST:

  1. Homegrown
  2. Uncaged
  3. Kashmir
  4. Devil Went Down to Georgia
  5. Free
  6. Into the Mystic
  7. Remedy
  8. Toes
  9. Day For the Dead
  10. Bittersweet
  11. Castaway
  12. Sweet Annie
  13. Under the Bridge
  14. Let It Be
  15. Colder Weather
  16. Keep Me In Mind
  17. Bohemian Rhapsody
  18. Dress Blues
  19. Loving You Easy
  20. Beautiful Drug
  21. Who Knows
  22. One Day
  23. Knee Deep
  24. Tomorrow Never Comes
  25. Heavy Is The Head (ENCORE)
  26. Chicken Fried (ENCORE)

Kellie Lambert is a freelance writer who has been published in numerous publications in print and online. She has been writing about the Connecticut music scene for more than two decades. She has a weekly music column in the Waterbury, Conn. newspaper, The Republican-American, and a weekly entertainment column in the Observer newspapers, in Bristol and Southington, Conn. She blogs about her life at thepeapodblog.wordpress.com, and can be found on Twitter @kellie3lambert.

The Legend, Merle Haggard: Live from NJ

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Bergen Performing Arts Center- Englewood, NJ – June 3, 2015

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Last night, Merle Haggard & The Strangers brought their legendary songs to the stage in the hometown I grew up in, Englewood, New Jersey.  This show was the night after Merle released a new album with Willie Nelson, entitled “Django and Jimmie” which he later announced as his first #1 album in twenty eight years. His son, Noel, started things off with a short set as he sang some classic style country music that was easy listening without any spark.  But, at approximately 8:45, The Hag took to the stage with a black hat, sunglasses, and electric guitar and the match was immediately lit.

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Merle kicked things off with “Big City” and followed it up with Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” which had the sold out crowd stomping along right from the start.  I had seen Merle live just once prior and he seemed to be much more animated this night, as he ripped into guitar solo’s, made jokes throughout the night (especially about hearing aids and marijuana), and even did some stationary dancing on stage.

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I read some reviews of Merle’s recent shows and saw the setlists from those nights.  I was expecting an identical setlist, but was very surprised and happy that it was not.  He sang some of my personal favorites on this night, such as “The Bottle Let Me Down”, “Silver Wings”, “Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” and the legendary song “Pancho & Lefty”, originally recorded with Willie Nelson on their first duets album.  He even sang a song, “Unfair Weather Friend” from the new Willie & Merle album, which he performed seamlessly.  It was a dream setlist and Merle’s vocals were spot on all night.

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Not to be forgotten was his impressive band, the Strangers, who had multiple chances to show off on their fiddles, steel guitars, saxophones, madolines, drums, bass, acoustic and electric guitars.  His son, Ben Haggard, showcased one of the more impressive electric guitars I’ve seen in recent years.  But when Merle pulled out a fiddle himself and ripped out a solo, everyone in the crowd got up and gave a standing ovation (see the video below thanks to Country 92.5’s Broadway of the Electric Barnyard, who was also in attendance at the show):

http://www.country925.com/onair/broadways-electric-barnyard-50108/merle-haggard-owns-the-fiddle-at-13649202/)

I have had the pleasure of seeing various artists live who have achieved legendary status, such as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Willie Nelson, Elton John, Carlos Santana, U2, Roger Waters, Jay-Z, and Paul McCartney.  Merle’s performance and vocals stacked up to the best of the icons I have seen live.  He finished the night off with the epic songs “Fighting Side of Me”, “Working Man Blues” and “Okie From Muskogee”. Everything Merle did that night was just that, in my eyes, perfection.  And sitting in the 8th row in an intimate venue in my hometown, made me appreciate what he has done for music history, that much more.

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SETLIST:

  1. Big City
  2. Folsom Prison Blues
  3. Silver Wings
  4. Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink
  5. Fall Apart
  6. Mama Tried
  7. If I Could Only Fly
  8. Motorcycle Cowboy
  9. Unfair Weather Friend
  10. The Bottle Let Me Down
  11. Sing Me Back Home
  12. Pancho & Lefty
  13. The Fugitive
  14. Fighting Side of Me
  15. Working Man Blues
  16. Okie from Muskogee

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Aaron Watson, the Honky-Tonk-Kid with the Underdog Success Story: Live in NYC

 

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Aaron Watson – Mercury Lounge, New York City – May 13, 2015

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Last night, one of Texas’ finest entertainers brought his act to New York City for the very first time.  Aaron Watson and his band put forth a spirited and active hour and a half set, full of stories and songs that showcase exactly who he is and where he comes from.  As the title of his album, The Underdog, suggests, Aaron certainly has proved all of his naysayers wrong recently, by becoming the first independent artist in Billboard Chart history to have the #1 Country Album and headlining a show in the Big Apple.  It was a special night capped by a phenomenal show.

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It was my first ever Aaron Watson live concert experience despite listening to his songs for many years.  I had the chance to interview Aaron last week (see: https://millertimemusicspot.com/whos-next-aaron-watson/) and he is easily one of the most humble and real artists I’ve ever met.  His live show matched his personality as he was full of smiles and energy throughout. He spoke genuinely about the stories behind the songs he has written.  Whether it was “That Look” that he wrote for his wife or “July in Cheyenne” after losing his baby daughter, the openness that he has with his fans is truly second to none.

More than anything, Aaron was born to perform.  He was a true showman as he worked the stage, backed by his bombastic band highlighted by a very talented fiddler.  Aaron posed for pictures, interacted with fans, and even stripped it down for an acoustic set full of deep cuts from his 10 plus years making music.  A nice touch was the fact he was wearing a Babe Ruth shirt which kicked off some “let’s go Yankees” chants by the raucous Big Apple crowd.

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And the set list jumped around without missing any era of his discography.  Whether it was “Freight Train” or “Fencepost” from the new album or “Summertime Girl” or “Real Good Man” from his past, the crowd seemingly knew every word.  Women were square dancing in the corner as the men raised their beers and whiskey during the Military Anthem “Raise Your Bottle”.  As the night went on and Aaron sang song after song, it was clear that he had the New York City crowd in the palm of his hand.

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There is something to be said for an artist who tries his hand at his dream and is told he cannot be something or should give up.  That was exactly the case many years ago when Aaron went to Nashville, Tennessee.  Lucky for all of us, Aaron bucked the odds and kept working at his craft.  On “Fence Post” he described that very story and everyone in the crowded clapped and nodded along in approval.  Aaron described that song as his “sticking it to the man” song and it was clear everyone in that building that night could relate to it somehow.

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Aaron vowed to return to New York City again as it appeared that his set had to be cut short due to venue time restrictions.  After the show he made good on his statement that he would wait out and meet every single fan who attended the show.  Not many artists show the graciousness and respect he does to his fans.  I hope this is just the beginning of Aaron Watson traveling out to the Northeast as everyone should rush out to see the Honky-Tonk-Kid with the Underdog Success Story.

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Who’s Next: Aaron Watson

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I’ve been doing this segment I like to call “Who’s Next” for the past year with a plethora of up and coming country artists.  I really debated calling this post by the same name because Aaron Watson is already an A-List name in the Texas music scene and already had the #1 album in country music earlier this year.   But, after speaking to him, it is apparent that he is set to take over the national grid on a large scale.  So, for those outside of Texas that do not know who he is quite yet, meet Aaron Watson and why he is “Who’s Next”:  

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MillertimeMusicSpot: I hear you started off playing guitar, but were primarily a baseball player.  Is that accurate?

Aaron Watson: Yeah, baseball was my first love growing up.  It was definitely my boyhood dream just like every American boy.  I had some chances and went on to play baseball in college, but my career was cut short by an injury and that’s when I picked the old guitar up.  So when one door closed another opened.  But, what is cool is I played home run derby just yesterday with my two sons, Jake and Jack.  And playing like this with my boys can rival anything those Major Leaguers are experiencing.

 

MTMS: Being from the tri-state area, where the country fed to us via radio is mainly pop based, I first heard of you when Real Good Time was released.  Do you consider that album your national breakthrough moment?

Aaron Watson: I’ve tried real hard not to be concerned with the mainstream country world.  I am just lost in my old little world here in Texas.  You can literally play 150 shows a year and make a good living never leaving the state.  About six years ago we decided to franchise outside of Texas, to the Midwest and West coast into the mountain states.  And now we have our sites on heading out East.  So, Real Good Time probably got my first national exposure that set the table for the success that The Underdog had.

 

MTMS: Willie Nelson, Pat Green, Elizabeth Cook, John Anderson, and more were featured on Real Good Time, what made you decide to go away from the collaboration aspect and just go straight solo in The Underdog?

Aaron Watson: I kind of had an idea that this one had something special on it and wanted to make a statement as an artist, songwriter and singer.  I did not want people saying of course he did this because he had this guy helping him.  I wanted to ride in solo on this one.

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MTMS: Well, it certainly worked out for you.  It hit #1 on the Billboard Country Charts.  How did that news hit you and your family?

Aaron Watson: It was pretty cool.  I try to stay even keel about music and try to get excited about family things.  But, I had taken my kids to school and came home and got the phone call in the kitchen with my wife.  I may have done a couple double back flips and spun her around with a big kiss.  I cannot speak for half of the artists, but this is my job and how I take care of my kids. So, it was more special from a Daddy and Husband point of view.

 

MTMS: The Underdog speaks to me on so many levels from a songwriter and story point of view.  I just had my first child this year and the song “The Underdog” has such a positive message to your children.  Did you write that yourself?

Aaron Watson: Yes, all of the songs on the album except two were songs I wrote.  That song I wrote for Jake and Jack.  I have a little girl too and I’m working on her song.  The princess gets her own song she won’t have to share.  I’m trying to raise the two boys into good Christian men who will raise their families with good examples.  I am trying to be the same kind of dad to them my dad was to me.  Life is tough and maybe when they go to college and they will put on that song and finally get it or maybe after I’m gone.  But, it was a special song.

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MTMS: How did you get the idea to take that approach for the song?

Aaron Watson: My middle boy Jack was upset because he was never winning races he had at school.  So, after school we would run sprints in the backyard from the porch to the fence.  And one day he came home like he won Game 7 of the World Series.  And that taught him if he wants something he has to go earn it and that is how my career has been.  No one has handed me anything on a silver platter.  There’s been more discouragement than anything, but it just fuels my fire.

 

MTMS: Was the process in making the record different than the others especially with a new producer and from the indie aspect?

Aaron Watson: Originally the first song on the record was going to be “Freight Train” and one day, it hit me that that wasn’t supposed to be the first song.  Along the way leading up to this album, we had some interest from some labels, but ultimately I told my wife that we were going to leave this album in God’s hands.  I should have put all the Glory in his Hands because this went number one and I think I am the first artist ever to hit number one from an independent stand point.

 

MTMS: Sonically, the song “The Prayer” is as good as any I’ve heard thus far in 2015.  And it is a deep song, what can you tell us about that track?

Aaron Watson: I wanted the first song to sum up what I’m about. And I read this book by Johnny Cash called “The Man In White” and it’s an obscure hard to find book he came out with in the 70’s.  He takes Biblical accounts of the Apostle Paul and makes up stories around those.  And Johnny Cash one year was having a bad year and went into a cave near his house trying to kill himself.  So, I made “The Prayer” as if it was something Johnny would say in the cave from the point of view Johnny was doing in the book.

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MTMS: With that being the first song on the album, the last one is “Fence Post”.  I was a song that when I heard it, I just smiled and said this guy is enjoying with what he is doing.  Is that also from a true story?

Aaron Watson: Totally.  It’s about sticking it to the man.  I wrote that song while driving to a political gig in Austin.  I’m not a political guy, I have my beliefs, but will argue baseball, not politics.  And I drove to this gig at night in my Jeep by myself and wrote it then. I finally finished it when I was doing edits for the album with a young engineer at Keith Stegall’s studio at 2 in the morning.  I said “hey man, set me up with a microphone”.  He did not want to because he said Keith wouldn’t like it.  I told him he wouldn’t lose his job and he set up a microphone. I sang it twice that night and sent it to a buddy in East Texas to play a little guitar and fiddle on it to make it sound like we were messing around on the porch. It’s just a fun song and I’ve enjoyed how people relate it whether you are from Texas or not.  Everyone has their fence post moment.  No one should give up or be discouraged, it really has that Underdog message in it.

 

MTMS: Despite Nashville not opening its doors to you, I know the Grand Ole Opry did a few weeks ago.  How was that experience for you?

Aaron Watson: I am always playing shows and take them day to day.  I never try to think about the next one and did not really realize the extent of the opportunity that the Opry was for me.  We got out there and I had my wife with me.  My parents were celebrating their 40th Anniversary and I could see them.  It was a magical night for me and I was very nervous.  But, when I got on that stage I just flicked the switch and played ball.  What added a few butterflies was seeing Steven Tyler and Charlie Daniels on the side of the stage watching me.  It was incredible.

MTMS: How is your relationship with Nashville today?

Aaron Watson: The thing is I have not rejected Nashville, its Nashville that hasn’t accepted us.  And I am not mad about it because maybe this is what God has planned for me.  Maybe Nashville will come around and I won’t have a problem working with them.  I have great friends and allies in Nashville like my booking agency and distribution agency.  But, I will never ever ever ever sign a record deal who betrays who I am.  Every song and decision I make, I will make sure I stay true to my Faith, Family, and Fans.  I may have been born thirty or forty years too late though.  If you watched the ACM’s a few weeks ago you did not see many cowboy hats in the crowd.  And I think Nashville knows we are a force to be reckoned with.  They can’t say I am not a country singer.  We had the #1 record in the nation and I had Nashville executives tell me that was impossible.

 

MTMS: What I love about your music is the attention to songwriting and actual real life moments, not just a party with a truck and beer.

Aaron Watson:  Exactly.  The song “Bluebonnets” is about how my wife and I lost a little girl.  That’s the song I wrote for her after she passed away.  People deal with heartaches.  I can write about my situation and how I got through it and maybe it will help someone.  Music helps me and is therapeutic.  And I’m making a new album now and it needs to be different that my past albums.  Songs should be little movies, like little short flicks.  That is what brought me to music, guys like Guy Clark.  And while I write this record, I will not listen to mainstream country radio.  I want no influence.  I do not care if I get played on the radio and will keep working as hard as I can for my fans.

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MTMS:  And your fan base is growing bigger and bigger by the minute these days, no?

Aaron Watson:  I have the best fans in the world and I try to treat them like a million bucks.  After every show I stay to meet every single one of them.  And they know when they buy an Aaron Watson album they are buying my little girl a pair of shoes, or a new baseball bat for Jake Watson.  Or my wife, who shops online and has a serious spending problem, so they help me pay off her credit cards each month.  But, my fans love my wife who is obviously my better half.  It’s almost like we have a Mom and Pop Diner and we have fans who are loyal to come support our family business.

 

MTMS: I’ll be reviewing your show in New York City next Wednesday at the Mercury Lounge.  Is this your first New York City gig?

Aaron Watson: You bet it is.

 

MTMS: What does playing New York City mean to you?

Aaron Watson: Well, I’ve already been informed by my boys that I have to pick up something New York Yankees for them.  But, they like the old Yankees not the new Yankees as much.  We are talking Mantle, Ruth, Berra, and DiMaggio.  And I am just excited for New York overall.  I mean, I am from Amarillo, Texas so I am excited.  It is an honor.

 

Striking Matches Live at the DDML

mtms-transparentStriking Matches
Dunkin Donuts Music Lounge
Hartford, Connecticut
April 9, 2015

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There are not many things I enjoy more than discovering new musical artists.  And nothing tops when the live performance from that artist exceeds my expectations.  I feel like that combination is the ultimate satisfaction a true music fan can have.  And that is exactly what I got last week when I was treated to an intimate set at Hartford’s Dunkin Donuts Music Lounge by the new duo, Striking Matches.

4Striking Matches is made up of Sarah Zimmermann and Justin Davis, two extremely talented and authentic musicians who both have hauntingly beautiful voices that may only be outshined by their instrumental abilities on the guitar.  They just released their first album, entitled by “Nothing But the Silence” which was produced by the legendary T-Bone Burnett.  Furthermore, fans of ABC’s Nashville would likely recognize a few of their tracks as eight songs they have penned have made appearances on the show.

3At the Dunkin Donuts Music Lounge last Thursday, twenty fans had their mouths drop wide open as Sarah and Justin performed an acoustic five song set that included stunning harmonies and even better guitar exchanges.  They started their set with the rootsy “Trouble Is As Trouble Does” and traded both vocals and guitar riffs in an action packed song that immediately had me hooked.  Between songs they told stories of how they met at orientation at Belmont University, how they landed gigs initially in Nashville, and about their first performances at the Bluebird Café and the Opry. 5They also performed “When The Right One Comes Along” and “Hanging on a Lie” which were both featured on the ABC drama, but not in the impressive manner that Striking Matches performs it.  In fact, Sarah Zimmermann may have been one of the most exciting live guitar players I have ever seen (and I’ve seen over 500 live shows).  At one point she began to switch hands, slap her guitar, and use extra accessories to create a bluesy sound on an inspiring solo.  The duo also stomp their feet and use a number of unique effects to further amplify their sound.

2All in all, Striking Matches has one of the most honest, unexpected, and distinctive new sounds that I have heard in any music genre in a long time.  They finished the set with a stunning cover of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love” in which they stated they sang in connection to a BBC Special they were part of.  I expect this duo to be around for a long time and as the change in country radio solely begins to shift away from trucks and beer, I hope America wakes up and attaches themselves to these truly talented musicians

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Photo Credits to Anthony Manciero (WWYZ-FM), Country 92.5 FM, iHeart Radio, MillertimeMusicSpot, and Amy Miller

 

Who’s Next: Jarod Foster

(Album Review + Interview)

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Jarod Foster released a self-entitled album this week that is equally refreshing and entertaining.  Foster’s ten song release incorporates every spectrum of the country lifestyle from love to recession to having a good time, but he does so with an originality and twang that is missing from most of the current pop country acts that so dominate country radio. 1006082_968979193119970_1811937538444200355_n Right off the bat, Foster comes out swinging with “Ray Ray’s”, a song previously recorded by Jamey Johnson and written by Wayd Battle and James Edwards.  Foster holds his own on the track as he has a deep and throaty voice with a pronounced bravado when he annunciates that has shades of Jamey Johnson and Hank Jr.. Foster pays tribute to the working class American people on strong songs such as “Burden of a Workin’ Man” and “We Did It”.  His voice really shines on a beautiful song called “She’s an Angel” which I could easily see being played on country radio as it has a smooth sound sonically with lyrics that are relatable for anyone who is in love with a woman. 11041080_967660916585131_6419017149226856867_n After my first listen, the song that really stood out to me was “Rosalita”.  As a big Bruce Springsteen fan, I wondered if it was a cover of his classic, but it’s very clear upon the opening chords it is far from that.  The song is a fun story song about a stripper from Tihuana and a boozy adventure with her.  The song follows a similar recipe that Blake Shelton did with “Playboys of the Southwestern World” or Toby Keith with “Stays in Mexico”, but with Foster’s own edgy twist. All in all, I was very impressed with Foster’s release.  His songs are topical without being commercial.  And he has an edge and bravado to his presentation that work well with his distinct throaty voice.  I was able to speak to him about the album and his road to becoming a Nashville singer-songwriter.  Check out our conversation below: 10523997_819990988018792_5262921798225598552_n MTMS: So, right off the bat on listening to your album I heard “Ray Ray’s” and it brought me back to Jamey Johnson’s version.  Are you two friends at all?

Jarod Foster: Yeah, we used to be but have sort of separated over the years.  But we had a mutual friend, Wayne Mills, who was murdered in November 2013.  Wayne had met Jamey Johnson and they were doing a show in Montgomery when he called me and said wait until I heard this guy.  And I went to go listen to him and, man, he just blew me out of the water.

MTMS: So you are originally from Alabama?

Jarod Foster: Yes, Vincent, Alabama.  Jamey was one of the guys who convinced me to move to Nashville eleven years ago.  He told me that is where I needed to be to get things started.  At that time Wayne (Mills) had a lot of things going with the Alabama Line.

MTMS: Since the move what have you been doing music-wise?

Jarod Foster: I’ve played my music and other people’s music since I got here.  I’ve opened for great acts like Lee Brice and Randy Houser.  And I’ve now recorded five albums, but this is the first I felt was good enough to release.

MTMS: How long have you been writing songs?

Jarod Foster: It’s funny, I’ve been writing songs since I was in the 4th grade.  My mom told me you know your songwriting has come a long ways since the 4th grade and I said, “the fourth grade?”  She then told me that I had a girl who I was “dating” then come over for Dominos by Candlelight.   I recorded a song for her on a handheld tape recorder and she still has it.  She said when I get my first CMA award she is going to release it.

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MTMS: Besides “Ray Ray’s” did you write the rest of the songs?

Jarod Foster:  All except “17” which was written by Cody Canada and recorded by Cross Canadian Ragweed.  Cody has helped me a lot introducing me to the road and introducing me to the Randy Rogers Band.  I met him when Ragweed was touring with Dierks Bentley in 2003 when they were playing in Jupiter one night and the night before I was opening for Wayne Mills.  Cody heard me play guitar and we hung that night so “17” was my tribute to Cross Canadian Ragweed.  I co-wrote “Rosalita” with Calvin Webster and my wife helped me write “Moonlight Kiss”.  The rest I wrote myself.

MTMS:  Was “Rosalita” written from a personal experience?

Jarod Foster: That was Calvin Webster’s personal experience.  He was in the Marine’s posted in San Deigo and he and his buddies went down to Tihuana.  I guess that is what all Marines do.

MTMS:  I like that this album spans the spectrum of country living, any song in particular represent who you want to be personified as?

Jarod Foster: “We Did It” is probably my favorite song on the album although its hard to pick and choose.  I grew up in a small town and its a place I always wanted to write a song about and I wrote that song three weeks before our second son was born.  I think I wrote it in six or seven minutes.  It relates to small town America and the recession people are going through.  I released a Youtube video of it and got a lot of feedback from people who related to it.

MTMS:  I know you are signed to RP Entertainment Nashville, what can you tell me about that relationship?

Jarod Foster: Heidi reached out to me a few years ago after I did the Wounded Warrior Project.  So I met her and stayed in touch with her professionally for a few years until she told me what she was starting.  When she asked me if I wanted to be part of it I told her absolutely.

MTMS: For anyone who doesn’t know you and your music yet, what could you tell the fans about your style?

Jarod Foster:  Its original and not cookie cutter.  It’s based off of real people I’ve met and real experiences.  I’ve pretty much written it all myself so its all me.  If there is a story chances are I will write a song about it down the road.

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Make sure you all check out Jarod Foster’s debut album available at iTunes now: https://itunes.apple.com/album/id975714048

 

Sturgill Simpson Shines in NYC

mtms-transparentSturgill Simpson
with Anderson East
Bowery Ballroom, New York City
February 11, 2015

 

On a cold and blustery night in New York City, an unique group of country music fans packed themselves into the intimate Bowery Ballroom to catch a glimpse of the artist that everyone has been talking about lately, Sturgill Simpson.  Earlier that day, it was reported that his Grammy nominated “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” had sold an outstanding 100,000 copies, despite it being done without him have a label and only costing him $4,000.00 to make.  I had read multiple articles by fellow bloggers saying that his live performance was just him and a microphone, with little charisma and no interaction with the crowd.  What I witnessed on Wednesday night was quite the opposite.

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When Sturgill hit the stage at about 10 pm, he immediately stated into the microphone that he and his band “were sick as shit, but going to give you our best”.  And he and his three band mates did not disappoint in the least.  Initially he moved quickly from song to song, but eventually settled in and began to not only speak to the crowd between each song, but also was quite the comedian.

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He seemed surprised at how attentive the crowd was, which was a predominately 40 and up crowd which is rare this day in age where country music is dominated by pop singers pandering to teenage party seekers.  And Sturgill does quite the opposite.  Songs such as Long White Line and Voices are written and sung with a combination of struggle and passion that anyone who appreciates true music would appreciate.

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He put forth an extensive two hour set list chock full of songs from both of his albums as well as a few covers thrown in.  He was visibly sick and even stated at one point he also fainted.  Further, he was drinking tea and cough medicine right on stage.  But, once his voice hit the microphone and thundered through the speakers, you could not tell that he was sick at all.  His unique and throaty voice was as impressive as it is as his studio efforts.

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What was most surprising to me was how active and interactive he was on stage.  His band mates, consisting of an electric guitarist, drummer, and bass player were extremely skilled and they broke out into a number of jam sessions.   And as the night wore on, Sturgill seemed to get looser and looser to the point that he was dancing around on stage with moves at times that were similar to that of Dwight Yoakam or Dave Matthews.  In the midst of the awesome song It Ain’t All Flowers, he and the band broke into an all out jam that last approximately ten minutes.  You can see Sturgill really getting into it in this clip here:

All in all the performance was extremely impressive and despite it ending after midnight in the middle of the week, no one seemed to care at all.  Now that Sturgill Simpson has signed with Atlantic Records, it will be interesting to see where his career will go.  But with his true talent and obvious desire to do things his own way and not sell out to the current trend of country radio, I have no doubts this will not be my last glimpse of him playing to a sold out crowd.

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Anderson East opened the show with a very impressive acoustic set.  He had a very throaty voice that was very similar to Bruce Springsteen.  But his approach was a combination of folk, pop and funk.  He sang with a ridiculous amount of passion and had the entire Ballroom quiet while we attentively listened to his words.  I suggest everyone pick up his EP if you are looking for something very different yet enjoyable.

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STURGILL SIMPSON SETLIST:

  1. Sitting Here Without You
  2. Water In Hell
  3. Long White Line
  4. Voices
  5. Time After All
  6. Medicine Springs (Stanley Brothers cover)
  7. A Little Light
  8. Life of Sin
  9. The Storm
  10. Sometimes Wine (The Sunday Drivers cover)
  11. Old King Coal
  12. Some Days
  13. It’s Ain’t All Flowers
  14. Railroad of Sin
  15. Just Let Go
  16. Turtles All The Way Down (Encore)
  17. I’d Have To Be Crazy (Encore)

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On The Verge: A Thousand Horses

mtms-transparentA Thousand Horses
Cadillac Ranch in Southington, CT
February 8, 2015
iHeart Radio’s “On The Verge Artist”
Presented by Country 92.5
 

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Last night a large contingent of country music fans eager to see iHeart Radio’s newest “One The Verge Artist” A Thousand Horses braved the weather and congregated at the Cadillac Ranch in Southington, CT.  They were treated to a rousing seven song set from a talented and unique group of musicians set to take the country genre by storm.

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Led by Michael Hobby on lead vocals, this foursome (along with Zach Brown, Bill Satcher, Graham DeLoach) performed songs that jumped from country to southern rock to straight up rock and roll.  The crowd was up and dancing the entire time as Hobby clearly knows how to work a crowd.  Songs such as “Drunk Dial” and “Back To Me” have a real potential to make moves on the country charts in the future. “Traveling Man” had the southern rock feel that would make Kid Rock fans proud.  But it was their current breakout hit, “Smoke”, that had the biggest reaction of the night.

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What really intrigued me about the band was not only how talented each of the musicians in the band were, but also their attention to details.  They had a back up fiddler and keyboardist as well as three female back up vocalists.  The entire band together made for a spectacular mix of sounds.

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I caught up with the band for a few minutes after the show.  I asked Michael Hobby how they got their name and he simply stated they were named after the first song they all wrote together in Nashville.  Once they got together and wrote a song called “A Thousand Horses” they all “thought the name was pretty cool”.  He further told me they had been together since 2010 and would be on tour with Darius Rucker this summer.  I joked with Zach Brown about his name and he laughed and said “I’m even from Georgia”.  The guys in the group seemed as genuine as they were talented in their performance.  I’m expecting this group to make some waves in 2015 and beyond.

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SETLIST:

  1. Landslide
  2. Heaven Is Close
  3. Drunk Dial
  4. Back To Me
  5. Traveling Man
  6. Smoke
  7. First Time

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What Happened To The Collaborative Album in Country Music?

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What Happened To The Collaborative Album in Country Music?

As one of my Christmas presents this year, I was given a vinyl record player.  Since that time, I have been quickly building a pretty extensive collection of vinyl LP’s which consist mainly of classic country albums from “back in the day”.  As I have built my collection of these influential records, I started to question something about today’s music industry: what happened to the collaborative album in country music?

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I am not talking about the collaborative song, but rather full albums in which the biggest stars in the genre combine to create.  Possibly the most famous and my favorite collaboration came from the “Highwaymen” which was a combination of Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson.  Not only is the title track one of my favorite songs of all time, but the entire album is spectacular.  And this super-group did not stop here, they made another full length album together and even went on tour.

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And this example is far from the only one.  It seems that Willie Nelson was at the center of most of the collaborations as he has made albums with everyone from Merle Haggard, George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Ray Price, Dolly Parton, Brenda Lee, Leon Russell, to even Julio Iglesias and more.  He has continued his tradition of collaboration into today’s modern era as he has appeared on singles with Toby Keith, Kenny Chesney, Chris Young, and much more.  However, the art of the full length collaboration is virtually non-existent in the current market.

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Willie is not the only megastar to collaborate on full albums as there have been combinations of Merle Haggard & George Jones, Johnny Cash & Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson & Barbara Streisand; Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton, among countless more.  And a lot of these collaborative albums are some of each of the star artist’s biggest selling and most lucrative projects. Yet, again, these were all from decades ago and the current trend is a single feature here or there.

So why is this idea so avoided among current country music stars?  I know most of them are friends and a lot of them write songs together.  Why not make a full length album together?  For example, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill have been married for a long time and have made songs together which have been smash hits and have garnered multiple prestigious awards.  Why would they not release a full length album together?  I would think something like that would both sell huge units and also make fans extremely happy.  Same goes for Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert, especially how hot both their careers are right now.

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Of course married couples are not the only ones who can collaborate.  Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan share close friendships that have been publicized the same that McGraw and Kenny Chesney have.  I have heard Lee Brice, Randy Houser, Tyler Farr and Jerrod Niemann lived together and often refer to themselves as the “Redneck Rat Pack”.  How awesome would a full album with those four artists collaborating be?

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So why do you think this idea has become extinct?  I personally think it has to with the power and control that record labels have these days over their artists.  The contracts and dollars control so much of the industry that the legal logistics would take most of the fun and creative spirit out of such a project.

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Yet I would love to see a combination of younger diverse stars like Kip Moore, Eric Church and Dierks Bentley come together for a project.  Or an older guard of artists such as Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw and Toby Keith or Alan Jackson, Ronny Dunn and George Strait.  Or something a little more Americana along the lines of a Sturgill Simpson, Jamey Johnson and Zac Brown.  I know these are all pipe dreams, but fun to think up combinations nonetheless.  So who would you like to see, in country music’s current major market, collaborate on a full album together?

Who’s Next: Erik Dylan

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A Conversation with Erik Dylan at Cornman Music Studios in Nashville, TN

I had the unique opportunity of spending a full afternoon on Music Row with one of Nashville’s up and coming artists, Erik Dylan.  Erik has a publishing deal with Cornman Music and has a self entitled EP available on iTunes.  We spent the afternoon at both Cornman and Sony Nasvhille, as he gave me an up close and personal view into the daily life of a Nashville singer-songwriter.  Make sure you all buy his EP  itun.es/us/ERdv4 and check him out at www.erikdylan.com .  I hope you all enjoy what he has to say as this interview is as real and true as it gets:

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MTMS: Tell us about your journey from Kansas to Nashville…

Erik Dylan: I originally left Kansas to attend Middle Tennessee State University to work on a career in audio engineering, but found out I wasn’t really good at audio engineering.  So then I decided to live in Nashville and make it my home.  I had always written songs so it was just about trying to figure out how to make it in this industry.

 

MTMS: So it wasn’t that you moved here just to make songs, it started from the audio engineering aspect of things?

Erik Dylan: I had always wanted to make music. I have been writing songs since I was a little kid and played in bands growing up, but I wanted to be part of an industry.  Actually, while I was at Middle Tennessee State, I tried getting into the songwriting program there but was denied by a certain professor.  He actually told me I was not cut out to be a writer.  Because of that I gave it up for a couple years after and it messed up my head until I realized I needed a second opinion.

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MTMS: So once you moved to Nashville, what approach did you take?

Erik Dylan: I realized if I wanted to be a songwriter I had to be around other songwriters.  So for seven years of trial and error, I learned about the industry and continued to try to be better.  And seven years later, I got my first publishing deal.

 

MTMS: In those seven years, did you have a “big break moment”?

Erik Dylan: I am still looking for that, really.  I am making a living off of it now and it is awesome, but we never know if it will always be this way.  I worked full time for AT&T and played 200 open mics in 2011 while doing that.  And Kip (Moore) saw me at one of those open mics, which is how I got my first meeting at Cornman and that is how I got my first publishing deal.

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MTMS: That was my next question, the whole Kip Moore relationship that everyone is buzzing about.  Can you talk about that?

Erik Dylan: He heard me at an open mic night from the speakers outside.  He did not actually see me, he was walking by outside and heard my voice singing a song called “Marlena” that I wrote.  He gave my wife his e-mail and told me to contact him because he had some people he wanted to introduce me to.  So that was my break into music row.

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MTMS:  A lot of rumors have been swirling about Kip Moore’s new album and I know there is a song of yours that he did cut for it.  Can you tell us anything about that?

Erik Dylan:  I wrote a song called “Comeback Kid”.  There are actually four writers that wrote it, Ross Copperman, Jeff Hyde, myself and Kip.

 

MTMS:  The song was created in one day?

Erik Dylan:  The bones of it had been there for awhile, but when you write a song you play with themes and titles.  It was written for Kip but each of the writers related to the song from a different place with what the song means.

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MTMS:  What is your relationship to the song?

Erik Dylan:  My wife worked a day job for seven years and as a songwriter there are times you question whether you are good enough or if it is all worth it.  You need that someone there to support you.  So the song in my mind was all about my wife because I was the Comeback Kid.  Meanwhile, Kip is the Comeback Kid in a different way because he had his share of ups and downs and so many people told him he would not be a country music singer and look at him now.

 

MTMS:  Besides the Kip cut, are there any other acts in Nashville that we will hear an Erik Dylan co-write on soon?

Erik Dylan: I do not know if they will make it onto albums, but I wrote a really great song with Eric Paslay that we hope will make it.  Thompson Square also cut one of mine in November.  I wrote Austin Webb’s song “Raise Em Up”. Chad Brownlee had a big hit in Canada with “Where The Party At” which I wrote and I actually released recently it as my first single.

 

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MTMS:  I saw the video for that recently, there were few fellow artists in it, no?

Erik Dylan:  JT Hodges, Caitlyn Smith, Logan Mize, Jimmy Stanley, and Courtney Cole were all in it.

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MTMS: Where was the video shot?

Erik Dylan:  Tennessee Brew Works.  Amazing beer, I freaking love that place.  They donated the space for us and they may have even donated the beer for us that day too.  Great guys run that place and I love it there.

 

MTMS: For those that do not know your music yet, what themes can the listener hear in Erik Dylan music?

Erik Dylan: I try to make it relatable to the listener.  If I can get someone to relate the lyrics then I did my job.  I think Springsteen did that to New Jersey and to the shore.  I do not think I realized how much Springsteen really painted the picture of Jersey until I drove down there and paid the tolls and saw how life is there.  I grew up in a farming community in Kansas and you will hear a lot of the blue collar and struggle in my music.  Everyone likes to party and songs about girls, but if we just write songs about that we are not doing the Midwest or the US justice.  I want people to feel things and that is what I love about “Comeback Kid” because people will relate to it for so many different reasons.

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MTMS:  One of the songs of yours that sticks out to me is “That Ain’t My Town”.  Did you record that with the current state of country radio in mind?

Erik Dylan: I wrote that with Jeff Hyde and we were talking about where country is at right now.  I love it where it is at in different ways, but I want more diversity in it.  That is what I would want to change.  I love party songs and girl songs, but country is so huge that we can have songs that talk about real things too.  I wrote a song called “Colorblind” recently that is about real life issues happening around us.  We need more songs about real issues.

 

MTMS: I am someone who cares most about the lyric and you seem to be someone who writes that way.

Erik Dylan:  Well thank God for people like you! I do care a lot about that because I grew up listening to Steve Earle, Guy Clarke, Townes Van Zandt.  It was all about telling a story in different ways.  That is what the true masters do; it is about crafting a song and making art.

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MTMS:  Does attaining radio play mean a lot to you?

Erik Dylan: I feel blessed right now to be able to come into work and write songs.  I want to make music organically and make songs that mean something.  If I want to be a husband, a father, be on tour, and write songs all at the same time, the music needs to be about a representation of me and where I came from.  If my music turns into radio play, that would be great, but I want people to parallel with my songs and be proud of it.

 

MTMS: Tell us about your publishing deal?

Erik Dylan: I am with Cornman Music which is owned by Brett James and is a co-venture with Warner-Chappell.  They have been great.  I came in as a songwriter who was writing more folk style songs and they have molded me into someone who can make modern country songs that can get airplay.  The lyric was always there for me, but Brett just shoots straight and has helped me to a point where the lyrics and melodies combine.  He has had 25 #1’s so he is an unbelievable mentor and person to be around.  And here, as well as all of Nashville for that matter, I have noticed we celebrate each other’s hits and success.  We are fans of each other and we take our turns.

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MTMS:  What does 2015 hold for Erik Dylan?

Erik Dylan: This month I have dedicated myself to writing and get in with all my ideas from the past few months.  I will be writing songs with my friends here in Nashville.  I am going out on tour with the Josh Abbott Band soon and there will be a lot more touring thereafter.  I’m also writing a blue-collar type project called “Flattlands”.  It is a record that reflects where I am from and I do not know if it will ever be heard on the radio, but it is not the reason I am writing it.  We are getting some radio airplay with my new EP which was released.  The coolest thing is my friends on Twitter and Facebook have grown so much.  I think I started the year with maybe 100 followers.  I have all these people that I recognize when I go to towns.  I consider them my friends at this point.  That is what is generating the most buzz because they want to hear what I am doing.  If I can model my career after someone in current country it would be Eric Church.  He started out grass roots and built fans that will follow him until he stops making music.  I respect that and want to model my music the same way.

I want to thank Erik for spending some time with me and stay tuned to our site as we plan on keeping everyone up to date with his music and look forward to reviewing an Erik Dylan concert in 2015!

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We Are Not Drunk Americans, We Are JUST Americans

 

Anyone who really knows me understands that I have love for Toby Keith.  If it was not for me hearing his song I Love This Bar in college, I would not have made the full leap to absolutely loving the country music genre.  However, as I have listened to everything the genre has to offer and attended hundreds of concerts, it has made me more observant to the little nuances of the actual business behind the music.

That being said, when I heard Toby Keith was releasing a new song, my first thought was “please do not be about drinking, again”.  When I saw the title I was immediately disappointed.  However, when I heard who the writers were, it gave me a glimmer of hope.  Brandy Clark (Mama’s Broken Heart, Better Dig Two), Shane McAnally (Somewhere With You, Merry Go Round, Come Over), and Bob DiPiero (Southern Voice, Gone, Cowboys Like Us) are widely known for their quality songwriting ability.  The three writers have co-written countless hits and award winning songs.  So, in that, I had a glimmer of hope.

When the song came out on iTunes at midnight on October 14th, I immediately downloaded it and ran into a guest bedroom of my house so I would not wake my wife and baby because I just had to hear the song.  After just one verse, all I could do was shake my head.  Not because the song was bad, but because I immediately could recognize what somehow the three writers and Toby could not, that one word could have ultimately changed the dynamics of the song.

What does Toby Keith do best?  Recently, he may be most known for his drinking tunes, but when he was flying high at the top of the genre, it was his love for America and overall patriotic nature that made fans love him.  And this song had that return potential.  Drunk Americans is not a drinking song.  The one word, DRUNK, misleads and confuses the true nature of what the song is about, what makes a person American.

The lyrics of the song show how people of many races, religions, political associations, and even fashion trends do not really separate each other in any way, because they are still just American.  JUST American.  We are not American because we are collectively drunk, its everything else mentioned in the song.

If the word DRUNK would have been changed to JUST it could have become another patriotic and uniting song that would have likely returned Toby to the top of the charts.  But with the sloppy, confusing, and misleading title, which does not make sense when examined with the rest of the lyrics, it will now be less accepted by country radio and passed over by the majority of fans across America.

This is just my humble opinion, what do you all think? Drunk or Just?

Eric Church Leads His Outsiders at Mohegan Sun

Eric Church
The Outsiders World Tour
w/ Dwight Yoakam and Brandy Clark
October 25, 2014
Mohegan Sun Arena, Connecticut

I have seen Eric Church many times over the years, from small clubs and bars to him being a supporting act for other headliners.  Over that course of time I always thought he stole the show, but wondered what it would be like to see him perform at a big time venue with a stage and experience he personally planned out.  When The Outsiders World Tour passed through northern Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Arena, I had my answer.  He did not disappoint in the least. 

The festivities kicked off that night with a set from singer/song-writer, Brandy Clark.  I last saw Brandy in New York City’s intimate venue, The Bowery Ballroom, when she opened for Kacey Musgraves.  That night she captivated the smaller crowd with her descriptive lyrics and story telling ability.  This night was a bit different as her set did not translate to a larger scaled arena.  Most fans did not know who she was and had never heard her songs, other than the covers she selected.  Further, her stationary performance style in such a large arena lacked any energy whatsoever.  I think Brandy is very talented and hope to see her again in a smaller venue, where she really can shine.

Dwight Yoakam was next on the bill and the lack of energy that Brandy Clark had was completely different from the style he came out with.  Despite having an awful sound manager his performance was quite fun.  He had some unique dance moves and leg movements during the guitar solo’s in the midst of his hit filled set.  Dressed in the Canadian Tuxedo complete with a cowboy hat that would make Clint Eastwood proud, Dwight ran through songs such as Honky Tonk Man, Streets of Bakersfield, and even through a rendition of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire.  Dwight fought through the faulty microphone malfunctions and really put forth a solid set. 

After a slideshow of VIP and press passes from all of the unique venues Eric Church and his band have played through the years, the lights went dim and Eric appeared on stage.  Fittingly, he jumped into The Outsiders acoustically until the band joined him after the first verse.  What followed was a visually stunning spectacle of lights, smoke, and moving apparatuses on stage.  In fact, Eric’s drummer descended from the large screen above the stage, something I have never seen before at a concert. 

Eric’s setlists have never been the same in the dozen or so times I have seen him and this night had plenty of surprises as well.  Of course, the hits such as Drink In My Hand, Smoke A Little Smoke, Cold One, Homeboy, and Give Me Back My Hometown were part of the list.  But the less known album cuts  such as The World Needs a Drink (selected by a fan club member), Hungover & Hard Up, Wrecking Ball and Rollercoaster were the songs I was most excited to hear.  For some reason, its these lesser played songs that really get the intense and passionate reaction that I love to see from Eric Church.

And that intensity and passion is exactly what has created Eric into the phenomenon he is today.  He is absolutely one of the leading front men for live shows as he has such a real and true reaction from the crowd and his own music.  His band is not all that impressive, in fact, I kept wondering what a instrumentally technical song like Cold One could sound like live if a skilled band such as Zac Brown Band would put their fingers to it.  But its not the band that the fans come to see, its the man with the shades.  And halfway through his set, just before Homeboy, he put on his infamous denim trucker hat and the energy in the building noticeably changed and things got a lot more rowdy.

After telling everyone what he would do if anyone messed with his little boy in Dark Side, an enormous devil like creature appeared in the far up of the arena as he fittingly launched into Devil, Devil.  If that was not enough, he followed it up with two of his most high octane songs, Country Music Jesus and Smoke a Little Smoke.  And while most artists would have probably ended it there, to the crowd’s delight there was still another seven songs left in the set.

A staple of Eric Church concerts today and forever will be highlighted by his career defining hit, Springsteen and his unique ability to work a different Bruce Springsteen song into it each night.  I know this tour has feature the classics Thunder Road, Glory Days, Born To Run and Born in the USA.  But on this night, it was Dancing In The Dark  that got the Eric Church treatment and it launched the crowd into an absolute frenzy.  See a video clip here:

Also among the final few songs were two songs which showed a sensitive side that most do not really known Eric has.  The first was These Boots which true fans show so much love for as dozens raised their cowboy boots in the air.  Eric even signed a few after the song finished.  He ended the night with a song he described as “a song we don’t play every night but is fitting for tonight” as he performed a stirring Those I’ve Loved Along the Way which brought goose bumps to anyone who can appreciate quality music as the lyrics are not only poignant, but his vocals were the best they were all night. 

All in the all the night was exactly what I had expected: intense, passionate, visually stunning and as energetic as any performer in the music business today.  I am happy that Eric Church is finally getting the notoriety that he has deserved for so long and this World Tour should do wonders for him for years to come.  In a day of bro country and pop country, if you are not one of Eric Church’s Outsiders, you are doing it wrong. 

SETLIST:

Eric Church

  1. The Outsiders
  2. Creepin’
  3. Guys Like Me
  4. Hungover & Hard Up
  5. I’m Getting Stoned
  6. Talladega
  7. Pledge Allegiance to the Hag
  8. Drink A Little Drink
  9. The World Needs A Drink (Terri Clarke Cover, Eric Church wrote it)
  10. Sinners Like Me
  11. Cold One
  12. That’s Damn Rock and Roll
  13. Give Me Back My Hometown
  14. Homeboy
  15. Dark Side
  16. Devil, Devil
  17. Country Music Jesus
  18. Smoke a Little Smoke
  19. Wrecking Ball
  20. Rollercoaster Ride
  21. These Boots
  22. Lotta Boot Left To Fill
  23. Dancing in the Dark (Bruce Springsteen Cover)
  24. Springsteen
  25. Those I’ve Loved Along The Way (ENCORE)

Video Clip – The World Needs A Drink
 


Kip Moore Leaves NYC Up In Smoke

Kip Moore
CMT’s Up In Smoke Tour
with Charlie Worsham & Sam Hunt
September 25, 2014
Best Buy Theater, New York City

Kip Moore’s mutual love affair with New York City continued this past Thursday night with a show at the Best Buy Theater in the heart of Times Square.  I have been in attendance at the shows he has put on in the Big Apple the past few years, starting with Bowery Ballroom in 2012 and Webster Hall last year.  I have seen him perform in other cities and states, but there is something about the City that brings out the best in him, his band, and the crowds.  This night was no different.

The night kicked off with a stirring performance from Sam Hunt.  He may be an artist with only one radio single so far, but you would not have guessed that from the way the crowd knew basically each of his songs word for word.  Hunt performed songs from his mixtape as well as his upcoming album, to be released next month.  His six song set, highlighted by “Leave the Night On”, “House Party” and “Ex To See” showcased how dominating a performer he is, despite being so early in his career.  His songs are as pop as any artist in the country music genre can be, but also catchy as can be.  The crowd responded to his constant movement and dynamic performance.  I expect Sam Hunt will be around for a long time.

Charlie Worsham was the second opener and provided a less energetic set.  He performed free flowing and technical songs from his album, Rubberband.  I am a huge fan of that album and was really looking forward to seeing him live; however, found myself a bit let down.  However, his musical chops were undeniable as he changed from acoustic to electric guitars and even a banjo at one point.  He seemed to be a bit out of place in the Kip Moore concert crowd as his performance was relaxed and somewhat awkward.  I hope to see Charlie in a different venue or circumstance.  

When it was time for Kip Moore to take the stage, he came out like a bullet out of a gun.  The opening song, “Wild Ones” is what many are expecting to be his next radio single and it is as catchy and bombastic as any song on country radio.  The chorus of this song lets loose something fierce and the crowd with amazing energy responded to the party anthem.  

WILD ONES (Video)



What followed was a twenty-one song set that shifted from party to emotional to nostalgic to romantic.  The song-writing that Kip and his co-writers possess along with the unique raspy delivery that he executes with really separates him from the rest of the younger generation of rising stars in country music.  And Kip performed a bunch of new songs for the hungry crowd as he explained how it has been frustrating for him that a new album has not been released yet.


But if these new songs are any indication, Kip may be on his way to CMA and ACM nominations galore.  “Hearts Desire”, “Backseat”, and “Lipstick” are destined to be radio hits as they are songs with detailed attention to the lyrics while delivered with the passion that is missing from so many of today’s artists.  

The Best Buy Theater became a word for word sing a long on hits such as “Beer Money”, “Dirt Road” and “Something About a Truck”.  However, it was some of his first album’s deeper cuts that were surprisingly the highlights of the night.  “Crazy One More Time”, “Fly Again” and “Everything But You” were performances nothing short of brilliance as he changed up the original recordings of the songs and the crowd almost drowned Kip out as the response was deafening.

Fly Again 
The CMT Up In Smoke Tour is a must see for any fan of country music as Kip Moore truly shows that he is set to become the genre’s next megastar.  The encore of “Faith When I Fall” mashed up with Tom Petty’s “Free Falling” has become a Kip concert staple, but always delivers on the genuineness that I associate him with.  Nothing is forced yet everything is done his own way.  He is not to be labeled an outlaw or in the bro country label, but should be considered a real and true artist.  Not many in the music business deliver with such realness than Kip Moore.  Bowery Ballroom, Webster Hall, Best Buy Theater … what’s next?   Hopefully, a lot more.  

SETLISTS:
Kip Moore

  1. Wild Ones
  2. Crazy One More Time
  3. Baby Break My Heart
  4. What I Do
  5. Reckless
  6. Drive Me Crazy
  7. Beer Money
  8. Up All Night
  9. Dirt Road
  10. Hearts Desire
  11. Everything But You
  12. Separate Ways
  13. Backseat
  14. Fly Again
  15. Come and Get It
  16. Young Love
  17. Hey Pretty Girl
  18. Lipstick
  19. Somethin’ About A Truck
  20. Faith When I’m Falling (ENCORE)
  21. Free Fallin’ (ENCORE – Cover of Tom Petty)  

Charlie Worsham

  1. Rubberband
  2. Could It Be
  3. Microphone To My Heart
  4. Young To See
  5. Love Someone
  6. Be Alone
  7. Trouble Is
  8. Want Me Too 

Sam Hunt

  1. Raised On It
  2. Ex To See
  3. House Party
  4. Take Your Time
  5. Leave The Night On
  6. Break Up In A Small Town  

DIRT ROAD
DRIVE ME CRAZY
HEARTS DESIRE

  

Jason Aldean, FGL & Tyler Farr Burn It Down in Hartford

Jason Aldean
Burn It Down Tour
with Florida Georgia Line & Tyler Farr
August 2, 2014
Hartford, Connecticut

Jason Aldean brought his loud and rowdy tour to Hartford, Connecticut this past weekend, with a ample help from Florida Georgia Line and Tyler Farr.  This was one of the sold out shows at the Xfinity Theater and it was apparent from very early on, as trucks and cars filled the parking lots hours before they usually do for these shows.  What followed was an action packed show full of swagger, bravado, and high production.

I caught up with Tyler Farr on his tour bus before the show.  He spoke to me about being a Georgia Bulldogs College Football fan, touring with George Jones at 16 years old, his relationship with Willie Robertson of Duck Dynasty, and a new song he is recording with Jason Aldean called “Damn Good Friends”.  Check out the full interview here: http://millertimemusicspot.blogspot.com/2014/08/tyler-farr-interview-august-2014.html

 
Tyler’s performance was very impressive as he showcased strong vocals and a very genuine stage presence.  His five song set was a bit brief, but very memorable.  He combined two new songs, including his new single, “A Guy Walks Into A Bar”, as well as three from his first album.  The final two songs got a huge response from the sold out crowd as he was able to put the microphone out to the fans as the whole Theater sang back “Whiskey In My Water” and “Redneck Crazy”. 
 
 
 
 
Tyler has a very distinct voice, which, in my opinion, sounds even better live than it does on the recordings.  He has the songwriting chops, unique voice, and humble attitude to go a long way in this genre and I expect more big things to follow in his future. 
 

 

Up next was Florida George Line.  Anyone who knows me personally, knows I am not a huge fan of their songs, but I kept an open mind as I watched them perform.  Both members of FGL were as active as anyone I have seen live as they used every inch of the stage.  They included background visuals as well as a multitude of smoke blasts to enhance the visual performance.  I don’t think their band was plugged in as it seemed to be a back track most of the time, but for the majority of the crowd it did not seem to matter.  Their setlist included party song after party song and, albeit that I find the songs a bit corny and quite clumsy lyrically, the fans seemed to love them. 

Jason Aldean finally hit the stage at around 9 pm and came out with some old hits first.  Backed by a plugged in and raucous band, highlighted by the hilarious and talented drummer, Rich Redmond, Aldean’s performance was indeed the best I have ever seen put forth by him in the many times I’ve seen him.  “Hicktown”, “Amarillo Sky” and “That’s My Kind of Party” were all performed early in the show, while he concentrated on a lot of the newer material in the second portion of the show. 

Aldean has stepped up his live performance game for this tour with stunning visuals, moving screens and lights, tons of pyrotechnics, and constant movement on stage.  In fact, he smiled a lot more and genuinely seemed to be enjoying himself on stage.  And why not?  The crowd’s noise continued to rise as fans exploded into the aisles singing and dancing their hearts away.  FGL joined him for “The Only Way I Know” as they attempted to sing Luke Bryan and Eric Church’s verses.  Further, he performed his new single, “Burning It Down” (video clip below). 

All in all, this was the best Jason Aldean show I have seen yet.  All the intricate details were well conceived and Aldean and his crew masterfully executed.  “Dirt Road Anthem” was as loud as I think I’ve ever heard a theater and the entire show had a feeling of electric energy. I really would not be surprised if this Tour and his upcoming album earned him a well deserved Entertainer of the Year Award. 

SETLIST:

Tyler Farr

  1. C-O-U-N-T-R-Y
  2. Ain’t Even Drinkin’
  3. A Guy Walks Into A Bar
  4. Whiskey In My Water
  5. Redneck Crazy


Florida Georgia Line

  1. It’s Just What We Do
  2. Party People
  3. Shine On
  4. Round Here
  5. Stay
  6. This Is How We Roll
  7. In A Hurry (Alabama Cover)
  8. Cruise

Jason Aldean

  1. Hicktown
  2. That’s My Kinda Party
  3. Tattoos On This Town
  4. Amarillo Sky
  5. Big Green Tractor
  6. Johnny Cash
  7. The Truth
  8. Take A Little Ride
  9. Fly Over States
  10. When She Says Baby
  11. 1994
  12. Night Train
  13. Don’t You Wanna Stay
  14. Only Way I Know (with Florida Georgia Line)
  15. Burning It Down
  16. Dirt Road Anthem
  17. Crazy Town
  18. She’s Country (Encore)
 

 

Tyler Farr Interview: August 2014

An Interview with TYLER FARR
Hartford, Connecticut
August 2, 2014
 

I had the pleasure of interviewing Tyler Farr on Satuday, ahead of his show with Jason Aldean at the Xfinity Theater in Hartford, Connecticut.  Tyler entertained a number of questions on his tour bus for me and showcased why he is not only one of the most talented artists in the country genre, but easily one of the most humble. I hope you enjoy what he had to tell me: 

MTMS:  I see you wearing a Georgia hat and there is Georgia stuff all over your bus here.  But, didn’t you grow up in Missouri?

Tyler Farr: I did.  A lot of people ask me that, actually. You need to thank Rhett Akins, not Thomas Rhett, his father, of the Peach Pickers.  They are some of the biggest songwriters in Nashville and happen to all be from Georgia.  And they are die hard Bulldogs fans.  When I moved to Nashville, Missouri really was not that good, so I did not have a team I rooted for like that.  I did not get into college football until I moved to Nashville and walked into a room full of them cheering.  I also now root for Missouri since they came to play in the SEC last year.  But if Missouri plays Georgia, I just put all my colors away so I don’t get my home state mad. 

MTMS:  Well, coming from Missouri, was there any particular artist that influenced you?

Tyler Farr: My grandpa, he passed away when I was a Junior in school and he was like a father to me.  He gave me my first guitar when I was 13.  But I did not start playing until I was 16.  He used to sit me on his lap and sing me old Hank Williams songs.  My Mom and Dad used to sing a lot.  My Dad actually was the last person to make All-State Choir before I did.  And then my Step-Dad sang with George Jones.  And I actually went on the road with George Jones for a month when I was 16.  I rode the bus with the Jones boys and babysat George and Nancy’s grandkids. 

MTMS: Did you ever go out or have a drink with George Jones?

Tyler Farr:  I did not.  This was post-Lexus wreck.  So he kind of calmed down.  But with some of those stories, I am glad I was not around for the drinking days.  I’ve heard a lot of stories from my Step-Dad.  But as far as music, he was a big influence. 


MTMS:  In terms of causing trouble, I heard you are part of the Redneck Rat Pack with Lee Brice, Jerrod Niemann, and Randy Houser.  How did that name come about?

Tyler Farr:  Yeah.  I mean don’t put me down with that list.  Nah, I’m joking.  They are my buddies.  The Rat Pack was not country, they liked their scotch.  And me and my boys drink whiskey, and probably too much.  I take it as a compliment to be put in with those guys. 

MTMS:  Any chance you guys will record a song together or even an album like the Highwaymen did?

Tyler Farr:  I hope.  I would love to sing with Randy Houser except he outsings whoever he sings with.  It’s just not fun to play with him at guitar pull, belting out that big voice.  How can I follow that?  After you sang Anything Goes … thanks Lee, I have to follow More Than A Memory.  They are all great talents.  I hope there is a tour in the making in the future. 

 
 

MTMS:  Who else have you worked with?

Tyler Farr:  A lot of people.  Willie Robertson, Colt Ford, Josh Thompson.  A lot of these guys have been good to me and I am happy to be put in a category with them.  I take it as a compliment. 


MTMS:  I know you talked to Broadway (of www.country925.com) about hearing Willie Robertson rap on Colt Ford’s album, but did you hear him sing with Luke Bryan on the Christmas album? 

Tyler Farr:  I missed that one.  I have not heard it. 

MTMS:  It was called Have A Hairy Christmas.  Will he be on your next album?

Tyler Farr:  No.  No.  He can stick to the duck calls.  I love him.  He does a heck of a job as a marketing genius.  I have a shower loofah someone gave me for Christmas of his face.  I do not use it anywhere.  It still has its tag on it.  I just can’t get myself to wash down with a Willie Robertson loofah.  It may even be made of his beard hair. 


MTMS:  So he won’t be on the next album, will there be any special features from anyone?

Tyler Farr:  Jason Aldean will. 

MTMS: Can you tell me the name of the song?

Tyler Farr: Yes, it’s called Damn Good Friends.

MTMS:  What is it about?

Tyler Farr: It is one of my favorites on the album.  The main gist of the song is that you have a couple hundred buddies, but only a few damn good friends.  It talks about breaking down, stuck out and the tow truck is taking too long, so who do you call?  It’s an edgier take on You Find Out Who Your Friends Are.  So, it talks about going into a bar and kissing on a brunette when an ex shows up and you see its going to be 3 on 1 and you need to call your friend.  It also talks about getting married because I’m going through that as Lee just got married.  I think he has had a litter of kids.  And Jerrod is now engaged, so I felt like singing something like All My Rowdy Friends Have Settled Down. 

MTMS:  So the next album will have some contemplative type songs?

Tyler Farr:  Yeah, with  the new single A Guy Walks Into A Bar and the one with Jason, it is going to be a bit deeper. 

 
 
 
My favorite Tyler Farr song thus far is “Wish I Had A Boat” and since I am a beginner at the guitar, I asked him for the chords to the song.  He returned by actually grabbing a guitar from the bunk portion of his bus and teaching me the song on cue.  Here is a video clip from the “lesson”:

 

Toby Keith & Colt Ford Party Up in Hartford

Toby Keith
Shut Up & Hold On Tour
Featuring Colt Ford
July 26, 2014
Hartford, Connecticut

Toby Keith brought his “Shut Up & Hold On” Tour to the Xfinity Theater in Hartford, Connecticut this past Saturday.  Alongside him, he had his Easy Money Band along with opening acts Colt Ford and Krystal Keith, his daughter.  As the norm for a Toby Keith concert, there were songs about drinking, being in love, heartbreak, red solo cups, and Patriotism.  And that suited the Connecticut crowd just right as a party broke out early in the day and never stopped.

I unfortunately missed Krystal Keith’s set as I was interviewing Colt Ford on his bus (see http://millertimemusicspot.blogspot.com/2014/07/interview-with-colt-ford.html for the entire interview).  Colt spoke to me about touring and golfing with Toby, his new video for “Workin’ On” and Marcus Luttrell’s involvement, as well as how he is the best dancer in country music.  Colt had an amazing presence in our interview and that carried over into his set on stage. 

 
 
Colt took to the stage to Answer To No One and never looked back as he put together a bombastic ten song set.  If anyone in the crowd had not heard of Colt Ford, by the end of his set they certainly had to be intrigued.  Not only to did he attack the microphone with the the rapping skills of a seasoned veteran, but he sang, danced, and had a rocking backing band to add to the unique combination of musical mash-ups. 
 

And anyone who thinks that Colt Ford is not country is sadly mistaken.  When he sang songs such as The High Life, Crickets, and Ride Through the Country, its impossible to not understand that themes are as country as it gets.  His delivery may be a bit unorthodox, but in a time where music is changing and there is a lot more exploration, Colt Ford has created himself a nice niche that has served as a starting point for a lot of other artists to play off of.  In fact, he ended his set with a mash-up of Eminem’s Lose Yourself and Jason Aldean’s Dirt Road Anthem, a song he wrote with Brantley Gilbert.   I was thoroughly entertained by Colt’s set and a great majority on the crowd was in the palm of his hand by the time he finished.  The combination of dancing, flag waving, and cell phones illuminating the theater showed that Colt Ford has a real place in country music. 

 
 
 

As it is customary for any Toby Keith show, the set began with a hilarious video filmed in Las Vegas featuring Toby, Carrot Top and the new line of Ford F Series Trucks, Toby’s sponsor.  Once the video ended and the screen dropped, Toby jumped out and jumped right into some high energy songs, Haven’t Had Drink All Day, American Ride, and Made in America.  Toby used a lot more of the stage and catwalk than he has in past years, which is always great to see as he has such a dominating stage presence.  The crowd sang word for word with the megastar, as Toby pumped out hit after hit. 

As a fan of Toby Keith, who has seen him over twenty times live, it was a real surprise to hear some of the older hits that he had not done in a long time.  These classics included Country Comes to Town, Who’s That Man, and Dreamwalkin’.  He said his band had been working really hard to relearn the older songs and that he wanted to sing them since its been twenty plus years since he started in the business.  And the band plus Toby did not skip a beat as the old classics along with the newer hits were all masterfully executed. 

Despite the amazing catalogue of hits that Toby has delivered to the masses, year in and year out, a Toby Keith concert experience would not be one without the absolutely stirring encore that he produces each show.  He invites any members of the military in the crowd up on stage with him as he performs the chilling “American Soldier” and the patriotic “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue”.  This Saturday night in Connecticut seemed to include branches of every part of our military, as they raised their flags and sang with emotion.  Toby’s show is truly indicative of what a long lasting mega star in the music business is capable of and I hope he keeps doing it on this scale for many years to come. 

SETLISTS:

COLT FORD:

  1. Answer to No One
  2. High Life
  3. Crank It Up
  4. Workin’ On
  5. Crickets
  6. Driving Around Song
  7. Ride Through The Country
  8. Washed in the Mud
  9. Lose Yourself
  10. Dirt Road Anthem

TOBY KEITH:

  1. Haven’t Had Drink All Day
  2. American Ride
  3. Made in America
  4. Beers Ago
  5. Wanna Talk About Me
  6. God Love Her
  7. Whiskey Girl
  8. Beer For My Horses
  9. Dreamwalkin’
  10. Who’s That Man
  11. Country Comes To Town
  12. Shouldn’t Kiss Me Like This
  13. Get Outta My Car
  14. Red Solo Cup
  15. Who’s Your Daddy
  16. As Good As I Once Was
  17. I Love This Bar
  18. Should’ve Been A Cowboy
  19. How Do You Like Me Now
  20. Little Less Talkin’
  21. American Soldier (ENCORE)
  22. Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (ENCORE) 

Interview with Colt Ford

Interview with COLT FORD on July 26, 2014

I had the pleasure of interviewing Average Joes Entertainment recording artist, Colt Ford, ahead of his show with Toby Keith at the Xfinity Theater in Hartford, Connecticut this past Satuday.  Colt entertained a number of questions on his tour bus for me and was equally humble and entertaining.  I hope you enjoy what he had to tell me: 

MTMS: What made you want to change from professional golfer to music?

COLT: I’ve always done both. Music is really my first love though.  But I’ve always been pretty good at golf and my Mom always said ‘God does not give you anything he does not intend for you to use’.  I happened to be pretty good at it and be able to make a living off of golf for awhile.  But, music is where I am supposed to be. 

MTMS: Growing up on music, did you listen to rap and country?

COLT: Growing up I listened to Waylon and Willie, all country stuff.  Whatever my Dad liked, so that’s what I loved.  But then I got into Elvis and Kenny Rogers and then I loved Run DMC.  I just like good songs, I do not care where they come from. 

MTMS: When did you first try rapping?

COLT: Oh, I made a record when I was 13.  It was a rap album, I never really explored the singing part.  But I always loved writing and I spent a lot of time in music business trying to be something I wasn’t, trying to chase something that was ‘cool’.  When it worked for me was when I was honest with myself and who I was and how I grew up. 

 

MTMS: I know you’ve had a ton of guests on your albums, how do you go about picking or choosing which artist to work with?

COLT: I just let the songs take me.  Honestly, I let the songs guide me.  I never write a song and say I’m going to write it and this is the one I want to send to Keith Urban.  Luckily, everyone has said yes so far.

MTMS: And Keith Urban is on your new album and playing the banjo, how did that come about?

COLT: The first time I played that song for him, halfway through he started singing it.  And then when we got done, he said ‘you know a banjo part might be cool in there’ and I said that he could play the spoons if you want. 

MTMS: What made you change things up and do the hooks plus verses on some of the songs totally solo this time around? 

COLT: I wanted to grow as an artist, but not forget about how you got here.  It evolved and those couple of songs I felt like I could do it myself.  I wanted to push the vocals and see how it turned out. 

 


MTMS: I love the message in the new single, “Workin’ On”.

COLT: Yeah we are going to be shooting about a six to eight minute short film with that song that will be dealing with PTSD.  It is a very serious subject and that song is full of hope and pain.  Kind of like The House That Built Me or something like I Drive Your Truck.  Those songs are hard to write because they have a lot of pain, but also I lot of hope.  That really is how this song goes.  And when I figured out how I wanted to go about this, I reached out to a good friend of mine named Marcus Luttrell, who wrote “Lone Survivor”.  And he has the Lone Survivor Foundation, so we are going to have a PSA at the end of the video with Marcus and I and proceeds from the song will go to his foundation.  Those men and women who come home from fighting for us need us. 

MTMS: That is inspiring, the whole song is. 

COLT: A good friend in the business heard it and told me it is the new Cowboy In Me, which that blew me away because its one of my favorite all time songs.  But it is a song that at the end of the day that anyone can relate to because the person in the mirror is the one person you cannot get away from.  You have to deal with that person and every day you are trying to be a little better than the one before.  So, everyone can relate to it because you want to get better. 

MTMS: What is your handicap in golf?

COLT: I shot a 71 this morning. 


MTMS: What about Toby Keith?

COLT: He is pretty good.  I think he is about a 12.  He can play and he owns a golf course so he plays every day.  We have played about 3-4 times so far on this tour.  We are having some fun.

 

MTMS: Who is longer off the tee?

COLT: I am when I do it correctly, but he is a big guy.  He is strong and can get it out there for sure.  And he is a good guy, seriously.  He has been very nice to me and I constantly ask him for advice.  He is someone who has worked in the business for 25 years building this amazing career and fan base.  I make sure to respect that because a lot of the younger artists seem to think they have know everything.  I tell them, you need to spend time around someone like Toby, or Kix Brooks, or Ronnie Dunn.  It is a gift to play in front of all these fans and Toby has spent a career dedicated to this and these people.  And I think if I do good in a show maybe these fans can become my fans, so that’s how I look at it. 


MTMS: What is one things that when fans come to your show that would not expect from a Colt Ford show. 

COLT: I don’t think people know how good I can dance.  I can outdance all these boys at country music. 

MTMS: Even Luke Bryan? 

COLT: Oh, Luke cannot dance as good as me.  I don’t fall off the stage either, ha ha.  I mean, Luke may be in slightly better shape that I am in, but he cannot dance as well as me.  I’ve even challenged him to a dance off.  I can absolutely out dance him. 

 

Kip Moore Previews His New Album at 92.5

Kip Moore
Dunkin’ Donuts Music Lounge
Country 92.5, Harford, CT
June 13, 2014


One of country music’s newest hit makers, Kip Moore, stopped by the Dunkin’ Donuts Music Lounge this morning, located at the Country 92.5 Studios in Hartford, Connecticut.  He treated a few lucky fans to an acoustic preview of a few of his songs off of his upcoming album as well as songs from his first release, Up All Night.  Kip was extremely funny as he interacted and joked with the crowd while giving background to each of the songs he played. 

He began with Crazy One More Time from his first album, which he explained was his favorite song he has recorded.  He followed it up with his new single Dirt Road, which told everyone was not about an actual road or even beer, but more about a rebellion.  He wrote the song with his friend Weston Davis, who was also at the studio with him.  He performed a stirring, stripped down version of the thoughtful song which paints a portrait of small town living in the listener’s mind as he sings the lyrics. 

He asked the crowd what they wanted to hear next and I shouted “Backseat”.  He heard my request and explained that Backseat was an underground song they had been singing and that he had just recorded.  He said that they song is “very racey” and lots of people had mixed views on whether it could be played on the radio.  Cory Myers from the Electric Barnyard on 92.5 urged Kip to play a snippet of the song and Kip finally agreed.  From the short version he performed, I can say it sounds absolutely awesome and I can’t wait to hear the full version and whole story in the song. 

Kip also performed two other new songs in full.  Lipstick and Just One Beer, both of which cover love song topics, but are from different views.  Lipstick  is a catchy tune about a man craving to kiss his woman, while Just One Beer is a mid-tempo song about a man hitting on a girl in a seductive way.  Both songs sound tremendous and make the wait for his new album that much more difficult.  He finished off with a slow, but beautiful rendition of his mega-hit, Hey Pretty Girl.  All in all, if you were present in the Dunkin Donuts Music Lounge today and could not recognize just how talented Kip Moore, you need your hearing checked.  His voice combined with the attention to his lyrics are what sets him apart.  I fully expect him to be one of country music’s mega-stars in the near future. 

 

 
 

 SETLIST:
1. Crazy One More Time
2. Dirt Road
3. Backseat
4. Beer Money
5. Lipstick
6. Just One Beer
7. Hey Pretty Girl

Zac Brown Band’s Florida Road Trip

 

Zac Brown Band
w/ Kacey Musgraves & Keb’ Mo’
West Palm Beach, FL
May 31, 2014

The Zac Brown Band brought their American Road Trip Tour to South Florida this past week as they played to four enormous crowds, two in Tampa and two in West Palm Beach.  I was lucky enough to be in the Palm Beach area and caught Saturday’s show at the Cruzan Amphitheater.  My wife and I were fortunate to not only run into and speak to Zac at our hotel’s pool earlier that day, but were able to attend the “Eat & Greet” that ZBB and Chef Rusty put on for a handful of fans before each of their shows. 

We were served up some amazing pork, beef, coleslaw, corn and more as fans got to interact with all the bandmates.  This was my third eat and greet experience and each one has been a bit different, but always overly satisfying.  I got to spend some extended time speaking to Chris Fryar, the drummer for ZBB.  I have met a lot of people in the music business over the years, but Chris may have been the most down to earth and honest guy I have ever spoken with.  He really produced a sense of thankfulness for the fans, what he does for a living and the experiences he has been able to have due to the Band’s success. 

After the eat and greet, we arrived in the Pit just in time for Kacey Musgraves to hit the stage.  Kacey put forth a relaxed, yet quality set full of songs from her first album that has been critically acclaimed all year.  She is one of my favorite female artists and it was great to finally see her in front of a huge crowd (which, by the way, was one of the biggest I’ve ever seen for an Amphitheater setting). 

 
Kacey stuck to mostly her songs, but also broke out some fun covers, including a Latin-infused version of “Dance With You” by George Strait, in which she brought out Daniel De Los Reyes, from the Zac Brown Band to play the bongos.  She also covered Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart” (which she had written) and Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” at the end of her own song, “Step Off”. 
 
 

When it came time for the main event, it was apparent that Zac and the boys really changed things up for this tour.  Everything from the setlist, the stage, big screens, and special effects were diligently conceived and masterfully executed.  And ZBB came flying out of the gate with “Devil Went Down to Georgia” and they never looked back. 

Zac, himself, seemed to be a bit different this time around.  As always, his vocals and instrumental focus was as good as anyone in the business, but he seemed a lot happier and interacted with the crowd a lot more.  He jumped into the crowd during the entire “Keep Me In Mind”, running around slapping everyone five.  Further, he was down on his knees thanking the crowd during “Colder Weather”.  It was great to see him so happy and interactive. 

 
As any ZBB concert-goer knows, you will never hear the same setlist twice, a real salute to the musicianship that they are dedicated to.  On this night hits such as “Toes”, “Goodbye In Her Eyes” and “As She’s Walking Away” were performed, but non-album cuts and numerous covers as well.  At one point, during an acoustic portion, Zac told the crowd he got an e-mail from Billy Joel saying he wanted to do a song with him at their run of Fenway Park shows, and then they performed a stirring version of “Piano Man”.  Clay Cook took the vocals for Foo Fighters’ “Times Like These” and John Hopkins for Metallica’s “Enter the Sandman” during the encore.  When seeing the Zac Brown Band live, you must expect the unexpected”.  In fact, the famed blues artist, Keb’ Mo’ sat in the band at two separate times during the night for some nasty funk that had the crowd dancing to a different, yet welcomed beat. 

 
To some, ZBB is best known for “Chicken Fried” and it was unusual for me to hear this song smack in the middle of their set, instead of the usually placement at the end of the night (again, the unexpected).  And during the patriotic verse of the song, a member of the military came out to salute the crowd in unison with the lyrics.  It was chilling to see the response of the soldier’s face letting out a sigh of emotion as he walked off the stage, which was captured on the giant screens. 
 

 
The real highlight, for me, was after a ten minute intermission, the Band came back to a lighting and rain storm created by special effects as they performed a bombastic version of “Let It Rain” from the Grohl Sessions, Vol. I Ep.  The effects seen during this song rival anything I’ve ever seen at any other concert and I cannot wait to see it in a Stadium show later this summer. 
 
 
The encore of the night did not disappoint in the least either.  Dressed in glow-in-the-dark outfits and intricate masks, ZBB blasted into “Day of the Dead”, “Enter the Sandman” and Tom Petty’s “Running Down A Dream”.  The band members almost morphed into these creatures on stage and the whole feeling was one of intrique.  Amazing dedication down to last detail. 
 
 

 
 
 
I will say it once, if not a thousand times, there is no band, country or otherwise, that is quite like the Zac Brown Band.  Whether it comes to the instrumentals, song selection, or overall quality of what you see and hear, no one quite compares, for my money.  The Great American Road Trip Tour will seemingly be everywhere this summer, from Amphitheaters to Stadiums alike.  This is one, that no music fan should miss. 

 
 

SETLIST:

Zac Brown Band

  1. Devil Went Down to GA (Charlie Daniels Band Cover)
  2. Knee Deep
  3. As She’s Walking Away
  4. Goodbye In Her Eyes
  5.  Times Like These (Foo Fighters Cover)
  6. Different Kind of Fine
  7. Uncaged
  8. Grandma’s Hands with Keb’ Mo’
  9. Keep Me In Mind
  10. The Muse
  11. Chicken Fried
  12. You Never Even Call Me By My Name (David Allen Coe Cover)
  13. Am I Wrong with Keb’ Mo’
  14. Piano Man (Billy Joel Cover)
  15. Seven Bridges Road (The Eagles Cover)
  16. Let It Rain
  17. Highway 20 Ride
  18. Sic’ Em’ On A Chicken
  19. Isn’t She Lovely/Neon
  20. No Hurry
  21. The Wind
  22. Colder Weather
  23. Toes
  24. Day For the Dead
  25. Enter the Sandman (Metallica Cover)
  26. Running Down a Dream (Tom Petty Cover)

Kacey Musgraves

  1. The Trailer Song
  2. Blowing Smoke
  3. Stupid
  4. Dance With You with Daniel De Los Reyes (George Strait Cover)
  5. Mama’s Broken Heart
  6. Keep It To Yourself
  7. Merry Go Round
  8. Step Off/3 Little Birds
  9. Follow Your Arrow
  10. My House

The Cast of ABC’s Nashville: Live in New York City



ABC Nashville- Live in Concert
(Featuring Charles Esten, Clare Bowen, Sam Palladio,
Chris Carmack, Jonathan Jackson, Will Chase, & Chaley Rose)
Best Buy Theater, New York City
May 6, 2014

ABC’s hit television show, Nashville, which has its season 2 finale this Wednesday, brought a talented group of its actors to the Best Buy Theater in the heart of Times Square, New York City this past Tuesday.  What followed was a truly unique display of musicianship complete with collaborations, solo’s, songs from the series, as well as some original songs penned by the actors/artists themselves.  Any fan of the show “Nashville” who missed out on this Tour really missed out as it was remarkable to see how each and every one of the cast was genuinely talented. 

The night kicked off with Chris Carmack, who plays Will Lexington, singing “What If I Was Willing”.  Carmack was the first surprise of the night as his live voice was much stronger than I had expected it to.  His performances that night included some original material as well as songs that Will had performed on the show.  He was equally handy with an acoustic guitar as he was with an electric.  His character is one of the most haunted on the show, yet Carmack was all smiles throughout the night as he seemed to enjoy himself most on the live stage.

 
 
As I expected, Sam Palladio was the most impressive both vocally and musically.  Palladio, who plays, Gunnar, the rising songwriter on Nashville, hit ridiculous high notes all night long as he performed some of the show’s most recognizable songs.  Arguably the most memorable moments of the night were when he combined vocals with Clare Bowen (Scarlett) for a hauntingly beautiful combination, highlighted by “If I Didn’t Know Better”. 
 
 

Palladio also sang a few songs which he personally had written.  “Wake Me Up in Nashville” was a true story in which he recounts a story his grandfather had told him.  Further, he was asked to come out and sing or play the drums for pretty much each of his other castmates.  ZAG (Zooey, Avery & Gunnar on the show) even reunited for a thrilling rendition of “I Ain’t Leaving Without Your Love”.  From the music side, Palladio’s brillance shined the brightest and most often on the NYC stage.

 

Charles Esten, better known as Deacon, seemed to get the biggest response from the crowd as the first time he appeared the applause was defeaning.  Esten performed several songs that night, both solo and with his castmates.  “This Town” along with Clare Bowen was so dark and stirring that it gave me goosebumps.  Further, he added some original material and was part of the rousing threesome with Chris Carmack and Will Chase on “It’s On Tonight”. 

Jonathan Jackson, who plays Avery on the TV show, showcased his versatilty as he performed songs both rock and roll as well as country, while playing both the piano and guitar.  He was also part of multiple collaborations, but his songs “Morning of the Rain” and “One Night Shining” were his strongest.  He was asked by many of his castmates to come out and play guitar behind them as he showcased a strong musical foundation all night long. 

Clare Bowen added some female star power to the otherwise male dominated cast that night and with good measure.  She was mostly very bubbly and full smiles on stage as she really seemed to enjoy herself.  She even shaked her body around in some ways that Scarlett would never on the show, but no one seemed to mind at all.  Her rendition of the dark “Black Roses” brought about a standing ovation as he vocals were both passionate and powerful.  As stated, her performances with Palladio were hauntingly phenomenal.  She stated she is actually writing her own songs for an upcoming album which got a huge applause from the crowd. 

 
 
Bowen collaborated with just about everyone, including “Ball and Chain” with Will Chase (ask Luke Wheeler).  Chase was another really surprising talent as his moves on stage were as cool as his vocals.  Esten said it best when he said that he was such a great addition to the show.  As I understand it, this was the only tour stop where Chase would perform, and that is a shame because his multiple collaborations were stirring. 
 
 
 

It was also a treat to have Chaley Rose show up as she was not listed as one of the cast set to perform that night.  She looked absolutely stunning in a white dress and her vocals alongside Palladio, Jackson, and Esten on several songs really added some terrific harmonies.  She has been a great addition to the show and was a great surprise for the live concert. 

 All in all the show was one of a kind.  I’ve been to several hundred concerts in my life and this really had a different feel.  We got to know the artist behind the actor on a beloved television series and none of them dissapointed.  When they all got together on stage for the encore, Esten thanked all the fans and said how much they loved doing the show (and hoped to do more in future seasons).  The final song was “A Life That’s Good” which became a beautiful sing-a-long for all the cast as well as the sold out NYC crowd. 



SETLIST:

  1. What If I Was Willing – Chris Carmack
  2. Just  Can’t Get It Right – Sam Palladio
  3. Keep Asking Why – Jonathan Jackson
  4. Gonna Go Crazy – Clare Bowen
  5. Just Like New – Charles Esten (with Chaley Rose, Jonathan Jackson & Sam Palladio)
  6. A Showman’s Life – Chris Carmack
  7. Holding My Breath For You (Original Song) – Chris Carmack
  8. Morning of the Rain – Jonathan Jackson
  9. Don’t You Wanna Be My Girl – Jonathan Jackson & Sam Palladio
  10. I Ain’t Leavin’ Without Your Love – Chaley Rose, Jonathan Jackson & Sam Palladio
  11. It’s On Tonight – Will Chase, Charles Esten, & Chris Carmack
  12. Ball & Chain – Will Chase & Clare Bowen
  13. Fade Into You – Clare Bowen & Sam Palladio
  14. This Town – Clare Bowen & Charles Esten
  15. Climb The Walls (Original Song) – Charles Esten
  16. Wake Me Up in Nashville (Original Song) – Sam Palladio
  17. Driftwood (Original Song) – Sam Palladio
  18. Cheap Red Wine (Original Song) – Clare Bowen (with Jonathan Jackson)
  19. Black Roses – Clare Bowen
  20. Put A Hurting On Me – Will Chase & Chris Carmack
  21. One Night Shining – Jonathan Jackson (with Sam Palladio)
  22. If I Didn’t Know Better – Clare Bowen & Sam Palladio
  23. Heart Playing Tricks On My mind – Charles Esten (with Sam Palladio)
  24. A Life That’s Good (ENCORE) – Full Cast

Clay v Levi – Round 2: The NYC Edition

Clay v. Levi
Clay Cook & Levi Lowrey
Joe’s Pub, New York City
April 7, 2014

The night after music fans had to sit through an ACM Awards show full of hick-hop, auto-tune, lip syncing, and jumbled pop music disguised as country music, I was able to purify my ears by witnessing ninety minutes of brilliant musicianship at Joe’s Pub in New York City.  Clay Cook, most known for being a current band member of the Zac Brown Band, and Levi Lowrey, a singer-songwriter who is a BMI Award Winner and CMA Nominee, brought the second round of their Clay v. Levi Tour to the intimate venue nestled in the Bowery District of Manhattan.  What followed was an impressive set full of original material as well as cover song selections as the two musicians traded vocals and backed each intrumentally. 

The show opened with Clay and Levi playing a round of rock, paper, scissors to see who would sing first with Levi being the winner.  If that was not an immediate indication for all in attendance that this show would be very different than all others, you must not get out much.  Levi admitted that he had a few friends create his setlist before the show, but Clay simply picked songs off the cuff.  Levi kicked things off with Barely Getting By, off his self-entitled album (see my interview with him from March 2014 for more info: http://millertimemusicspot.blogspot.com/2014/03/an-interview-with-levi-lowrey.html) and Clay followed it up with Mountain Time off his album with the same name. 

I do not know what was most impressive that night, the extraordinary voices of these two men, the intrumental skills they showcased, or the overall acoustics projected from Joe’s Pub.  All in all, sonically, the show was as close to as perfect as far as pure sounding music goes.  Clay dominated his craft as he served as the host, told stories, made jokes, sang, and played the steel guitar, mandolin, acoustic guitar and electric guitar.  He had a huge reaction as he played his buddy John Mayer’s No Such Thing as well as his own material, such as Restless Man and Lost Generation.   Not to be outdone, Levi strummed his acoustic guitar and performed beautifully with a fiddle when backing Clay.  Songs such as All-American had the crowd laughing while, alternatively, Trying Not To Die had them intently listening to the deep lyrics.  He performed a Johnny Cash song and, to the delight of the crowd, Colder Weather, made famous by the Zac Brown Band, in which Levi helped co-write (see video clip below). 

Despite the intense lyrics in their songs and dedication to their instruments, it was great to see them not take themselves too seriously. They traded jokes about how Levi hates a whole train (had to be there to understand that one), jumped into the Muppet song, and Clay even sang a portion of Garth Brooks’ Thunder Rolls in the voice of Randy Newman.  Overall, the unpredictable combination of laughs and the flawless sounds from both instruments and vocal chords, made Clay v Levi experience was one of the most enjoyable shows I’ve seen in quite awhile. 

VIDEO CLIP of “Colder Weather”:


SETLIST:

  1. Barely Getting By – Levi Lowrey
  2. Mountain Time – Clay Cook
  3. Space Between – Levi Lowrey
  4. Love You Like a Wild Flower – Clay Cook
  5. December Thirty-One – Levi Lowrey
  6. Tell Him What You Want (with Amazing Grace snippet) – Clay Cook
  7. Tying Not To Die – Levi Lowrey
  8. Lost Generation – Clay Cook
  9. The Problem with Freedom – Levi Lowrey
  10. This Kinda War- Clay Cook
  11. All-American – Levi Lowrey
  12. Restless Man (with a snippet of the Muppet Show and Thunder Rolls) – Clay Cook
  13. Yesterday’s Fool – Levi Lowrey
  14. Luckiest Man (Wood Brothers Cover) – Clay Cook
  15. I Still Miss Someone (Johnny Cash Cover) – Levi Lowrey
  16. Terrible Timing – Clay Cook
  17. Colder Weather (Zac Brown Band Cover) – Levi Lowrey
  18. No Such Thing (John Mayer Cover) – Clay Cook

An Interview with Levi Lowrey: Songwriting, Substance, and Music Cycles

Artist: Levi Lowrey
Album: Levi Lowrey
Label: Southern Ground Artists, Inc.
Interview Date: 3/26/14

I got the chance to speak to Levi Lowrey about a number of topics, including his self titled album, Levi Lowrey, which was recently released on Zac Brown’s label, Southern Ground Artists, Inc.  Check out the question and answer session with Levi and be sure to pick up his album by clicking here, itun.es/us/ZQGbW


QUESTION (MTMS): Thank you for giving your time to speak to me.  I know you just came back from the Dominican Republic (Sun, Sand, & Southern Ground), how was that?

ANSWER (LEVI): Yeah, I got in last night. It was nice, but I am happy to get back to Georgia. 


QUESTION (MTMS): I saw a lot of pictures and posts on facebook and twitter regarding your individual performance.  It seemed like there was a lot of buzz. 

ANSWER (LEVI): The first night was a lot of fun.  The hotel forgot to barricade it off so anyone that was at the resort could come out, so it was a lot of fun.  It was a huge crowd with a lot of people who didn’t pay for it.  So it was awesome. 

QUESTION (MTMS): I know that you wrote all the songs except for one on your newest album and pride yourself as a songwriter. How many songs did you write for this particular project?

ANSWER (LEVI): I was writing a lot and think we ended up with about twenty or so that we entertained.  All I did between records was write and taking trips between Nashville and Georgia.

QUESTION (MTMS): What is the process is breaking down the songs to select which make it onto the record?

ANSWER (LEVI): Well, I typically take the ones that have no shot on country radio. That’s how I choose my songs on my record.  The ones I love.  The others I try to sell off to other artists, the catchy stuff. 

QUESTION (MTMS): December 31 was a standout track to me, is there any meaning or a story behind that song?

ANSWER (LEVI): It was a song I wrote with Travis Hill. He actually wrote the song “Anything But Mine” by Kenny Chesney which is the only song by Kenny Chesney that I like.  We wrote the song about how things can turn around in one second. It is just a strange part of the human psychology how the new year comes along and there is a new second.  It came during a time where my wife was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and she was starting to get better and was in remission.  So it was how things were changing.

QUESTION (MTMS): I saw the Black Sabbath song, War Pigs, made it onto the record.  How did you decide to put it there?

ANSWER (LEVI): Zac (Brown) wanted it there from the get go and I fought him on it as much as I could.  He ended up winning out. I think he was right, I will now admit it. I did not think it fit the collection of work that I had recorded and thought that the song Long Way Home was a good stopping point.  But after listening to the album straight through when I got a copy, it seemed to me as it was thrown at the end as a we are done thing.  And I think it’s now resonating with a lot of people. 







QUESTION (MTMS): I noticed the production on this album seems so big and different from your last album.  Was that your choice to go in this direction?

ANSWER (LEVI): It’s actually a direction I’ve always gone in with my band and my records myself.  My first album with Zac was a departure from me.  The bluegrass thing has always been a part of me as I grew up playing fiddle and in Bluegrass bands.  I had never made a record like that as I came from a pop punk band.  I mean, I played fairs and around Georgia.  But when I signed with Zac and recorded this record it was just how that record came out.  And I am happy with that first record, but this one is more like what I’ve been doing. 

QUESTION (MTMS): I saw a lot of posts by Clay Cook (of the Zac Brown Band and Southern Ground Artists, Inc.) about this album.  What role did he play in making this album? 

ANSWER (LEVI): He and Matt Mangano were the Producers on this record.  So he came in every day and put in fourteen or fifteen hour days as well as playing on most of the songs.  I say the album sounds like my band with special guest, Clay Cook.  He brought a lot of incredible ideas, so did Matt Mangano. It would not sound as good without those two guys right there. 

QUESTION (MTMS): I know you are headed out on the Levi v. Clay Tour 2 soon.  I will be at your New York City tour stop at Joe’s Pub.  What can we expect from that tour? 

ANSWER (LEVI): Oh man, it’s hard to describe.  The first tour was so unique.  I know everyone gave us a good response the first time and have wanted a second round.  It’s two guys, no setlist, multiple instruments.  We just sit up there and pretty much give each other shit all night long and play on each other’s songs.  You’ll hear songs from this album, songs no one has heard before, and who knows what else.  We pull out covers and try to stump each other as much as possible.  He may be a little bit better than it than I am because he is more musically versed being a Berkley graduate and all.  There will be some curveballs as we try to stump each other.  We may even merge some tunes that no one has heard before.  Last time we did a complete A minor version of ‘Wherever We Break Down’ that was really dark and strange sounding. 


QUESTION (MTMS): I have seen you perform many times opening for the Zac Brown Band, in many places such as Madison Square Garden.  Any plans to get back out there with them?

ANSWER (LEVI): Any time I get to play with anyone at Madison Square Garden I will take that opportunity.  But right now no other dates yet with them.  Hopefully, sometime in the soon. 


QUESTION (MTMS): I’ve enjoyed seeing the Southern Ground rise as I saw you back at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City and then just a few years later play the Garden. 

ANSWER (LEVI): The Bowery Ballroom, to date, is one of my favorite shows I’ve ever played.  I went in not knowing what to expect as it was just me and an acoustic guitar and a packed room.  And New York City surprised me so much because it went from a huge raucous crowd to a listening room at a split second.  And you guys were so incredible to me.  It gave me validation for what I do for a living.  It made me feel like I can make it as a songwriter and can make people listen to what I have to say.  That show still stands out to me to this day as one of my favorites.  I try to have just one of those moments from that night per show.  Even if the crowd is against you, if I can get one moment the way that whole show was that night, that makes it all worth it. 

 

  (My photo of Levi & the ZBB from the night at the Bowery Ballroom, NYC in February 2009)

QUESTION (MTMS): Do you have a favorite song off the new album?

ANSWER (LEVI): I am very partial to ‘Trying Not To Die’.  It is one one of my favorite that I’ve ever written and one that came to me fast. And to have one of my heroes, Mac McAnnally, help me on it and sing background, play piano and guitar on it, just put it over the top for me. 

QUESTION (MTMS): I saw in the liner notes, people like Mac, and Wyatt Durrette, Coy Bowles & Clay Cook of ZBB, and even Clare Bowen from ABC’s Nashville, all helped you.  How does it feel to work with all these great musicians?

ANSWER (LEVI): It’s awesome and I can say it truthfully that they are all my good friends.  I talk to them on a regular basis.  I am fortunate.  To have Mac MacAnnally to call or text with.  Or to be able to sit down with someone so talented like a Clare Bowen.  Me and Clay call each other and talk each other through crap all the time.  We are really good friends and I wanted them all on the record.  Luckily, they all are musical bad-asses. 

QUESTION (MTMS): I saw in the liner notes that you thanks Zac Brown for being able to beat him in Madden from time to time.  What’s the deal with that? 

ANSWER (LEVI): Zac likes to play Madden after every show and he gets on an elliptical.  I am not well versed in work out machines but he gets on one of those and plays Madden.  He has gotten pretty good.  I used to beat him every time but he has been studying.  The last time we played, I finally got him online and set up a profile for him so we can play when he’s at home and I’m at home.  I beat him 38-10 and he hasn’t asked for another rematch because I think he’s a little afraid.  He prefers a run on the elliptical, I prefer a cold beer. 


QUESTION (MTMS): I’ve seen your songs on Zac Brown Band records and even Randy Houser’s newest album, do you have any other songs right now that will appear on other artists’ albums?

ANSWER (LEVI): I hope so.  There are a lot of good ones out there right now.  It depends on these Nashville artists and what road they go and if they are going to record some songs with substance.  I think everyone is getting a little tired of it right now and I’m kind of hopeful because this new executive came out not too long ago and made the comment maybe we should start recording better songs and not just stuff about pick-ups and beer.  I have hoped things will turn back around.  Everything runs in cycles.  Even back in the day when Chet Atkins came to town and produced these slick-pop records, that I honestly cannot stand, but that was the trend.  But then came Outlaw.  So everything moves in trends and cycles and hopefully we are at the end of this “bro” country bullshit. 

QUESTION (MTMS): What would you like listeners to take away from your most current record?

ANSWER (LEVI):  
Its personal, almost like reading my journal. I think the biggest thing for me is December 31 and how everything can turn around in a second.  I hope people can find hope in the songs and relate to the songs.  If you are going through the same struggle you can come out the other side. 

Thomas Rhett Shows Star Power in NYC

Thomas Rhett
Irving Plaza, New York City
March 8, 2014
w/ Jon Pardi

On Saturday night, Thomas Rhett brought his unique style of country music to the Irving Plaza, tucked in the Union Square District of New York City.  What followed was an action packed show full of hits from all genres including country, rock, and hip-hop.  Irving Plaza was jam packed like I had never seen it before and I’ve seen such acts such as Toby Keith, Eric Church, and Dierks Bentley there before.  It went to show how hot country music is today and the effect that Nash FM has had upon the City. 

Before the show, my friends and family had the opportunity to meet Thomas Rhett (TR) and present him with some original artwork created by Bill Angresano.  Mr. Angresano is a well known artist who lives in New Jersey.  His daughter attended the show with me and we presented TR with an original charcoal portrait. 

Mr. Angresano has also created some sketches regarding TR’s song “Beer With Jesus”.  Below is one of those amazing sketches:

 

The opening act for the night was newcomer, Jon Pardi, who just had a long run on the country charts with his infectious song “Up All Night”.  Pardi sang a short but entertaining set full of seven songs off of his album, Write You A Song.  He has a distinct twang and has a fairly traditional country style.  He combined party songs with a few love ballads.  I thought “That Man” shined as his best vocal moment while “Up All Night” got the rowdy venue singing along word for word.  I look forward to what I expect to be a solid career from Pardi. 

When Thomas Rhett hit the stage, it was as if a party bomb was set off.  The crowd consisted of fans mainly in the 18-35 year old range and they came ready to party.  TR was ready and set to give them what they wanted.  He began with “All American Middle Class White Boy” and then jumped onto the front amplifier as rapper J-Kwon’s “Tipsy” pumped from the speakers.  It was at that moment that everyone looked around at each other realizing this was not your normal country music show. 

TR created arguably the most unique and diverse setlist that I have ever witnessed before.  As a fan who appreciates all genres, it really was intriguing as he kept upping the ante with what he performed next.  At one point he transitioned from a snippet of Justin Timberlake and Jay Z’s “Suit & Tie” into Garth Brooks’ anthem, “Friends In Low Places”.  At another point he performed “Party Lot Party”, a song he wrote and was recorded by Lee Brice.  However, in the middle of the song he began singing snippets of everything from Tom Petty to Bubba Sparxx to Weezer (see the complete setlist below).  Nothing seemed forced and the combination of all these mash-ups led to constant sing-a-long from the full venue. 

Notwithstanding all of the awesome covers, TR’s original material shined just as bright.  “Get Me Some of That” and “It Goes Like This” had a deafening response from the crowd, as songs such as “Sorry For Partying” and “Front Porch Junkies” were just as well received.  TR seemed so surprised that the crowd responded with such admiration and energy.  And his performance fed right off of that energy as he rocked out, sang with swagger, and used every inch of the stage that he could. 

Overall, the show was one of the best I have seen in awhile.  The plethora of material that Thomas Rhett used from every genre showcased his love for all music and really showcased how the younger generation of country fans fully accepts the genre bending.  TR is easily one of country’s new top acts and based on his Big Apple performance, he is truly a star in the making. 

 

SETLIST:

Thomas Rhett

  1. All American Middle Class White Boy
  2. Tipsy (J-Kwon Cover, Snippet)
  3. What You Got In That Cup
  4. Make Me Wanna
  5. Suit & Tie (Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z Cover, Snippet)
  6. Friends in Low Places (Garth Brooks Cover)
  7. Get Me Some of That
  8. Front Porch Junkies
  9. Sorry For Partying
  10. Parking Lot Party (Lee Brice Cover, with snippets:
  1. Dust On The Bottle (David Lee Murphy Cover)
  2. The Joker (Steve Miller Band Cover)
  3. Free Falling (Tom Petty Cover)
  4. Ms New Booty (Bubba Sparxxx Cover)
  5. Beverly Hills (Weezer Cover)
  • Beer With Jesus
  • Take Me Home
  • Merica
  • Round Here (Florida Georgia Line Cover)
  • It Goes Like This
  • 1994 (Jason Aldean Cover with snippets of Teach Me How To Dougie by Cali Swag District and Big Poppa by Notorious BIG
  • Something To Do With My Hands
  • Hey Hey Hey (Encore)
  • Jon Pardi

    1. Write You A Song
    2. Empty Beer Cans
    3. What I Can’t Put Down
    4. Trash a Hotel Room
    5. That Man
    6. Missing You Crazy
    7. Up All Night

    Country 92.5’s Concert For Kids 2014

    Country 92.5’s Concert For Kids 2014
    Cadillac Ranch Restaurant
    Cole Swindell, Thomas Rhett, Kellie Pickler, Scotty McCreery, and the LoCash Cowboys.
     February 25, 2014

     

    Each year, Connecticut’s Country Music radio station puts together an acoustic show at the Cadillac Ranch, in Southington, CT. The show is a benefit for St. Jude’s Children Hospital in Memphis, TN, a charity country music singers have always greatly supported. This year’s show included Cole Swindell, Thomas Rhett, Kellie Pickler, Scotty McCreery, and the LoCash Cowboys. 

    SETLIST

    1. Love This Life – LoCash Cowboys
    2. You Make Me Wanna – Thomas Rhett
    3. Suit & Tie (Cover) – Thomas Rhett
    4. Best Days of Your Life – Kellie Pickler
    5. Buzzin’ – Scotty McCreery
    6. Brought To You By Beer – Cole Swindell
    7. Hey Hey Hey – LoCash Cowboys
    8. Pour Some Sugar On Me (Cover) – LoCash Cowboys
    9. Round Here (Cover) – Thomas Rhett
    10. Selma Drye – Kellie Pickler
    11. Water Tower Town – Scotty McCreery
    12. This Is How We Roll (Cover) – Cole Swindell
    13. Hope You Get Lonely – Cole Swindell
    14. Best Seat in the House – LoCash Cowboys
    15. It Goes Like This – Thomas Rhett
    16. Closer to Nowhere – Kellie Pickler
    17. Feelin’ It – Scotty McCreery
    18. Ain’t Worth The Whiskey – Cole Swindell
    19. You Gon’ Fly (Cover) – LoCash Cowboys
    20. Truck Year (Cover) – LoCash Cowboys
    21. Get Me Some of That – Thomas Rhett with Cole Swindell
    22. Red High Heels – Kellie Pickler
    23. See You Tonight – Scotty McCreery
    24. Chillin’ It – Cole Swindell
    25. Friends In Low Places – Thomas Rhett, Cole Swindell, Kellie Pickler, Scotty McCreery & LoCash Cowboys

    This year’s event seemed to draw an even bigger (and rowdier crowd) than in years past.  Broadway and Cory, Country 92.5’s Electric Barnyard morning show introduced the artists and each of them sat on a stool next to each other.  The rest of the night followed a guitar pull, in which each artist takes turns down the line playing a song of their choice.

    First up was the LoCash Cowboys.  They are very entertaining performers who tend to blend genres with a Hick-Hop type of vibe.  However, they were most convincing on their emotional song “Best Seat In the House” written for one of the member’s deceased father.  Their final pull was a combination of songs they have written for some of country music’s superstars, Keith Urban (You Gon’ Fly) and Tim McGraw (Truck Year).  The entire crowd was on their feet singing along word for word. 

    The second artist was  Thomas Rhett, who has quickly risen from a talented Nashville songwriter to a solo artist with star potential.  He started with “Make Me Wanna” and threw in a little Justin Timberlake/Jay-Z “Suit & Tie” at the end of it.  He, of course, played his #1 hit “It Goes Like This” and sang the #1 song he wrote for Florida Georgia Line, “Round Here”.  He even freestyle rapped on one of LoCash Cowboy’s songs.  However, what I thought was the highlight of the night, was when he and Cole Swindell collaborated on his new single “Get Me Some Of That”, which happened to be co-written by Cole. 

    Kellie Pickler was next on the stage and she added some background to each of the songs she sang.  “Red High Heels” got the biggest reaction of all of her songs, but the song about her grandmother, “Selma Drye” stood out the most to me.  It is a true story about her gradmother who she knows she got “her crazy from”.  Kellie was the only woman on stage and more than held her own.  Her voice was soulful and she looked as beautiful as ever. 

     

    American Idol alum, Scotty McCreery was next and he ran through a mix of his new songs.  His deep, resounding voice boomed through the speakers on his four songs.  “Water Tower Town” had a huge reaction from the crowd, but it was “See You Tonight” that was arguably the best vocal performance of the night.  He explained to the crowd that it was his first single to make the top 10 and it is still climbing.  I had never seen Scotty live before and I was very impressed with his vocal performance. 

    Cole Swindell was last but certainly not least.  He was, by far, the most charismatic of the performers and seemed to get the biggest response from the crowd.  He was into each of his other artists’ songs encouraging the crowd to clap and was constantly pumping his fist.  His songs off his new album such as “Brought To You By Beer”, “Ain’t Worth the Whiskey” and “Hope You Get Lonely” got reactions from the crowd as if they had been released for years, not just one week ago.  However, his final song, “Chillin’ It”, which is currently the #1 song in the Nation, got the biggest response.  He was extremely humbled and appreciative of the crowd, his fans, and his fellow artists’ support. 

    The night ended with the entire cast singing Garth Brooks’ “Friends In Low Places” with Scotty McCreery taking the reigns on the final “hidden” verse.  After the show ended, the artists sat in line and signed autographs for one hundred fans.  All the money was dedicated to St. Jude’s and the night was a complete and utter success, once again.  I commend Country 92.5 for putting on this annual event which helps such a worthy cause.   

    Track by Track Dissection: Dierks Bentley’s “Riser”

    Track by Track Dissection
    Dierks Bentley: “Riser”
    Released: February 25, 2014
    Capitol Records Nashville
    Produced by Ross Cooperman

    A few times per year, I like to sit down and write down my thoughts of each track on an album that really impresses me.  Dierks Bentley has always been synonymous with making quality music, but after hearing Riser, I felt compelled to dive into each song individually.  It really is an artistic and diverse creation of music which compounds all of life’s emotions.  Dierks includes the happy, sad, dark, fun and complex moments that everyone experiences in life.  The result is an album about how life is all about rising above all the hurt and pain to find happiness.  You may not agree with my thoughts and I do not write this as a review, but more of what I found in the meaning of such a phenomenal creation of music. 

    Track Listing:

    1. Bourbon in Kentucky
    2. Say You Do
    3. I Hold On
    4. Pretty Girls
    5. Here on Earth
    6. Drunk on a Plane
    7. Five
    8. Riser
    9. Sounds of Summer
    10.  Damn these Dreams
    11. Back Porch
    12. Hurt Somebody

    1. Bourbon In Kentucky

    This song has been out on itunes for some time now and was even released as a single until being mysteriously pulled from radio.  That being said, I think it is not only one of the best songs on the album, but one of the best country songs I’ve heard period.  Anyone who knows me personally knows that I am a bourbon connoisseur, so that gives an added pleasure to me.  However, the song is a dark story about a man who cannot drink enough bourbon to drown the memory of a woman he has recently lost.  It is apparent the break-up absolutely devastated his life and the desperation and pain in Dierks’ voice is moving.  Grammy Award Winner, Kacey Musgraves, adds her vocals in the background to this phenomenal tune. 

    2. Say You Do

    A man wishing that a woman would love him like she used to.  It’s that scary moment where someone realizes they have lost their lover.  The story teller will do anything, even allow lies and pain to just have a single moment of the way it used to be. 

    3. I Hold On

    The first official single off of the album, currently sitting in the top 10 on Mediabase is a personal song which Dierks describes meaningful things to him that he holds on to.  I think this song works so well because everyone can identify a materialistic thing that they keep because it has emotional value.  He sings about how he keeps his truck even though it’s old, not because of the truck itself, but because of the memories he had driving to Nashville with his recently deceased Father.  Further, he talks about an old guitar that he has had since the start.  He is holding on to these things not for their materialistic value, but for the emotional memories that they stand for.  A brilliant and unique idea that only Dierks can pull off.  If this does not hit #1, country radio should be ashamed of itself.

     

    4. Pretty Girls

    This is a song which Miranda Lambert apparently hounded Dierks to record.  It is a song written from the perspective of a guy who goes to a concert with his friends just to watch “pretty girls drinking tall boys”.  In the Riser Documentary which aired this past weekend on numerous channels, Dierks said he wrote it on a cocktail napkin at the Bowery Hotel in New York City after a show where he recalled this scene that he sees every night at his shows. 

    5. Here On Earth

    If you have lost someone who has meant something significant to you in life and hear this song without shedding a tear, you may want to check yourself for a pulse.  A truly heartbreaking account of someone trying to deal with the death of a loved one.  I know when I lost someone way too early that meant so much to me, I went through a time of darkness where I could not understand why it happened.  This song speaks to that very moment where there are no answers that can make it better. 

    6. Drunk On A Plane

    When I first saw this title I must admit, I rolled my eyes and expected it to be rather cheesy.  On the contrary, Dierks showcases why he is one of the best in the business.  He creates a fun party song that is the result of another heartbreaking moment (a break-up before a vacation which was to serve as a honeymoon).  The song is catchy as hell and will do exceptional on country radio if released as a single.  I dare you to listen to the song and not find yourself singing “buying drinks for everybody” for the rest of the day. 

     7. Five

    Another heartbreak song where the story teller has lost a woman he loves and would do anything to get her back.  He speaks about not her every leaving his mind despite her moving all the way across the country and out of his life.  However, a twist comes at the end when the girl calls him up and says the same thing to him that he has been thinking all along.  It comes in the middle of the album as the theme of the album begins to “rise” towards a happier, more content feeling. 

    8. Riser

    A true highlight of the album which brings together the meaning of the album as a whole.  It’s the moment a man regains his sense of being after getting through hard times.  He tells his loved ones they do not have to worry any more because he is strong.  Each line and each word in the song is inspiring.  It makes the listener want to stay strong for all who depend on them.  I really hope this is also released as a single as I feel it is one of Dierks’ best songs of his career. 

    9. Sounds of Summer

    A unique way to approach a topic which has been sung about a million times, summer.  Instead of the normal cliches that you usually hear, Dierks approaches it from not the sights, but all the sounds you only hear during the warm months.  Sonically, the production shines on the track with drum rolls, screaming guitars, and reverb on his voice at times.  I could see this doing very well on radio as well. 

    10. Damn These Dreams

    A beautiful song dedicated to his family and how hard it is to be away from them while he is on the road.  It’s an interesting look into the life of a singer who is trying to follow his musical dreams while still balancing family life.  You can hear pain in Dierks’ voice, but it’s a different because he knows he can’t leave either of his loves: music and family. 

    11. Back Porch

    Just a fun, good timing summer party song.  There is no deep meaning behind this song, but fits in perfectly in the full scheme of what I think Dierks tried to achieve on the album: a full landscape of life.  There are certainly fun times amidst any trials and tribulations we may come across.  Back Porch is a song you can tap your foot to and let the stress just melt away with some beer on ice. 

    12. Hurt Somebody

    A simple love song about knowing there is a woman who is out of the story teller’s league.  He knows the girl is trouble and will eventually hurt somebody, but he cannot help himself from hoping it is him. 

    CMA Songwriters Series 10th Anniversary at Joe’s Pub

    CMA Songwriters Series
    10th Anniversary
    at Joe’s Pub, New York City
    February 12, 2014

    On Tuesday and Wednesday night, four award winning country music songwriters took to the Joe’s Pub stage as so many have over the past years.  However, this time, it was to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the CMA Songwriters Series at Joe’s Pub, which is located at 425 Lafayette Street in New York City.  I was lucky enough to be invited by the Country Music Association to attend the 7 PM show on Wednesday, February 12th and witness a truly special show. 

    For anyone who has not been to one of these Joe’s Pub CMA shows, you are truly missing out.  Not only is the venue a small, intimate nightclub, but you get to witness a guitar pull, where each artist takes turns playing a song.  On this particular night, each artist performed four songs, of which almost every one of them was a huge radio hit.  Bob DiPiero has been the host of each of the CMA shows I have been to at Joe’s Pub, and tonight was no different.  He is charismatic, funny, and extremely talented.  He started things off with “The Church on Cumberland Road” which was recorded by Shenandoah.  Kix Brooks, formerly of the mega-duo, Brooks & Dunn, who was the star artist of the night, played a flawless harmonica while DiPiero sang and electrified the crowd with his guitarmanship. 

     

    What followed was a multitude of hits and stories behind the songs.  Of course, songs such as “Red Dirt Road” and “Only In America” by Kix Brooks had the crowd smiling and singing the most.  But Jon Nite, quietly proved to have a budding future already chock full of #1 songs under his belt.  He was the most modest and quiet of the bunch, but when he told his stories and sang his songs, he had the crowd in the palm of his hand.  He told a story about the recent #1 hit “We Were Us” which Thomas Rhett turned down because he “hated it”, but Keith Urban recruited Miranda Lambert to sing on it and made it a huge hit.  He also spoke about a tough time in his life which led to him to write the Dierks Bentley hit “Tip It On Back” which allowed him to escape from the moment he was in.  The CMA Songwriters Series works so well because of the dissection of how the song was made.  For a fan of country music like me, who especially the stories they create, it brings even more intrigue by hearing the story behind the story. 

    Not to be outdone, Tim Nichols added his humor to each of the songs he sang.  He even did a little Trace Adkins-like dance to the end of “Ain’t No Thinkin’ Thing”.  But his powerful “Live Like You Were Dying” (recorded by Tim McGraw) produced the biggest sing a long of the night as the entire crowd was in unison.  That particular song was not really about the story behind the song, but Tim touched on the reactions he got from people after the song was released.  The messages in the song are so strong about the real reasons for living that he felt amazed how much he really touched people.  That is the beauty of real music. 

     Kix Brooks, however, stole most of the show as he has always been a performer personified.  He told stories about having Jell-O shots with Ronnie Dunn in New Orleans, being on a bus with Merle Haggard, the struggles of being in a duo for twenty years, and even played along with every single songwriter’s song.  However, as he introduced “Only In America” (see video clip below), he told a hysterical story about how the song was President Bush’s campaign song which ultimately led to him being invited to the White House for the inauguration.  He said he met Muhammad Ali, Colin Powell, and even Ricky Martin.  He also said he was a bit surprised when he heard his song eight years later during a Barack Obama campaign (because he had not given him permission to use it) and receiving a text from John Rich as it played saying “not cool, man”.  His jokes had people in stitches and his songs were sung with gusto. 
     

     
     
    All in all, the art of the song was the true star of the night.  What makes the CMA Songwriters Series at Joe’s Pub so special is the intimate venue and the story behind the song, then hearing how that story translated into such a huge hit.  I know I am not the only one that hopes the CMA keeps bringing these amazing shows for another ten years and beyond …
     
     
    SETLIST
    1. The Church on Cumberland Road – Bob DiPiero (recorded by Shenandoah)
    2. Red Dirt Road – Kix Brooks (recorded by Brooks & Dunn)
    3. We Were Us – Jon Nite (recorded by Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert)
    4. Heads Carolina, Tails California – Tim Nichols (recorded by Jo Dee Messina)
    5. American Made – Bob DiPiero (recorded by Oak Ridge Boys)
    6. Can’t Make This Stuff Up – Kix Brooks (recorded by Kix Brooks)
    7. Tip It On Back – Jon Nite (recorded by Dierks Bentley)
    8. Girls Lie Too – Tim Nichols (recorded by Terri Clarke)
    9. Can’t Take the Honky Tonk Outta the Girl – Bob DiPiero (recorded by Brooks & Dunn)
    10. You’re Gunna Miss Me When I’m Gone – Kix Brooks (recorded by Brooks & Dunn)
    11. Beachin’ – Jon Nite (recorded by Jake Owen)
    12. Ain’t No Thinkin’ Thing – Tim Nichols (recorded by Trace Adkins)
    13. Southern Voice – Bob DiPiero (recorded by Tim McGraw)
    14. Only in America – Kix Brooks (recorded by Brooks & Dunn)
    15. Whatever She’s Got – Jon Nite (recorded by David Nail)
    16. Live Like You Were Dying – Tim Nichols (recorded by Tim McGraw)
    

    Luke Bryan, Lee Brice & Cole Swindell Electrify Mohegan Sun

    Luke Bryan
    Featuring Lee Brice & Cole Swindell
    That’s My Kinda Night Tour
    January 23, 2014
    Mohegan Sun Arena, Connecticut

    It’s been a frigid 2014 thus far in Connecticut and one without a country music concert yet to come to town.  Luckily, Luke Bryan brought his That’s My Kinda Night Tour to the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut this past week to help everyone forget about things for a night and just have a good old party.  And, along with Lee Brice and newcomer, Cole Swindell, they did exactly what they set out to do. 

    Up first was Cole Swindell who fans are just getting accustomed to hearing on the radio with his top 5 hit, “Chillin’ It”.  I was lucky enough to meet Cole backstage and talk to him for a few minutes.  He was extremely humble and when I asked him what he thought about his recent and quick rise to popularity, his response was a simple “it’s been a wild ride”. 

    I was eager to see Cole’s set and at exactly 7:30 pm, the loud speakers boomed with a hip-hop song and he and his band exploded onto the stage to the song “Hey Y’all”.  Throughout the entire set, Cole dominated the stage with the ease and comfort of a seasoned veteran, but with the swagger and energy of some of today’s top acts.  I was extremely impressed with how he used the entire stage and catwalk area as no portion of his set was boring whatsoever. 

    He stuck to songs which brought about a party-like atmosphere, which none of the fans seemed to mind.  And although the Arena was only about 1/3 filled at the opening of his set, by the time he hit the halfway point it was almost packed.  He announced that “Hope You Get Lonely” would be his next song to hit country radio.  I expect it to be another huge hit for him as it is a mid-tempo and catchy song about, well for the lack of a better description: a booty call. 

     

    Cole finished things out with his hit song “Chillin’ It” which became an instant sing-a-long for mostly every person in the Arena that night.  He thanked the crowd and really seemed humble about everything that is going right for him in his young career.  I look forward to watching this talented performer’s star growing in the years to come.

    Next up was one of Nashville’s most talented musicians, Lee Brice.  I have enjoyed watching Lee’s career from the beginning as lately he has gained some real steam in the popularity category, thanks to his infectious sound and passionate performances.  That night was no different as he put forth a riveting set full of #1 hits and soon to be singles off a soon to be released album. 

    If you have not seen Lee Brice live yet, you are really missing out.  He sings his lyrics with real energy, passion, and pride.  Moving songs such as the emotional “I Drive Your Truck” or the spiritual “Love Like Crazy” moved some fans standing around me in the pit to tears.  It is not often that live music has that result, but Lee has masterfully executed it each time I have seen him.  He performed his new single “I Don’t Dance” acoustically, which he stated will be released to country radio on January 28th, 2014 and he had written for his wife before their wedding.  I fully expect this deep and thoughtful song to reach the #1 spot as well. 

    And for all of the deep and touching songs he performed, he balanced in a lot of fun and partying as well.  “Parking Lot Party”, “Beer” and “Nights We Won’t Forget” fit perfectly with the theme of his two counterpart artists that night.  Yet, his two love songs, “Hard To Love” and “Woman Like You” got the biggest response from the crowd that night.  Throughout his entire set, Lee showcased exactly what more artists should be striving to emulate, songs with a diverse set of themes, attentive lyrics, and performed with true emotion and showmanship. 

    Up next was the reigning ACM Entertainer of the year, Luke Bryan.  Luke may be the most sought after artist in the country genre these days and he surely did not disappoint.  He transformed the lyrics of his smash hit song, “That’s My Kinda Night” into the opening of his set as he arose from the floor of the front of the catwalk on a big black pick-up truck with a gleaming ring of fire around it as he sang and danced on the bed.  The women screamed and the men pumped their fists as Luke sang the hick hop hit.  What followed was a set chock full of hit songs with craftily set props all over the stage. 

    Luke did something that not many headliners take the time to do, he interacted on a personal level with many of the fans.  Whether it was taking a young girl on stage for an entire song, or laying down on the stage to take pictures with fans in the pit with their own camera phones, he spent a great deal of time making fans’ dreams come true without missing a single lyric or note.  During his spring break songs, a cooler arose onto the stage and he handed out beers to the crowd.  A pier even emerged from beneath the stage to go along with the lyrics of “Drink A Beer”.  Luke and his crew put real thought into the set and there was never a dull moment as I had to keep my head on a swivel just to see what would pop up or happen next. 

    Luke never stopped moving either.  He used every inch of the stage as he sang, jumped, danced, and purred to the crowd.  Obviously playing into the female crowd, he would break down into dances that were very male-stripper-esqe.  Thankfully (at least, to me) he kept his clothes on at all times.  He did announce to the crowd that “Play It Again” would be his next single, yet when he performed it you would have thought it was already a radio hit as every fan in the crowd sang along.  He even performed Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ hit rap song, “Can’t Hold Us” and really held his own on the rapid fire words throughout the party song.

    He closed his set out with “The Only Way I Know” (which I thought for sure he would have brought Cole and Lee on stage with him, but did not) and “Country Girl Shake It For Me”.  Both songs got a passionate response from the crowd as they danced, sang, partied, and even twerked along with him.  I first saw Luke perform in a Longhorn Steakhouse for free almost seven years ago.  It has been amazing to see his star grow from an aspiring songwriter to a performance juggernaut.  If you are in the mood for concert with a high octane party-like atmosphere, the That’s My Kinda Night Tour will fulfill all your needs all winter, spring and summer long. 

    SETLIST

    LUKE BRYAN

    1. That’s My Kinda Night
    2. Rain Is a Good Thing
    3. Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye
    4. All My Friends
    5. Country Main
    6. Someone Else Calling You Baby
    7. Chillin It Snippet (Cole Swindell Cover)
    8. Parking Lot Party Snippet (Lee Brice Cover)
    9. Do I
    10. Play It Again
    11. Muckalee Creek Water
    12. Drinkin’ Beer and Wasting Bullets
    13. Suntan City
    14. Here to Party
    15. Can’t Hold Us (Mackelmore & Ryan Lewis Cover)
    16. Crash My Party
    17. Drink A Beer
    18. Drunk On You
    19. I Don’t Want This Night To End
    20. Dynamite (Taio Cruz Cover)
    21. The Only Way I Know (Encore)
    22. Country Girl (Encore)

    LEE BRICE

    1. That’s When You Know It’s Over
    2. Nights We Won’t Forget
    3. Hard To Love
    4. Beer
    5. Woman Like You
    6. I Don’t Dance
    7. Looking For a Good Man
    8. Love Like Crazy
    9. I Drive Your Truck
    10. Parking Lot Party
    11. Drinking Class

    COLE SWINDELL

    1. Hey Y’all
    2. Brought To You By Beer
    3. Get Up
    4. Hope You Get Lonely
    5. Lemme See Ya Girl
    6. Chillin’ It

    Keith Urban Lights the Fuse in Connecticut

    Keith Urban
    Light the Fuse Tour
    featuring Little Big Town & Dustin Lynch
    Mohegan Sun Arena, CT
    November 15, 2013

    Over the course of my life, I have had the opportunity to see a countless number of concerts, especially in the country music genre.  So when Keith Urban announced his “Light the Fuse Tour”, I pondered to myself, how in the world have I not seen him live yet?  On November 15, 2013, I made sure that changed as I made my way to the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. 

    I was able to spend some time backstage with one of the opening acts, Dustin Lynch, as well as Country 92.5’s Broadway, host of the Electric Barnyard.  Most fans know Dustin from his enormous debut #1 hit, Cowboys and Angels.  I spoke to him about his next album which he told me he was just beginning to record. 

    Dustin stated he was very excited to finally create new songs because it gets tiring singing the same songs night after night.  He further stated he wants to keep his sound the same and stay true to country music.  I got to witness Broadway and Dustin perform a “bicep chug”.  A form of drinking a can of beer which Dustin has made famous through twitter and other social media networks. 

     

    Broadway, who has quickly become a household name in the homes of Connecticut country fans, asked Dustin to attempt to do a different form of his usual beer drinking action and join him in a “frisbee chug”.  Dustin did not hesitate and the results were hilarious.  You can see the full clip from Broadway’s blog, Behind the Barn, here at http://www.country925.com/media/play/behind-the-barn-dustin-lynch-23994950/ .

    I made my way to the Arena and got to my seat just as Keith came out and instantly ripped into Long Hot Summer.  What followed was a perfectly executed set that combined hits, covers, new album cuts, surprises, and most of all, some of the best electric guitar skills I have ever witnessed.   Keith is backed by four other musicians and had an enormous interactive screen that constantly changed images behind the band. 

    Keith mostly stuck to his music and did not speak to the crowd as much as I thought he would.  However, when he did, he made the most of it.  Especially when he randomly picked a girl out of the crowd and brought her on stage.  He then had her sit in a couch and asked her to pick from a selection of songs.  She picked Only You Can Love Me This Way because it was her wedding song.  Keith followed by seductively singing the song to her and changing the lyrics up to fit the moment. 

    There were some great surprises as well during his two hour set.  Keith brought out Little Big Town, another of the opening acts on this tour, for the megahit, You’re Gonna Fly.  The four LBT members sandwiched Keith at the front of the stage and he happily let them take over the vocals while his fingers made magic up and down on his guitar.  This song was easily one of the crowd’s favorites as the entire Arena was up and rocking. 

    Keith did not forget about his bicep chugging opening act either, as he brought out Dustin Lynch to take over the vocals on the second and third verses of “Kiss A Girl”.  Dustin showed true professionalism as he had the crowd singing along and the girls hearts fluttering. 

    Dustin and Keith had a real stage presence together as they shared the same microphone and fed off of each other’s energy.  I always find it great when the headliner brings out his supporting acts for select songs and wish more stars would do the same.  Dustin took advantage of the opportunity to be up on stage with a megastar such as Keith Urban and knocked the song out of the park. 

    Keith also used a “B Stage” in the back area of the arena in which he used several times for a multitude of songs.  He allowed the band members to sing snippets of several cover songs back there and even threw in a verse of Blake Shelton’s hick-hop hit, Boys ‘Round Here, as he made his way from the back stage to the front.  

    The constant movement from the main stage through the crowd to the back stage made for an exciting experience as I found myself expecting the unexpected.  There was absolutely no lull in the performance as it was exhilarating from start to finish.  I have seen numerous shows where the artist sticks to his microphone and does not much else.  This, I can promise you, is not the Keith Urban way. 

    In the end, the real star of the show was Keith’s guitarmanship.  He performed hit after hit with impressive vocals, but, after virtually every song, he pounced into a guitar solo that was absolutely face melting.  He had me shaking my head with utter confusion on how someone can be so skilled at an instrument.  The only complaint I can think of with his show was how one of his backup band members seemed to try to hard to be a part of the show.  For some reason, he chose to wear a shirt and tie and constantly tried to get the crowd’s attention.  His antics seemed to take away from Keith’s brillance at times and almost felt like he was purposefully trying to upstage him. 

    The true highlight of the show was when Karen Fairchild returned to the stage for the third time that night, to help with Miranda Lambert’s portion of the new smash hit, We Were Us.  She sounded brillant in her vocals and made me wonder if she may have been better suited for the actual studio cut.  Nonetheless, Karen and Keith performed a perfect rendition of the song and they seemed to have geniune fun singing together. 

    Before the encore, Keith ended his set with Somebody Like You while an arena full of confetti fell from the rafters.  This created an amazing visual with all of the lasers and lights from his production team.  His encore was a mixture of love ballads, a song which he performed on the piano, and he finished up with the fun loving hit, You Look Good In My Shirt.

    All in all, I left the Mohegan Sun Arena that night kicking myself for waiting so long to see such a musical mastermind live.  He combined everything that makes a live show worth a fan’s money: hits, high production, interaction, surprises, and professionalism.  If you have the chance to see Keith light the Fuse in your hometown, do not wait any longer, jump on the opportunity.

     

    SETLIST:

    1. Long Hot Summer
    2. Sweet Thing
    3. I Told You So
    4. Stupid Boy
    5. Only You Can Love Me This Way
    6. Even the Stars Fall 4 You
    7. You Gonna Fly (with Little Big Town)
    8. Cop Car
    9. Without You
    10. Good Thing
    11. Kiss a Girl (with Dustin Lynch)
    12. Won’t Get Fooled Again (The Who cover)
    13. Days Go By
    14. Rumour Has It (Adele cover)
    15. Once in a Lifetime
    16. Better Life
    17. Boys ‘Round Here (Blake Shelton cover)
    18. Some Nights (Fun. cover)
    19. Little Bit of Everything
    20. ‘Til Summer Comes Around
    21. We Were Us (with Karen Fairchild of Little Big Town)
    22. Who Wouldn’t Wanna Be Me
    23. Somebody Like You
    24. But for the Grace of God (Encore – played on the piano)
    25. Keep on Loving You (Encore – REO Speedwagon cover)
    26. Tonight I Wanna Cry (Encore)
    27. Locked Out of Heaven (Encore – Bruno Mars cover)
    28. You Look Good in My Shirt (Encore)

    Kenny Chesney’s Island Songs: In Photos

    Any huge fan of country music megastar Kenny Chesney has undoubtedly heard countless songs depicting his love for the islands.  I had the chance to take a trip down to some of his favorite places: St. John’s and St. Croix in the Virgin Islands and Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands.  Not only are each of the islands some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to, but so many of the residents there had personal stories about meeting or interacting with Chesney.  I bring you a few photos from the islands:

    Cinnamon Bay, St. John’s
    And I’ve watched boats sail in and out of Cinnamon Bay” – Old Blue Chair
     

     
    Including his house overlooking Cinnamon Bay:
     

     
     
    “Hang with the locals at the Quiet Mon” – Be As You Are
     
     

     
     
     
     
    Jost Van Dyke, British
     
    “Adios to Jost, its that time of day” – It’s That Time of Day
     

     
     
     
     
    “Oh I wish I was there tonight on Jost Van Dyke,
    Sipping on some Foxy’s Firewater rum”
     – Somehwere in the Sun
     

     
     
     
     
    “Or kickin’ back with Ivan
    With all my friends down in the islands”
    Somewhere in the Sun
     
    (also the site of the No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem video)
     

     
     
     
    St. Croix, Virgin Islands
     
    “Oh, he’s an Island Boy, a stone’s throw from St. Croix” – Island Boy
     
     

     
     
     
    I also met a local street musician on St. John’s who had a guitar given to him personally by Chesney.  He said everyone calls him “Hollywood” and he was nice enough to let me play the guitar and even performed a few songs with me at a local bar called Castaway’s.  If you zoom in on the guitar in the photos you can see all of Chesney’s symbols and his signature.
     
     

     
     
     
     

    Kacey Musgraves: Masterful in NYC

    Kacey Musgraves
    Same Trailer Different Tour
    featuring Brandy Clark
    Bowery Ballroom, NYC
    September 19, 2013

    In an era where country radio is dominated by male artists, two of the genre’s very best females took to the Bowery Ballroom stage in Downtown New York City on Thursday night.  A sold out crowd shoved their way into the intimate venue to catch a glimpse of the highly nominated sensation that is Kacey Musgraves.  She brought along as her opening support, the less well known, Brandy Clark.  Both put forth performances that were as impressive as they were refreshing. 

    Brandy Clark took to the stage at 9:00 p.m., and sang songs that were remarkably authentic.  Brandy sang about crazy girls, death, drugs, and broken hearts.  She was dressed in all black and backed by only one guitarist, yet her delivery and lyrics painted a picture in the minds of all who were in attendance. 

     

    Not many really knew what to expect from the opening act, but by the time she finished she clearly had won over everyone in the building.  The song “Broke” has all the potential to be a radio hit and her current single, “Stripes”, has a dark yet humorous approach that plays unusually well together.  She also sang The Band Perry’s “Better Dig Two” which she wrote and she stated that Kacey had “sung the shit out of” on the demo.  She stated her solo album will be released on October 22nd.  I plan on buying it and looking for more from a woman who has a real authenticity and is dripping with talent to become a star. 

    Speaking of star power, the headliner, Kacey Musgraves, is already on her way to stardom.  Her album, Same Trailer Different Park, debuted #1 on the Billboard All Genre charts and she just wrapped up Kenny Chesney’s Stadium Tour where she served as the opening act and a duet partner with Kenny on most nights.  Furthermore, she was the most nominated artist for the upcoming CMA Awards and this was the first night of her tour, which happened to be a sell out crowd in New York City.  Not so bad for a female playing in what has been dubbed the frat boy party era of country music.  And her performance served to be just as impressive as her resume.

    Kacey looked absolutely stunning as she took to the stage with her acoustic guitar and hippy looking band behind her.  She combined a setlist of songs off of her album, with impressive covers from artists in other genres, as well as new songs and songs she had written for other artists.  All of the songs, such as “Blowin’ Smoke”, “Merry Go ‘Round”, “Silver Lining” and the such were sing a longs as the NYC crowd was extremely familiar with her album cuts.  “Mama’s Broken Heart”, recorded by Miranda Lambert and written by Kacey, was easily the most explosive song in the set as the energy from what was mostly a mellow crowd seemed to amp up a few notches.  The real highlight of her set was the Caribbean styled mash-up of “Step Off” with Bob Marley’s legendary classic “Three Little Birds”.  Kacey danced all over the stage and seemed to really be soaking it all in. 

     Kacey’s encore was truly unique as she sang three songs that were completely different from each other.  First, was a new song called “Rainbow” which she performed acoustically without her band.  It gave goosebumps to just about everyone as it has #1 written all over it.  The lyrics are absolutely stunning and her delivery of the solemn tune was breathtaking.  She followed that up with the party pop anthem “Lovefool” by the Cardigans which had everyone dancing along as a bubble machine began to fill the room with bubbles.  She finished off her impressive set with “Follow Your Arrow” which she prefaced with the fact that she loves New York City so much because it was so open to all kinds of people.  Kacey masterfully executed an impressive set which showcased why she is a true future star, not only in country, but in the overall music world.  I look forward to watching this talented woman rise to the top.  Because if you can make it in New York City, you can make it anywhere. 

    SETLISTS:

    Brandy Clark:

    1. Crazy Women
    2. Pray to Jesus and Play the Lotto
    3. Real Good Time to Hold My Hand
    4. Broke
    5. Better Dig Two (The Band Perry Cover)
    6. Come Over But Can’t Get In (Craig Campbell Cover)
    7. Only Way to Get By To get High
    8. Take a Little Pill
    9. Stripes

    Kacey Musgraves

    1. The Trailer Song
    2. Stupid
    3. Silver Lining
    4. Island In The Sun (Weezer Cover)
    5. I Miss You
    6. Blowin’ Smoke
    7. Keep It To Yourself
    8. I Put A Spell On You (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins Cover)
    9. Mama’s Broken Heart (Miranda Lambert Cover)
    10. Hard Time
    11. Back on the Map
    12. It Is What It Is
    13. Step Off
    14. Three Little Birds (Bob Marley Cover)
    15. Merry Go ‘Round
    16. My House
    17. Rainbow (ENCORE)
    18. Lovefool (ENCORE) (The Cardigans Cover)
    19. Follow Your Arrow (ENCORE)

    Zac Brown Band Proves To Be The Best in the Land

    Zac Brown Band
    Comcast Theater
    Hartford, CT
    September 1, 2013

    Just in case anyone doubted the live prowess of the Zac Brown Band, they surely set the record straight on Labor Day Weekend in Hartford, Connecticut.  It was a hot, humid and sticky day in New England, but that did not stop people of all ages to fill the Comcast Theater pit, seats, and lawn to the very last spot.  The parking lot was extra rowdy as tailgaters got themselves ready, for what I consider, the best Band in the land. 

    Zac and his crew of musical geniuses took to the stage at approximately 8:45 and performed one of the most action packed shows I have ever witnessed.  The summer anthem “Jump Right In” got everyone dancing and singing off the bat and ZBB never looked back.  Armed with a laser light show and stunning visuals on the big screen behind them, every portion of the performance was masterfully executed. 

    But as much as the visuals were impressive, the real star of the show was music.  And for anyone who regrettably has not seen Zac Brown Band live yet, they are not your typical country act.  In fact, they are far from it.  What other artist or band out there, who churns out #1 after #1 on country radio, can play just some of their “hits” and the fans are left satisfied?  What other Band can play Metallica, Nirvana, David Gray, Van Morrison and James Taylor covers with such authenticity?  The answer is there is only one. 

    And as it such with every ZBB show, Zac is the obvious ring-leader, but makes it known that every member of the Band is equally as important.  From Clay Cook and Coy Bowles’ rousing electric guitar solo’s on “Who Knows” to Jimmy De Martini’s face melting fiddle solo’s on songs like “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” to John Driskell Hopskins’ surprising rendition of “Enter Sandman” to Chris Fryar and Daniel De Los Reyes perfection on the percussionist instruments, each member shows how truly superior ZBB is from anyone else in the game today. 

    Of course, no show would be complete without ZBB’s signature song, “Chicken Fried”, which produced an eruption of vocal chords all singing in unison from the stage to the very back of the lawn.  Zac was extremely demonstrative with his stern and focused look as he picked and strummed his guitar with intensity. 

    What really surprised me and much of the crowd was when the band came out for their encore dressed in glow in the dark skeleton outfits that brought an air of mystery and darkness.  And the song selections fit right with costume stage as they rocked out to “Uncaged”, Led Zeppelin’s “Kasmir” and a stirring rendition of The Charlie Daniels Band’s “The Devil Went Down To Georgia”.  I may get knocked for it, but I think ZBB’s version of the song one ups the original as Jimmy De Martini absolutely destroys any other fiddler I’ve ever seen.

    All in all, the Zac Brown Band is the best in the business for my money.  The overall excitement and true appreciation for all genres of music makes them truly unique.  In an age where music acts play the same songs and same setlist night after night, no Zac Brown Band show is like one before.  Simply put, ZBB is the best band in land. 

    Setlist:

    1. Intro
    2. Jump Right In
    3. The Wind
    4. As She’s Walking Away
    5. Whiskey’s Gone
    6. Who Knows
    7. Toes
    8. Day For the Dead
    9. Sweet Annie
    10. Colder Weather
    11. Free
    12. Into the Mystic (Van Morrison Cover)
    13. Seven Bridges Road
    14. Babylon (David Gray Cover)
    15. Me & Julio (with Brad Stella)
    16. Love the One You’re With/Iko Iko (with Brad Stella)
    17. All Apologies (Nirvana Cover)
    18. The Frozen Man (James Taylor Cover)
    19. Percussion Solo’s
    20. Keep Me In Mind
    21. Settle Me Down
    22. Highway 20 Ride
    23. Knee Deep
    24. Sic ’em on a Chicken
    25. Goodbye in Her Eyes
    26. Enter Sandman (Metallica Cover)
    27. Chicken Fried
    28. Uncaged
    29. Kashmir (Led Zeppelin Cover)
    30. The Devil Went Down to Georgia (The Charlie Daniels Band Cover)

    Toby Keith & Kip Moore Throw One Hell of a Party in CT

    Toby Keith
    Hammer Down Tour
    featuring Kip Moore & Drake White
    Comcast Theater, Hartford, Connecticut
    Sunday, August 25, 2013

    Long standing country veteran Toby Keith brought his Hammer Down Tour to Hartford, Connecticut this past Sunday and absolutely blew the roof off of the Comcast Theater.  Joined by country music’s rising star, Kip Moore, and new-comer Drake White, Toby and company put forth one of the most energetic shows I’ve seen this summer. 

     
     
     
    I was unfortunately unable to get into the venue in time to see Drake White, but made my way into the pit just before Kip Moore took to the stage.  A huge backdrop with Kip’s back and outstretched arms made for an impressive visual on stage.  Kip appeared on stage with his patented backwards red trucker hat and cut off Rolling Stones t-shirt. 
     
     
     
     
    I had previously only seen Kip at smaller club like venues in New York City and was interested to see how he would adapt to a larger venue.  Needless to say, he had absolutely no problem crossing over as he used every inch of the stage and T shaped catwalk, running, jumping, and sweating all over the place. 
     
     
     
    Kip mixed in tracks from his critically acclaimed “Up All Night” album, including #1 hits ‘Beer Money’, ‘Hey Pretty Girl’, and ‘Something ‘Bout A Truck’, with a few new impressive tracks off of an upcoming album set to be released in October.  The highlight of his set came when he stripped down, sat on a stool, and performed a beautiful acoustic version of ‘Hey Pretty Girl’.  All the couples in the sold out crowd wrapped their arms around each other and forgot about the otherwise party atmosphere that dominated the night.  It shows the true appeal that Kip Moore has as he can touch upon all aspects of life through his lyrics and infectious delivery. 
     
     
     
    Kip Moore Setlist:
    1. Crazy One More Time
    2. What I Do
    3. Reckless
    4. I’m Going Back On South
    5. Beer Money
    6. Fly Again
    7. Drinking, Smoking
    8. Unless Heaven’s Got A Dirt Road
    9. Hey Pretty Girl
    10. Something ‘Bout A Truck
     

     
    I must admit I am a long time Toby Keith fan and have seen him live well over twenty-five times.  But there was something different about Toby this time around.  He changed up the setlist to make things a lot more modern (old staples such as ‘I’m Just Talkin’ Bout Tonight’ and ‘You Shouldn’t Kiss Me Like This’ were removed).  And he seemed to genuinely be enjoying himself a lot more on that night as he was more active on stage and extremely demonstrative. 
     
     
     
    He came out to a non-single cut, “Haven’t Had A Drink All Day” and pumped right into a bombastic “American Ride” and then a passionate “Made In America”.  He was strutting his stuff all over the stage and was very interactive with the crowd.  In fact, I was in the pit with my good friend, Michael Wilcoxin, who just served our great country overseas in Kuwait.  He was wearing his Army “Greens” and Toby instantly spotted him.  In true Toby Keith fashion, he instantly came over to Mike, gave him a fist pump and even gave his guitar pick to him.  But more on that in a minute …
     
     
     
     
    The rest of Toby’s set included mostly high energy hits.  ‘Beer For My Horses’, ‘Who’s Your Daddy’, ‘I Love This Bar’ and ‘Beers Ago’ were just some of the tracks that Toby chose from his extensive catalogue for this summer night.  When it was time for ‘Red Solo Cup’, two enormous inflatable cups appeared on both sides of the stage and the entire crowd whipped out their own solo cups.  Outside of the slower ‘Hope on the Rocks’, Toby kept up a party atmosphere that had everyone singing, smiling, and partying all night long. 
     
     
     
    However, anyone that has ever attended a Toby Keith show knows that the highlight of his set and of the night is the beautiful dedication he does for our troops and our country as his encore.  “American Soldier” followed by “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” may be the best encore in country music, period.  And on this night, he pulled my friend Mike as well as some other military members, and even a wounded warrior, on stage to help celebrate the USA. 
     

     
    Chants of USA as well as cheers and applause rained down upon the members of the military who were on stage with Toby.  It really was a sight to behold as they instantly became the stars of the night.  Toby even sent them out to the front of the catwalk to receive the ovation that they so deservedly have earned for their sacrifices to keep us free.
     
     
     
    In the end, Toby showcased what he truly loves most: supporting our troops, loving our country, and getting people in the mood to party.  As always, he nailed all three with his perfectly executed performance.  His final words before he left the stage with the American Soldiers alongside him were “Never Apologize for Being Patriotic”.  Toby, we never will. 
     
     
     
    Toby Keith’s Setlist:
    1. Haven’t Had A Drink All Day
    2. American Ride
    3. Made in America
    4. Beers Ago
    5. Wanna Talk About Me
    6. Whiskey Girl
    7. Ballad of Balad
    8. Hope on the Rocks
    9. God Love Her
    10. Beer for My Horses
    11. Weed with Willie
    12. Get out of My Car
    13. Red Solo Cup
    14. Who’s Your Daddy
    15. Ain’t As Good As I Once Was
    16. I Love This Bar
    17. How Do You Like Me Now
    18. A Little Less Talk
    19. Stranglehold (Ted Nugent Cover)
    20. American Soldier (ENCORE)
    21. Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue (ENCORE)
        
     
     
    VIDEOS OF THE VETERANS ON STAGE:
     
     
     

    After the show, I was able to catch up with Kip Moore standing outside the entrance.  He was gracious enough to allow a short discussion with me about his upcoming album. He stated he is actually hoping to finish up the final cuts for the project this coming Tuesday. He expects the next single to be out this October and hinted that it might be “Unless Heaven’s Got A Dirt Road”.  He also guaranteed the new songs he played that night (see the above setlist) would be on the album along with a song called “New York City” which he is very excited about.  Furthermore, after some prying he told me he expects the album to be released “on or around January 18th”.  He was very humble during our conversation and seemed to be very excited about the new album.  I expect a huge future for Kip Moore.

    Dierks Bentley: More Than A Riser in Hartford

    Dierks Bentley
    Locked & Reloaded Tour
    August 3, 2013
    Hartford, Connecticut

     

     Dierks Bentley may be an “opening act” on the current ‘Locked & Reloaded Tour’, but his performance in Hartford this past Saturday night had all of the makings of a head-liner mainstay.  Following sets from Kix Brooks and newcomer Rae-Lynn, the tenacious Dierks took to the stage to an energetic version of “Am I The Only One” and instantly made sure he was not the only one there ready to party. 

    What followed was a perfectly conceived setlist that contained equal parts love, fun, memories and patriotism.  Whether it was “Free & Easy” or “Every Mile A Memory”, you could tell Dierks sings songs about moments he has experienced and things that he loves.  Nothing shows that more than he brand new single, “I Hold On”, which the crowd was lucky enough to hear before its release. 

    “I Hold On” tells a story about the truck his deceased father had given to him and despite all the years and wear and tear, he still holds on to it because “…she’s still here and now he’s gone”.  The same goes for his guitar and despite its scratches and dents, he likes it better than a new one.  The message is clear: life is not about things, but more about memories.  I expect this single to be an enormous hit for Dierks, who seems to be one of the few in today’s country music to be consistent with the quality of music he puts out. 

    Another true highlight of Dierks’ set was when he and his band put forth an impressive rendition of “Up On The Ridge”, the title track from a previous bluegrass record he had released.  The song starts with the band lined up next to each other perched on a raised stage with a gleaming forest and moon backdrop and finishing with the band jamming out at the front of the stage.  It is the perfect song to showcase just how impressive Dierks’ entire band is as the jam out at the end of the song was as firey as the flames that appeared on the big screen. 

    Of course the ladies were not forgotten as Dierks proceeded to tell everyone on the lawn to get close to their significant other so that he could help them get lucky.  He then serenaded the crowd with the sexy “Come A Little Closer” and followed it up with “Feel That Fire”.  Both songs blended together nicely in the middle of an action packed set.

    Dierks added in humorous comments throughout, brought a woman on stage to (poorly) play his guitar, and even signed a guitar and gave it to a concert goer in the pit.  At times he was on his knees slapping five with fans and at other times he was catching air with his patented jump in place dance.  He is a true entertainer who is happy, humble, talented and explosive from the beginning to end of each performance.

     

    Dierks finished off his brilliant set with the beautiful “Home” which combines a sense of patriotism with a touch of self worth.  It is constructed without a military or flag waving sense of love for America that is unique compared to many other patriotic-like songs.  Nonetheless, shouts of USA resonated from the crowd and Dierks’ throaty delivery had the capcity crowd in the palm of his hand at show’s end.  After hearing “I Hold On” and “Bourbon in Kentucky” (although it was not performed), I fully expect his soon to be released ‘Riser’ album to be everything one would expect from Dierks Bentley, a consistent and quality product. 

    Setlist:

    1. Am I The Only One
    2. Free & Easy (Down The Road I Go)
    3. 5-1-5-0
    4. Every Mile A Memory
    5. Lot of Leaving
    6. Come A Little Closer
    7. Feel That Fire
    8. Tip It On Back
    9. Up on the Ridge
    10. Settle for a Slowdown
    11. I Hold On
    12. What Was I Thinking
    13. Sideways
    14. Home

    Tim McGraw’s Two Lanes of Freedom Tour: A Review in Pictures

    Tim McGraw
    Two Lanes of Freedom Tour
    Bethel Woods, NY
    July 26, 2013
     
     

     
    Country music megastar, Tim McGraw put forth a spirited performance at the Bethel Woods Center for Arts this past Friday. He combined a mixture of classic hits with a wide variety of songs off of his newest album, Two Lanes of Freedom.  McGraw was full of energy, from the start where he walked through the middle aisle down to the stage all the way through to the four song encore.  The show included high production with some amazing visuals as well as a few surprises (for example, Pitbull appeared on screen during a remix of “Felt Good On My Lips”).  Overall, it was just what you would expect from a Tim McGraw show: beautiful ballads, country anthems, sensational vocals, and a professional performance that lasted two hours without a blemish.  Check out a few of my photos and a video from my point of view in the pit at the Bethel Woods Center for Arts (the original site of Woodstock). 

     
     
     
    Setlist:
    1. Where The Green Grass Grows
    2. All I Want is a Life
    3. Down on the Farm
    4. How Bad Do You Want It
    5. Everywhere
    6. Southern Girl
    7. Let It Go
    8. Just To See You Smile
    9. She’s My Kind of Rain
    10. Mexicoma
    11. Nashville Without You
    12. Friend of a Friend
    13. Highway Don’t Care
    14. Two Lanes of Freedom
    15. Real Good Man
    16. Between the River and Me
    17.  Angel Boy
    18. The Cowboy In Me
    19. Something Like That
    20. Felt Good On My Lips (featuring Pitbull on the big screen)
    21. Live Like You Were Dying
    22. One of Those Nights (Encore)
    23. Indian Outlaw (Encore)
    24. I Like It, I Love It (Encore with Brantley Gilbert)
    25. Truck Yeah (Encore)
       
     

     
     
     
    Video: Two Lanes of Freedom
     
     

    Jason Aldean’s Record Breaking Fenway Park Night Train Tour

    Jason Aldean
    FENWAY PARK
    Night Train Tour
    w/ Jake Owen, Miranda Lambert,
    Dee Jay Silver & Thomas Rhett
    Boston, Massachusetts
    July 12, 2013

    Country Music Megastar, Jason Aldean, brought his Night Train Tour to the historic baseball park, Fenway Park, on a cool and sunny July night.  As you drove into the Fenway Park area, and this was my first visit to the ballpark, you saw Coors Light Billboards with giant images of Jason Aldean everywhere you looked.  Even as you entered the historic, yet small baseball field you could see his name on the scoreboard located on the “Green Monster”.  These images, along with the fact that he is the first country act to headline Fenway Park, really shows how far his star power has risen in today’s music world. 

    Aldean was certainly not the only talent on the bill.  Female country rocker Miranda Lambert, chart topping Jake Owen, newcomer Thomas Rhett, and breakthrough DJ, Dee Jay Silver, were all part of the historic two night event that broke the all time Fenway Park record for most tickets sold (over 70,000 tickets combined in the two nights). 

    I was able to attend the meet and greet with Thomas Rhett which was held in the Red Sox batting cages and warm up facilities.  I spoke to TR about his upcoming album, which he says will be released in September.  We also spoke about rappers such as DMX and the influence that hip hop and country have had on him.

    I asked Thomas about what it meant to play Fenway Park and he responded by saying “when you become a singer you want to play the Opry.  Now that I have, the next thing you do is want to play historic parks.  There is not many more that Fenway.  We usually come out to a (Dr.) Dre mix but tonight we wanted to do something special for Boston”. 

    After speaking and meeting him, we were allowed to exit through the Boston Red Sox dugout which was just an added bonus for any sports fan.  Upon reaching our seats along the third base line, we saw the massive stage that would host more than five hours of country music blaring through the surrounding streets of Boston. 

    Thomas Rhett was first up and he came out on stage to Sweet Caroline, some Dropkick Murphy’s, and a little Forgot About Dre.  TR was active throughout his whole set and changed up the tempo of the songs perfectly.  He serenaded the women with “It Goes Like This”, got personal with “Beer With Jesus” and hick-hopped to “Front Porch Junkies”.  His five song set was professional and had the crowd up and dancing early.  I expect to see TR headlining a tour in the very near future as he has all the makings of a star.  In fact, he headlined an after party … but we will get to that in a bit. 

    Setlist:

    1. All American Middle Class White Boy
    2. It Goes Like This
    3. Beer with Jesus
    4. Front Porch Junkies
    5. Something to do with My Hands

    Next up was an injured Jake Owen.  He had surgery just a few days before the show due to a go-cart accident gone wrong.  However, despite being in a camouflage cast and unable to play a guitar, he may have put forth the most energetic set of the night.  He appeared on an illuminated stage and blasted through hit after hit starting with his two most recent #1 hits (in a string of four straight #1’s) “Anywhere With You” and “The One That Got Away”. 

    He threw in his new single, “Days of Gold”, which is full of energy and thrills.  However, the real thrill of his set was “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” in which he mixed in the rap theme from the tv sitcom ‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air’.  It did not make much sense mixing up the two songs, but it worked well and pretty much everyone knows the lyrics so it made for a fun and comical moment.  His short but spirited set was impressive and he was sure to tell the crowd there was no way he was missing playing the Fenway Park despite his injuries. 

    Setlist:

    1. Anywhere With You
    2. The One That Got Away
    3. Yee Haw
    4. Alone With You
    5. Barefoot Blue Jean Night (Fresh Prince of Bel Air Remix)
    6. Sweet Caroline (sing-a-long)
    7. Days of Gold
    8. 8 Second Ride

    Up next was Miranda Lambert, who mixed in her country rock with classic country approach that has had her on the top of the charts the past few years.  Pretty much all of her accessories, from the microphone to her multitude of guitars were colored pink.  Her performance was a mixed bag as she seemed to rock out on some songs, such as “Kerosene”, “Gunpowder & Lead”, and “Mama’s Broken Heart” but the acoustics were too loud and you could not really hear her sing.  Also, some of her songs such as “Over You” and “House That Built Me” were not performed with as much emotion as I had seen her before.  Nevertheless, it was a solid set and even included a cameo from Patty Loveless, surprisingly the only special guest of the entire night, on “Dear Diamonds”.  I unfortunately did not get her entire setlist as the beer lines were extremely long and I missed some of her set. 

    Dee Jay Silver, country music’s first DJ with a record deal, was the next act to take the stage.  He dominated mash-ups and had the entire stadium on its feet dancing and going crazy.  He mixed in classic country songs, modern day country hits, along with house and hip-hop beats that made each song a full on dance party.  As an added bonus, the entire ballpark was lit up and you could see the historic field in all its glory while Silver’s skills shined just as bright as Fenway did. 

    He even played the entire “Sweet Caroline”, instead of just a snippet, that became an all out sing-a-long.  Check out the video of the well conceived and masterfully executed idea by Dee Jay Silver:

    Dee Jay Silver had the crowd in his palm of his hand as everyone was amped up for Jason Aldean to take the stage.  And when he appeared on stage with the help of high production and a plethora of fireworks as he ripped into a very fitting “Crazy Town”.  Aldean was full of energy and absolutely understood the historic moment.  And his setlist carried suit as he performed hit after hit all night long.

    It was surprising that no special guest appeared during Aldean’s set, but the crowd did not seem to mind.  And Aldean’s vocals soared in the night sky during ballads such as “The Truth” and “Don’t You Wanna Stay” which included a holographic image of Kelly Clarkson which fooled most concert goers. 

    The crowd hung on every word and sang a long word for word the entire hour plus set.  “The Only Way I Know” and “Dirt Road Anthem” were the absolute highlights of the night as the crowd thundered the words back and waved their arms in unison.  It certainly was a sight to behold as a sea of hands waved and was backed by tens of thousands of vocal chords working in unison. 

    The encore included two of his most lively songs, “My Kinda Party” and “Hicktown” were pumped into high gear.  A fury of fireworks set an end to an epic night of country music in one of the World’s most history venues. 

    Setlist:

    1. Crazy Town
    2. Take A Little Ride
    3. Tattoos On This Town
    4. When She Says Baby
    5. The Truth
    6. Fly Over States
    7. Texas Was You
    8. Johnny Cash
    9. Amarillo Sky
    10. Night Train
    11. 1994
    12. Don’t You Wanna Stay
    13. Big Green Tractor
    14. Only Way I Know
    15. Dirt Road Anthem
    16. She’s Country
    17. My Kinda Party (Encore)
    18. Hicktown (Encore)

    After the show the crowds flooded into the streets and many concert goers tried to get into the House of Blues where Dee Jay Silver and Thomas Rhett were set to perform.  Silver showcased his immense skills as the crowd danced along.  Thomas Rhett performed a few of his hits along with some covers such as Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake’s “Suite and Tie” and Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places. 

    However, the real highlights were yet to come.  First, Kip Moore came out and performed an acoustic version of his #1 hit “Beer Money” and then he and TR sang happy birthday to someone in the crowd.  Although I had to leave, I heard that Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert and even Patty Loveless came out later in the night to help TR and Silver out with their Afterparty.  Overall, it was an amazing night full of performances, moments, and sights that I will never forget.  Now, let’s hope more country stars throw the kind of party that helped Jason Aldean enter the history books.

    Kenny Chesney & Eric Church Ignite the No Shoes Nation in Philly

    Kenny Chesney’s No Shoes Nation Tour
    with Special Guest Eric Church
    featuring Kacey Musgraves and the Eli Young Band
    Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA
    June 8, 2013

     
     
    Saturday, June 8, 2013 marked the No Shoes Nation Tour stop at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA.  It was a day that started off with rain and dark skies, but as soon as I made my way towards the football stadium the sun shined bright and all rain stopped.  It seemed very fitting that the great weather pushed itself through for a Kenny Chesney concert as the theme of the night soon became that of the summertime.  

     
    As we drove into the Stadium’s vicinity, I was very disappointed in the Stadium’s parking situation.  Despite getting there over four hours before the first act, we were not allowed into any lots anywhere near the Stadium and we directed almost a mile away on the other side of the baseball stadium.  On top of that, we were not allowed into most of the entrances because we had floor level seats.  We had to walk around almost the entire stadium to get onto the field.  It was more of a hassle to get into than any Stadium I’ve ever been in.  That being said, that was the only real disappointment of the night. 

    Due to the hassle, we were only able to catch a few songs from Kacey Musgraves.  I have loved her music since the release of Same Trailer, Different Park.  She brings a new sense of music that is equal parts gritty, racy, and real, with a touch of sexy.  She sounded excellent live as well.  Her songs “Follow Your Arrow” and “Merry Go Round” are perfect examples of how much different she is than the regular pop country female singers out there.  She touches on topics that are out of the normal comfort zones, but does so with such ease.  I look forward to seeing a full set from her in the future, as she will undoubtedly have a huge career. 

    Up next was the Eli Young Band.  I’ve seen them live a few times now and while they never bring much flash or excitement to the stage, they are a very talented group.  They did well picking their setlist as they had most of the Stadium engaged.  Songs such as “Always The Love Songs” and their set ending “Crazy Girl” were full on sing-a-longs.  But, the highlight of their set was the combination of “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” and Tom Petty’s “Learning to Fly”.  The song mash-up flowed perfectly and had everyone out of their seats.  Their Lynyrd Skynyrd cover of “Gimme Three Steps” seemed a bit forced, but overall the Eli Young Band was solid. 

    By 7:00 p.m., the Stadium became a capacity crowd and the energy jumped to its maximum level.  Smoke filled the stage and country music’s newest star and rebel, Eric Church, appeared on the stage to the infectious “Creepin'”.  What followed was a bombastic set that showcased exactly why Eric Church is one of the biggest names in the country music genre right now. 

    He is a one of a kind performer, who delivers with such passion and extreme feeling.  He sings into the microphone with reserved spirit and follows it up with fist pumps and chest slams as he has the crowd in the absolute palm of his hand.  For most of his set he kept things up beat.  He had everyone partying along with him to “Drink In My Hand”, “Keep On” and “Smoke a Little Smoke”.  Yet, surprisingly, it was the two times that he slowed things down a bit, that he shined brightest. 

    At one point, he sang a free flowing, acoustic version of his newest single, “Like Jesus Does” and followed it up with a one of a kind love ballad, “Love Your Love the Most”.  The two songs paired up perfectly into what was otherwise an energetic and aggressive set.  He threw in a little of Hank Jr.’s “Country Boy Can Survive” before “Homeboy” and came out to an encore with a cowboy boot in his hand as he projected “These Boots” to the Philly crowd. 

    However, it was his final song, that showcased Eric Church’s star power most as he delivered a spirited version of his biggest single to date, “Springsteen”.  The ten minute version he performed a snippet of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” in the middle of it.  He told the crowd how he wanted the song and that night to connect a melody to a memory.  No disrespect to the great Kenny Chesney, but this song was easiest the biggest highlight of the entire night.  The ohh ohh ohho’s from the tens of thousands of fans sung in unison was truly epic. 

    By the time Kenny Chesney hit the stage, the sky was black and the stage was fully illuminated with multiple screens and laser light show that rivals any act in music.  Instead of his usual entrance of flying in on some sort of swing or trapeze, he simply walked on stage and immediately ripped in “Feel Like a Rockstar”.  Kenny Chesney has been recently dubbed the “King of the Road” and it’s very easy to see why.  He draws crowds like only a few acts in  music can.  His ticket sales over the past few years have outnumbered Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga, U2, Paul McCartney and anyone else you want to bring up.  It truly is an amazing feat. 

    And it’s no wonder.  He packs in hit after hit in his setlist which touch upon the free thinking, islandy feel that fits into a summer stadium show perfectly.  Whether it be “Anything But Mine”, “I Go Back”, “Summertime”, or “Beer in Mexico”, each song is performed with masterful execution backed by a stadium full of fans who know each and every word to the summer anthems. 

    He performed “Pirate Flag” and sped it up to an added flavor of hip-hop and got his reggae on to “Everyone Wants to Go To Heaven”.  He had the women squirming to “Come Over” and “You & Tequila”.  And he even brought a dozen or so Philadelphia Eagles on stage during “Boys of Fall”.  A true showman who knows how to up the ante on each song.  Kenny is hardly every stationary as he runs, jumps, and flies around the large catwalk that extends out into the crowd.  It really is a sight to behold. 

    And one thing that Kenny always seems to do is collaborate with the other artists he brings on tour with him.  That night was no exception as Eric Church took to the stage as their shared verses on the newest single off Life on a Rock, “When I See This Bar”.  Kenny and Eric were all smiles as they went back and forth on what’s sure to be yet another smash hit.  It’s always fun for the fans to see two stars collaborate and, at the same time, seem like they are truly enjoying it.  (See video below)

    All in all, it was what I have come to expect from a Kenny Chesney set.  There were far less surprises than in years past and I would have loved for Kacey Musgraves to come out and sing with Kenny.  But alas, I hope that he continues to do this large stadium tours for years to come because his shows bring about such a feel nostalgia.  I do not know what my summer concert series would be without a Kenny Chesney show. 

    SETLISTS:

    Kenny Chesney

    1. Feels Like a Rockstar
    2. Reality
    3. Beer in Mexico
    4. Pirate Flag
    5. Summertime
    6. No Shirts, No Shoes, No Problem
    7. Somewhere With You
    8. I Go Back
    9. You & Tequila
    10. Living in Fast Forward
    11. Young
    12. How Forever Feels
    13. Everybody Wants to Go To Heaven
    14. Big Star
    15. Come Over
    16. Never Wanted Nothing More
    17. Anything But Mine
    18. When I See This Bar (with Eric Church)
    19. Out Last Night
    20. Boys of Fall (with the Philadelphia Eagles)
    21. She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy (Encore)

    Eric Church

    1. Creepin’
    2. How Bout You
    3. Over When It’s Over
    4. I’m Gettin’ Stoned
    5. Keep On
    6. Jack Daniels
    7. Living Part of Life
    8. Like Jesus Does
    9. Love Your Love the Most
    10. Drink In My Hand
    11. Guys Like Me
    12. Lotta Boot Left to Fill
    13. Country Boy Can Survive (Hank Williams Jr. Cover)
    14. Homeboy
    15. Smoke a Little Smoke
    16. These Boots (Encore)
    17. Springsteen (Encore with Snippet of Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run)

    Videos:

    When I See This Bar

     
     
    Springsteen
     
     
    Pirate Flag
     
     
    Anything But Mine
     
     
    Love Your Love The Most
     

    Brad Paisley Proves He Will Be Hard To Beat This Summer

    Brad Paisley’s Beat This Summer Tour
    Featuring Lee Brice, Chris Young & The Henningsens
    Comcast Theater, Hartford, Connecticut
    Saturday, May 18, 2013

    Connecticut opened its 2013 outdoor concert series on Saturday night with Brad Paisley’s Beat This Summer Tour and flocks of country music fans packed Hartford’s Comcast Theater.  What followed included hours of entertainment headlined by one of country music’s finest performers.  This leg of the tour includes four acts, countless hits, and a production value that is second to none. 

    I started my night by talking with Lee Brice at his meet and greet.  He told me that he is excited about his new single, “Parking Lot Party” and is currently creating a new album.  He further stated a single from the new material would be released early in 2014 and an album should be out by the end of Spring/early Summer, 2014.  Lee is easily one of the nicest artists I’ve ever met and this time was no different. 

    I was also able to meet Chris Young.  He also seemed excited when talking about his new single, “Aw Naw”.  He, like Lee, looks forward to releasing new material and said he wants his new song to run its course before releasing anything new.  He said he expects his new album will be out by the end of the year. 

     
     
    It was truly a pleasure to get to meet and talk with Brad Paisley.  He is truly a megastar in every sense of the word.  However, when talking with him one-on-one you would hardly think he envisions himself that way.  He is very humble, soft spoken and personable.  We talked about playing the guitar and he gave me a few hints to improve my new found hobby.  After all, who better to get advice on guitar playing than the master himself?   
     

    I, unfortunately, missed the Henningsens performance as I was in the Lee Brice meet and greet while they performed.  I look forward to seeing them in the future.  I walked into the PIT section just as Lee Brice was launching into “Parking Lot Party”.  Lee has that it factor that will undoubtedly make him a star.  He combines passion, power and versatility that is rare in today’s music world. 

    On songs like “I Drive Your Truck” and “Love Like Crazy”, the lyrics tug at your emotions and his delivery is so genuine that you can tell he feels the music as much as the listener does.  He has an emotional side and also a party persona that works perfectly in an outdoor country music setting. 

    Lee was extremely impressive throughout his entire half hour set.  Each time I have seen him live has convinced me further that he on the road to stardom.  He was extremely active on stage and used the catwalk to his advantage.  I look forward to more from Lee Brice and fully expect him to rise to headliner status in the next few years. 

    Chris Young was up next and I was only able to catch a bit of his set due to my time with Brad Paisley backstage.  However, Chris showcased the deep vocals that have made him a mainstay on country radio.  His baritone nature was exemplary on “Gettin’ You Home” and “Voices”  His new single, “Aw Naw” has an infectious chorus that is sure to be yet another hit.  He isn’t the most active performer on stage as he lets his vocals do most of the work. 

    At about 9 p.m., it was finally time for the headliner to hit the stage and Brad Paisley came out swinging.  His most recent #1 hit “Southern Comfort Zone” was first on an impressive setlist and it was immediately apparent that he brought out all the production stops for this tour.  Images of the ocean, Paris, Italy, the cover of his most recent album, Wheelhouse, and numerous others appeared in the sky due to lasers, smoke, and lighting effects that I have never witnessed at any show before. 

    Brad and his band created impressive renditions of his songs that are truly unique to the original studio tracks; mostly due to the guitar solo’s and jam outs that he and his band added to each song.  He placed several songs from Wheelhouse in between some of his classic hits and was sure to add some form of matching imagery on the huge screens behind the stage.  Whether it was a Captain America cartoon during “American Saturday Night” or a rotating tire on “Mud on the Tires”, the thought Brad put into the visuals really made the show that much more impressive. 

    He included his opening acts as Lee Brice and Chris Young came out to a riveting version of “Outstanding in Our Field” which features Dierks Bentley, Roger Miller and Hunter Hayes on Wheelhouse.  The three stars were all smiles as they traded lines on the song which I fully expect to make it to the summit on country radio in the near future.   Chris Young returned to the stage during the final song, “Alcohol”.  As a fan, it is always a bonus to see the stars on stage together at different points of the night. 

    Brad’s guitar skills were flaunted with no reservations the entire night.  He jumped into the crowd during guitar solo’s, switched guitars for each song, and used every single inch of the stage in the front, the back by the sound stage, and the catwalk.  He was constantly moving, but it was with a smooth grace that was not forced, but exhaulted the swagger of a truly experienced performer. 

    An App was created for the Tour which is called Brad Paisley’s Light Show. The crowd was encouraged to hold up on their smartphones at certain points of the night.  The result was amazing colors shining from every inch of the entire aplitheater.  To further up the ante of the night, a holographic image of Carrie Underwood emerged during “Remind Me”, a rapping Charlie Daniels appeared on screen during “Karate” and Andy Griffin spoke to Brad via screen on “Waitin’ on a Woman”. 

    Past legends such as Elvis, Johnny Cash and George Jones were paid homage to as well. Brad Paisley did not leave anything out for this action packed performance that left the crowd trying to guess what he would do next. Even a goat made an absolutely hilarious appearance during “Celebrity”. 

    All in all it will be very hard for any show to beat Brad Paisley’s performance this summer.  He seemed to think of everything and more. I was blown away by not only Paisley, but the entire night as well.  From the music, to the stage, and the production, all the little intricacies were perfectly envisioned and masterfully executed. 

    SETLISTS:

    Brad Paisley

    1. Southern Comfort Zone
    2. Mud on the Tires
    3. Mona Lisa
    4. American Saturday Night Tour
    5. Outstanding in Our Field (with Lee Brice and Chris Young)
    6. This is Country Music
    7. Celebrity
    8. Then
    9. She’s Everything
    10. Instrumental
    11. Old Alabama (featuring Alabama on screen)
    12. Waitin’ on a Woman (featuring Andy Griffin on screen)
    13. Online
    14. I’m Still a Guy
    15. Beat This Summer
    16. I’m Gonna Miss Her
    17. Karate (featuring Charlie Daniels on screen)
    18. Devil Went Down to Georgia (Charlie Daniels Band cover)
    19. Remind Me (with Carrie Underwood Hologram)
    20. The World
    21. Water
    22. Ticks (Encore)
    23. Alcohol (Encore with Chris Young)

    Chris Young

    1. That Makes Me
    2. Gettin’ You Home
    3. Voices
    4. When She’s On
    5. Aw Naw
    6. The Man I Want to Be
    7. You
    8. Sharp Dressed Man (ZZ Top Cover)
    9. Neon
    10. She’s Got This Thing About Her
    11. I Can Take It From Here
    12. Tomorrow
    13. Save Water, Drink Beer

    Lee Brice

    1. Parking Lot Party
    2. Beer
    3. A Woman Like You
    4. I Drive Your Truck
    5. Hard to Love
    6. Love Like Crazy
    7. Drinking Class

    Videos:

    Lee Brice – I Drive Your Truck
     
    

    Brad Paisley, Lee Brice and Chris Young – Outstanding In Our Field
     
    

      Alabama Goes Back to the Bowery in CT

      Alabama
      Back to the Bowery Tour
      Oakdale Theater
      Wallingford, CT
      April 26, 2013

      When I began my love affair with country music over ten years ago, my friends told me to start with three artists: Toby Keith, Kenny Chesney and Alabama.  As I listened to all three and instantly loved each of their different styles, there was one thing that made me feel a bit empty: Alabama had broken up and I would never be able to see them perform live.  Well, that changed thanks to the band’s new reunion tour, “Back to the Bowery”, celebrating 40 years together.

      I was very happy when Alabama announced they would be playing the Oakdale Theater in Wallingford, Connecticut, the site of one of the best concert experiences of my life (see: http://millertimemusicspot.blogspot.com/2011/07/night-i-was-part-of-dierks-bentley.html).  The Oakdale Theater is presented by Toyota and is a 5,000 seat performing arts center which each seat in the house has a perfect view of the stage.  And, on April 26, 2013, it was filled to capacity with people of all ages to listen to a true legendary act. 

      Before the band took to the stage, the large screens on both sides of the stage flashed images of the band members over the course of the past forty years as well as trivia questions about their life.  Alabama was founded in 1969 by Randy Owen (lead vocals), and his cousin Teddy Gentry.  They were joined by Jeff Cook and later Mark Herndon (who is not with the band for this Tour).  They were originally called “Wildcountry” and changed its name to 1972. 

      Alabama took to the stage and instantly ripped into “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (Gotta Have a Fiddler in the Band)” and the crowd went wild.  The band sounded like they hadn’t aged a bit as Randy Owen’s vocals were spot on.  The band members’ had some questionable clothing choices, which showed no regard for fashion or matching; however, I doubt one person in the crowd really cared.  As a green fiddle screamed, a bass guitar was pounded, and sing-a-longs ensured, it was exactly the type of show I had imagined all these years listening to their legendary songs. 

       The show’s early part of the setlist was full of high energy as classics such as “Dixieland Delight”, “Tennessee River”, and a fast-moving updated version of “Song of the South”, which had everyone stomping along.  They gradually incorporated some ballads and even brought a couple on stage who had “Feels So Right” as their wedding song many years ago.  Before “Born Country”, a fan brought up an FFA flag, in which Randy was happy to hold up with pride. 

      Randy Owen is still quite the a showman as he dominated the performance.  His vocals are still perfect and he added in jokes, jumps, waves, and comments throughout.  He spoke of the Band’s upcoming project which will feature many contemporary artists as well as a few new songs from Alabama.  Before singing “Love in the First Degree”, he stated the next time you hear this will be with Luke Bryan, hinting that it will be a radio single. 

      The band went off script as they dedicated a song to their friend and fellow legend, George Jones, who had passed away that morning.  They performed “She Thinks I Still Care” which was followed by a standing ovation.  And after ending their set with “Angels Among Us, “Roll On”, and “My Home’s in Alabama”, there was only song that could be worthy of an Encore.  The crowd clapped and chanted and the band responded with “Mountain Music”, the signature song of Alabama, which was also payed tribute to in 2011 by Brad Paisley in, “Old Alabama”, which featured the band.

       In the end, there were no big projection screens, no smoke or explosions.  Instead, it was three musicians who created one of the most legendary bands of all time, singing the hits that have made them so beloved.  Song after song was a sing-a-long and I felt myself smiling as I walked out of the Oakdale Theater.  I can finally say that I saw Alabama perform live. 

      SETLIST:

      1. If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (Gotta Have a Fiddler in the Band)
      2. Tennessee River
      3. Dixieland Delight
      4. In the Sky (bye and bye)
      5. Song of the South
      6. Feels So Right
      7. Lady Down on Love
      8. Born in the World
      9. Reckless
      10. Born Country
      11. Love in the First Degree
      12. She Thinks I Still Care (George Jones cover)
      13. When We Make Love
      14. There’s No Way
      15. Dancin’, Shaggin’ on the Boulevard
      16. Closer You Get
      17. In a Hurry
      18. Angels Among Us
      19. Roll On
      20. My Home’s in Alabama
      21. Mountain Music (Enore)

      Kenny Chesney – Life on a Rock – Track by Track Dissection

       

      Track Listing for “Life on a Rock”

      1. Pirate Flag
      2. When I See This Bar
      3. Spread the Love featuring the Wailers and Elan
      4. Lindy
      5. Coconut Tree with Willie Nelson
      6. It’s That Time of Day
      7. Life on a Rock
      8. Marley
      9. Must Be Something I Missed
      10. Happy on the Hey Now (A Song for Kristi)

      Pirate Flag:

      On an album which Kenny has described as his most self-reflective to date, “Pirate Flag” is easily the least personal song on the album.  That being said, it fits with both today’s country radio and his past summery anthems.  The song is dominated by a chorus which boasts that he is leaving his fast past life and disappearing to the islands.  Not much to the lyrics, but catchy nonetheless.  It is currently sitting at #5 on the Mediabase Country Charts, thus, proving to be yet another successful radio single.  I suspect this song will be a sing-a-long favorite on the upcoming No Shoes Nation Tour in the Summer of 2013. 


      When I See This Bar:

      I was able to attend the Album Release Party for “Life on a Rock” (see: http://millertimemusicspot.blogspot.com/2013/05/iheart-radio-hosts-kenny-chesneys-album.html) and Kenny stated that this was his favorite song on the new album.  He said the song is very reflective of his own life because it reminds him of the people he shared some of the best times of his life.  Everyone has a place that reminds them of a special time in their life and this is his way to bring about that nostalgic feeling.  The instruments, as all the songs on this album, give it that island flavor that Kenny is so well known for.  I could easily see this being released as a radio single in the future. 

      Spread the Love:

      The Wailers are featured on this song and actually were the ones who wrote the music for it.  They then sent it to Kenny and asked him to write his own lyrics for it.  I, personally, think the song is fantastic.  The fact that Kenny steps out of his comfort zone and takes a reggae approach, similar to his past hit, “Everybody Wants to go to Heaven”, makes it very authentic to him as a huge fan of Bob Marley, The Wailers, and the islands.  When listening to this island groove, it immediately transports me to Jamaica.  However, this song may not appeal to those traditional country music fans who do like to the genre bending that some artists try.  I personally think music should not be genre restricted and commend Kenny and Wailers for this fantastic collaboration. 


      Lindy:

      This is a strikingly beautiful song about a real man that used to leave on the island of St. John’s.  Kenny stated that he wrote the lyrics to this song after he had witnessed Lindy, a homeless man, playing the paino by himself at a Church on the island.  Kenny wrote it without a guitar or any music to it.  He has stated that he wrote a lot of the songs on the album without expecting anyone else to ever hear them, that they were part of a “journal that rhymed”.  This journal entry describes a happy, free soul who wandered around the island of St. John. 


      Coconut Tree:

      Willie Nelson adds his one of a kind voice to a fun song with a few clever play on words.  The song has a simple message, if they had their way they would disappear from all the stress of the real world and hang out on an island (i.e. a coconut tree).  The trading back and forth of the lines of the song by Kenny and Willie create a fun harmonization.  The is the latest in the growing list of collaborations between the two, who have obviously formed a respected relationship. 


      It’s That Time of Day:

      This is song that is obviously inspired by one of Kenny’s favorite places on earth, Jost Van Dyke as the line “adios to Jost” is reiterated numerous times in the song.  It is a relaxed tune that really depicts a beautiful island scene in the listener’s head.  He sings of a beautiful sunset that occurs at the end of a glorious day spent with his friends at sea.  It’s a song that is very reminiscent of the songs on a former Chesney album, “Lucky Old Sun”.  And why not sing about Jost Van Dyke?  I visited there back in October and it truly is one of the most spectacular places on earth.  This song makes me immediately want to return. 


      Life on a Rock:

      This song is the island version of “I’m a Small Town” from his last album.  Its main message is how close everyone that actually lives on an island are.  They know everyone’s business, date each other and party together.  It is the song which incorporates the electric guitar rifts that have been so common on many of his former songs.  It is set up as a typic country radio song and is less intimate the other selections. 


      Marley:

      Another beautiful song which Kenny sings about how he escapes from the road, radio, and big stadiums.  He relaxes on his boat, reads Hemmingway’s “Old Man on the Sea”, drinks his rum, and listens to Bob Marley.  He sings the song not merely just trying to escape his life, but as being very appreciative of what his music career has given him and that he is also able to relax fully in his own way.  The acoustic guitar flows and the steel drums strike with perfection while Kenny sings the song with purpose and honesty.  A real stand-out on the album. 


      Must Be Something I Missed:

      This is a song he wrote with Mac McAnnally at a time where Kenny was in a frustrated state of mind.  He said Mac created the sheet music and they put together the song over the phone.  It’s got a fast paced, bluesy feel to it as he sings about hoping that he did not miss something in life as he lives his hectic life.  The lyrics serve as the inner thoughts of a stressed out man.  A unique take on a familiar topic. 


      Happy on the Hey Now (A Song for Kristi):

      This song is an emotional dedication for a friend of his who has passed away.  Instead of taking a sad approach on the death of a loved one, he takes the opposite approach.  He sings of celebrating her life, finding strength in her, and making sure she never dies by keeping her memory alive.  The line “still I’m a strong believer that I will see you again” gives hope to anyone who has lost someone very dear and close to them in their life.  In his friend’s Kristi’s passing, he makes sure that he will remember her “living life in the moment, happy on the hey now”.  It is a beautiful dedication and how we should be so lucky to remember our loved ones when they pass.  And the song is perfectly placed to end an album full of so many personal songs. 

      iHeart Radio Hosts Kenny Chesney’s Album Release Party for Life on A Rock

       

      Kenny Chesney is an artist who is used to singing country anthems in front of 60,000 plus fans on a nightly basis.  However, on the day before his new album, “Life on a Rock”, was set to be released, it was no coincidence that Kenny sat with 50 lucky fans to discuss what he described as his most personal album to date. 

       

      iHeartRadio hosted this exclusive Album Release Party at the iHeartRadio Theater presented by P.C. Richard & Son and Bobby Bones, host of The Bobby Bones Show, syndicated on Country radio stations nationwide, joined Kenny on stage for the festivities.  Fans were treated to an hour of stories behind where the songs from “Life on a Rock” came from.

       

      Kenny told the crowd that he had written the songs on the album for himself, never thinking they would ever be heard, let alone be put on an album.  He said the album, at first, was a personal “journal that rhymed”.  Songs such as “Lindy”, “Marley”, “When I See This Bar”, and “Must Be Something I Missed” where actually written without a guitar in his hands or any music to the lyrics.  He further eluded that he thinks that his music has changed over the course of the past few years because he has changed as a person.  He stated “if my music did not change it would not be authentic”. 

       

      Kenny was not serious and deep the entire party as he shared jokes and stories behind “Coconut Tree” with Willie Nelson and “Spread the Love” which features the Wailers.  With a big smile and a deep laugh, he said that working with the Wailers was a lot like working with Willie.  He told us he had spent two days with Willie at his house in Maui, Hawaii, sitting at a poker table trading the guitar back and forth.  He also said that the Wailers had sent him the song “Spread the Love”, but wanted him to create his own lyrics to the song and that was how it was born.

       
      During the course of the hour, it was a unique experience to be so up close and personal with one of the top entertainers in the entire world and see him describe what he was thinking at the time he created such personal songs.  I could see the true authenticity in the songs on “Life on a Rock” as he intently described what he meant by his lyrics.  Bobby Jones did a great job by asking some humorous questions and adding in his own humor.  The iHearRadio Theater was the perfect intimate, yet state of the art setting to make the hour long party a once in a lifetime experience. 
      Track Listing for “Life on a Rock”
      1. Pirate Flag
      2. When I See This Bar
      3. Spread the Love featuring the Wailers and Elan
      4. Lindy
      5. Coconut Tree with Willie Nelson
      6. It’s That Time of Day
      7. Life on a Rock
      8. Marley
      9. Must Be Something I Missed
      10. Happy on the Hey Now (A Song for Kristi)

         

        Blake Shelton: iHeart Radio Live Series in NYC


        BLAKE SHELTON
        iHEART RADIO LIVE SERIES
        NEW YORK CITY
        MARCH 27, 2013




                        On Wednesday night, Blake Shelton, one of country music’s hardest working stars, took to the iHeart Radio Theater stage in the heart of Tribeca, New York City.  The intimate show was part of iHeartRadio Live, a Clear Channel entertainment production that features performances by today’s top recording artists.  Blake has been able to juggle his time between hosting the Voice on NBC, his marriage with Miranda Lambert, touring across America, and still find time to create new music.  On Tuesday, his new album, “Based On A True Story”, was released and his show at the intimate iHeart Radio Theater showcased some of the new tunes.  

         

                        Blake took to the stage singing “Drink On It” and followed it up with a few of his past hits.    In typical Blake Shelton fashion, his sarcastic wit and sense of humor played a role through his comments between songs.  Before singing “Ol Red”, he said “I want to play something new, but I need to see if you all remember who the hell I am”.  He followed it up with his first number one single, “Austin” and dedicated the song to all his fans watching on iHeart Radio’s internet live stream.


                        He then performed three new songs off of his new album.  First up was “Country on the Radio” which is an upbeat song dedicated to people who love the simple things in life.  He mentioned that he loves the song because growing up all he had was “tadpoles and country radio”.  He followed it up with the first single off of the new album, which has already hit #1, “Sure Be Cool If You Did”.  Blake stated what attracted him to this song was it reminded him of his favorite song of all-time, George Strait’s “The Chair”. He laughed as he said it does not sound the same at all, but it has the same message. 

         

                        Next up was his newest single, “Boys Round Here”.  Easily the most energetic song of the night, highlighted by former The Voice contestant, Gwen Sebastian’s background vocals, who served as a back-up singer for the entire night.  “Boys Round Here” had the capacity crowd dancing and moving as the song adds a touch of rap to the verses and a full country sound to the chorus.  Blake is able to showcase his vocals, sense of humor, and swagger in what is sure to be another hit. 



                        Blake wrapped up the night with “Who Are You When I’m Not Looking”, “Honeybee” and “God Gave Me You”.  Before the latter of the three, he actually got serious for a moment and stated how he came to find the song.  He said he and Miranda had been in a fight and he was driving in his truck, when he stopped on a contemporary Christian station.  He felt the words of God Gave Me You” were his life at that time and the song was singing to him.  He had to record it because it meant so much to him and had him thinking about Miranda and getting his life together.  It was a nice touch by Blake to add a personal moment to an intimate crowd setting.  On that night and through his new album, Blake showcased just what he was put on this earth to do, above all else, tell stories though music.

         

        Photo Credit: Roger Kisby for iHeartRadio.

        Saturday Night Country Music in NYC with Rodney Atkins, Josh Thompson & Tyler Farr

        Rodney Atkins
        Best Buy Theater, Times Square, New York City
        with Josh Thompson & Tyler Farr
        March 23, 2013

        On Saturday night, country music fans flocked to New York City to drink, dance, and sing along with Rodney Atkins, Josh Thompson and Tyler Farr at the Best Buy Theater, located in the heart of  Times Square.  Despite the brisk and windy Spring weather, fans lined up hours ahead of time to secure their spots at the front of the General Admission venue.  Once inside, they were entertained with a fast moving, high energy show from the moment Tyler Farr took the stage until Rodney Atkins chased the Devil out of the building.

        Tyler Farr, a new name in the country music genre, took to the stage at approximately 8:00 p.m..  He took to the stage with a single guitar and no backing band and performed an impressive acoustic set.  I was first introduced to Tyler on the Blake Shelton & Friends Cruise back in October (see: http://millertimemusicspot.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-blake-shelton-friends-cruise-review.html) and have become a big fan of his music.  He has a unique voice that is both powerful and deep. 

        Tyler started off with a few cover songs, including Charlie Daniels, Johnny Cash, and even an acoustic version of Flo Rida’s “Whistle”.  He then switched things up and sang his last single (and the first off of Columbia Records), “Hello Goodbye”.   It is always difficult for a new artist to capture the attention of the crowd while playing acoustic, and the crowd began to talk during the first verse.  However, when the bombastic hook was projected from Tyler, the crowd immediately shut up.  I could hear people around me whisper phrases such as “Wow”, “he is really good”, and “what a voice”.  For the rest of the set people gave him the respect that he deserves. 

        He finished his set with an impeccable performance of the fun “Hot Mess” and his latest single, “Redneck Crazy”.  He urged the crowd to call their radio station and request the song “because I’m too damn tired of being broke.”  Somehow, I think his fortune is about to change.  I expect big things from Tyler Farr and when he returns to New York City next time, he will be a household name. 

        Josh Thompson took the stage after Tyler Farr and came out swinging immediately. His performance consisted of high energy backed by a rocking band from start to finish.  I last saw Josh perform as the opening act on the Dierks Bentley tour a few years ago (see: http://millertimemusicspot.blogspot.com/2011/07/night-i-was-part-of-dierks-bentley.html) and his live performance has improved greatly as he is very confident and at home in front of a crowd. 

         
        Josh’s setlist was covered with drinking and party music and the crowd responded with raised glasses.  However, he was most authentic on the hit song, “Way Out Here” which sings about a proud country man who grew up on patriotism and real morals.  The crowd seemed to agree as a resounding chant of USA thundered through the venue.  Josh appreciated the love as he raised his own cup back at the crowd.  
         
         

        Josh ended his set with his first single, “Beer On the Table” and easily accomplished the goal of an opening act warming the crowd up for the headliner.  I look forward to the next release by Josh Thompson, who has recently signed with Show Dog Universal, a music label owned by Toby Keith. 

        Time finally came for one of country music’s finest hit makers, Rodney Atkins to take the stage.  I’ve seen Rodney a half dozen times at this point, and he never disappoints (see: http://millertimemusicspot.blogspot.com/2011/11/rodney-atkins-takes-back-road-to-nyc.html).  This night was no different.   

        Rodney has a slew of #1 hits which were instant sing-a-longs.  He came right out of the gate with “Farmer’s Daughter” and included songs from each of his three albums.  The backdrop of the Best Buy Theater added to the performance as HD images of streets, back roads, the American Flag, as well as laser light shows mesmerized the NYC crowd. 

        Rodney Atkins has a great ability to descriptively tell a story through his songs.  Tunes such as “Take a Back Road”, “Watching You” and “Cabin in the Woods” take the listener to place where it seems as if you were there along with him.  Rodney, who usually sticks  to his own songs,  added in a cover of Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again” which was a pleasant surprise.

        Rodney’s band keeps getting stronger and stronger, from the impressive skills of drummer, Kevin Rapillo, to the numerous guitarists who really have upped the energy level of Rodney’s set. Songs like “Cleaning This Gun” and the patriotic “It’s America” had a bit more passion and vigor when played live than the already impressive studio cuts. 

        He finished the night off with an encore performance of his biggest song to date, “If You’re Going Through Hell”.  The crowd sang  along, word for word, with Rodney and stomped their feet along to the beat.  All in all, Rodney’s set was dependable, professional, and highly enjoyable.  I look forward to more from Rodney, Josh and Tyler Farr as well as more shows at the impressive Best Buy Theater. 

        Setlists:

        Rodney Atkins:

        1. Farmers Daughter
        2. About the South
        3. He’s Mine
        4. Take a Back Road
        5. One the Road Again (Willie Nelson Cover)
        6. Cabin in the Woods
        7. Country Boy
        8. Friends With Tractors
        9. Cleaning This Gun
        10. Watching You
        11. It’s America
        12. These Are My People
        13. If You’re Going Through Hell (ENCORE)

        Tyler Farr:

        1. Long Haired Country Boy (Charlie Daniels’ Cover)
        2. Folsom Prison Blues (Johnny Cash Cover)
        3. Whistle (Flo Rida Cover)
        4. Hello Goodbye
        5. If You Were Mine
        6. Hot Mess
        7. Redneck Crazy

        Josh Thompson:

        1. Down For a Get Down
        2. Blame It on Waylon
        3. Outlaw Music Out of Hand
        4. Won’t Be Lonely Long
        5. Hard Working God Fearing
        6. Hillbilly Limo
        7. Way Out Here
        8. Cold Beer
        9. Can’t Always Get What You Want (Rolling Stones Cover)
        10. Beer On The Table
        11. Drink Drink Drink

        Jason Aldean’s Night Train Tour – A Review In Pictures (w/ Jake Owen, Dee Jay Silver, & Thomas Rhett)

        Jason Aldean’s Night Train Tour
        w/ Jake Owen, Dee Jay Silver, & Thomas Rhett
        Mohegan Sun Arena, Connecticut
        March 1, 2013

        Country music mega-star, Jason Aldean, brought his Night Train Tour to Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Arena for two sold out nights.  He is joined by Jake Owen, Dee Jay Silver, and Thomas Rhett on this leg of the tour.  I was able to attend the show Friday, March 1, 2013.  I will be doing a full review of the Tour in July at Fenway Park.   Until then, I thought I would bring you some photo’s from the explosive show. Below, you can see some of the great sights you will see on this Tour.  If you are lucky enough to score a ticket to the Night Train Tour, you will not be disappointed by any of the four great acts.  Enjoy some pictures and feel free to contact me on twitter, at @ryankentm, with any questions you may have about the show. 

         
        JASON ALDEAN

         
         
         
         
        JAKE OWEN

        DEE JAY SILVER
         
        

        THOMAS RHETT
         
        

         

         

        Country 92.5’s 2013 Concert for St. Jude’s Kids

        Country 92.5 Presents the 2013 Concert for Kids
        Dustin Lynch, Jerrod Niemann, Jana Kramer,
        Randy Houser & Courtney Drummey
        Cadillac Ranch, Stonington, CT
        February 25, 2013

        Each year, Connecticut’s Country Music radio station puts together an acoustic show at the Cadillac Ranch, in Southington, CT.  The show is a benefit for St. Jude’s Children Hospital in Memphis, TN, a charity country music singers have always greatly supported.  This year’s show included Jerrod Niemann, Jana Kramer, Dustin Lynch, and Randy Houser.

        Before the show, the ticket holders lined up in the cold to get entry to the Cadillac Ranch.  Jerrod Niemann appeared and walked up and down the line greeting fans, taking photos, and making jokes.  I caught up with him and cracked some jokes about the time we spent on the Blake Shelton Cruise this past October (see: http://millertimemusicspot.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-blake-shelton-friends-cruise-review.html).  He joked with me, saying: “those were better, warmer times.  Also blurrier times”.  I thought this accessibility to the fans was a classy move by Jerrod and it made the time spent by the fans on line a lot easier. 

        The show consists of a guitar pull, as each of the artists stay on stage the whole time, joining in on each other’s songs.  Jerrod carried the show’s banter, as he added numerous jokes and comments about each of the artists.  He even added a baseball themed song about an old man getting hit by a ball that had everyone cracking up. 

        Jana Kramer tried to add into the banter and discussed a bit of her new engagement with Brantley Gilbert.  She got a huge round of applause when she sang her new single “Whiskey” and “Why You Wanna” became an instant sing-a-long with the crowd.  The actress (One Tree Hill, Entourage) turned singer’s live voice has improved each time I have seen her perform.

        Jerrod sang his top four hits, including a slower version of his new single, “One God Can Love You More”  The slower, acoustic version added to the beautiful lyrics of the song, which he co-wrote with Lee Brice.  All throughout the show, Jerrod was making jokes, but there is no comedy when it comes to his music as he is a true hit-maker.  When he belted out “Lover, Lover” during the last pull, the crowd may not have been louder all night.

        Dustin Lynch had the girls in the crowd straight giddy as I overheard numerous comments about his looks.  But his voice is most impressive about him.  Backed by a ridiculously impressive guitarist from his band, Dustin took us through four of the cuts from his debut album.  But “Cowboys & Angels”, his first #1 single, was the absolute highlight of the whole night.  One of, if not the best country song of the year had all the significant others  in the crowd holding on to each other tight.  I expect great things from him in his career.

        Randy Houser has one of the best vocals in music today.  And in the intimate Caddy Ranch, those booming vocals were straight bombastic.  He soared on “Like a Cowboy”, had the place rocking during “Boots On”, and his new single, “Running Out of Moonlight” had people ready to immediately request it on Country 92.5.  The final song of the night was very fitting as his first #1, “How Country Feels” was belted out by Randy as well as every last person in the crowd.

        Each of the artists was on point and were quick to acknowledge both Country 92.5 and St. Jude’s Hospital.  I am proud to have donated to St. Jude’s as well as attend this event the past five years.  There was a poster signing at the end of the night, where those who bought the posters could meet the artists and get their signatures.  An overall classy evening where it’s always great to see musicians get together for a worthy cause. 

        SETLIST:

        1. Good Time Coming On – Jana  Kramer
        2. Baseball Song – Jerrod Niemann
        3. One More Drinkin’ Song – Jerrod Niemann
        4. Dancing in the Headlights – Dustin Lynch
        5. Boots On – Randy Houser
        6. Whiskey – Jana Kramer
        7. What Do You Want From Me -Jerrod Niemann
        8. Cranks My Tractor – Dustin Lynch
        9. Like a Cowboy – Randy Houser
        10. Hope It Rains – Jana Kramer
        11. Only God Can Love You More – Jerrod Niemann
        12. Name On It – Dustin Lynch
        13. Running Out  of Moonlight –  Randy Houser
        14. Why  You Wanna – Jana Kramer
        15. Lover, Lover – Jerrod Niemann
        16. Cowboys & Angels – Dustin Lynch
        17. How Country Feels – Randy Houser

        VIDEOS:

        Only God Can Love You More
        Cowboys and Angels
        How Country Feels
        

        King George Rides Away In Hartford

        George Strait
        The Cowboy Rides Away Tour
        w/ Martina McBride
        February 23, 2013
        XL Center, Hartford, CT

        When George Strait left the stage on Saturday night in Hartford, Connecticut, I felt a feeling that I’ve never experienced post-concert before.  It was a sadness that came with an immediate realization that it would most likely be the final time I’d ever hear his voice live again.  The feeling for the two hours before that was of great admiration for a true musical living legend.  The thirty three song set that King George performed was done so with passion, grace, and without the frills that most performers need to accompany their live performances.

        Martina McBride opened the show with an hour long performance of her own.  I had never seen her live before and her voice was very impressive.  The squared shape “in the round” styled stage, which placed a microphone at all four sides, seemed to take away from Martina’s performance as she did not capture the audience’s attention as much as when George was out there.  Nonetheless, her vocals were beautiful as she went through her catalogue of hits.  She also appeared on stage during George’s set for a Johnny Cash & June Carter song, “Jackson”‘, as well as “Golden Ring”‘, a George Jones & Tammy Wynette cover.

        Before George took to the stage, video clips of award shows and past memories played on  the various screens around the XL Center.  Also, clips of other artists played with messages for King George, including Tim McGraw, Reba, Ronnie Dunn, Kenny Chesney, and Blake Shelton.  The lights went low, and George walked on stage with his signature black hat and black guitar.  He belted out “Here For a Good Time” and the two hour sing-a-long began. 

        Mid-way through the show, George strategically placed songs in a chronological order of his time as an artist as he sang older songs such as “80 Proof Bottle off Tear-Stopper” and “Honky-Tonk Crazy”.  He broke up the normal chain of events when he sang “Happy Birthday” to his wife and gave a wounded warrior  and his wife a new house plus groceries for a year.  The crowd was in the palm of his hands with every move and each song.

        There were no flashy screens, extravagant light shows, or pyrotechnics needed.  Just a man with a guitar and a microphone, making his way around the stage so each side of the arena could get a glimpse of him as he sang his stories.  It is what makes George Strait so unique in comparison to most artists, you don’t need the “show” of a concert; instead, you just want to hear and see the man who has fifty-nine #1 hits do what God intended him to do. 

        The crowd cheered just by the opening notes of a few songs, such as “Amarillo By Morning”, “Ocean Front Property”, “Stars on the Water” and “Give It Away”.  Other tunes, such as “I’ll Always Remember You”, “Troubadour” and the final number, “The Cowboy Rides Away” brought the emotional feelings on as you could see those song’s words meant as much to the man himself as it did for the crowd.

        All in all, it was a concert event that I will never forget.  I really hope this was not the last time I ever see George Strait live, but with the announcement of his retirement from touring it seems inevitable.  But if it was, it was a display of perfection by the King of Country Music, complete with true class all the way… but would anyone expect anything else as the Cowboy Rides Away. 

        SETLIST:

        1. Here For a Good Time
        2. Ocean Front Property
        3. Check Yes or No
        4. I Saw God Today
        5. Drinkin’ Man
        6. A Showman’s Life
        7. Love’s Gonna Make It Alright
        8. Arkansas Dave
        9. Jackson (Johnny Cash & June Cover, sung with Martina McBride)
        10. Golden Ring (George Jones & Tammy Wynette Cover, sung with Martina McBride)
        11. Happy Birthday (sung for his wife)
        12. Blame It On Mexico
        13. Her Goodbye Hit Me In the Heart
        14. 80 Proof Bottle of Tear-Stopper
        15. Honky-Tonk Crazy
        16. Marina Del Rey
        17. A Fire I Can’t Put Out
        18. The King of Broken Hearts
        19. Where the Sidewalk Ends
        20. The Chair
        21. River of Love
        22. How Bout Them Cowgirls
        23. Stars on the Water
        24. Give It Away
        25. Amarillo By Morning
        26. Give It All We Got Tonight
        27. I’ll Always Remember You
        28. Troubadour
        29. Unwound
        30. Same Kind of Crazy (ENCORE)
        31. All My  Ex’s Live In Texas (ENCORE)
        32. Folosm Prison Blues (Johnny Cash Cover) (ENCORE)
        33. The Cowboy Rides Away (ENCORE)

        VIDEO:

        “I’ll Always Remember You”

          My Vegas Weekend with Tim McGraw & Faith Hill: Soul 2 Soul

          Soul 2 Soul
          Tim McGraw & Faith Hill
          Venetian Theater, Las Vegas, NV
          February 15 and 16,  2013

          If you ever doubted the power that country couple Tim McGraw and Faith Hill has, all thoughts would be erased if you spent any time at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, NV.  Tim and Faith’s images are displayed on huge billboards, advertisements, and slot machines all over the hotel and casino.  Even the elevators play a commercial with snippets of their songs continuously on repeat.  All of the advertising for the “two icons, ten weekends” paid off as I was treated to two sold out shows at the intimate Venetian Theater.  I saw the early show on Friday, February 15th (8:00 p.m.) and the late show on Saturday, February 16th (10:30 p.m.) as they performed two shows each night. 

          The Venetian Theater is covered with roman statutes, red and gold drapery, candles and chandeliers.  The stage is quite small and was illuminated with blue lights and silver bars.  The Waylon Jennings classic “Are you sure Hank Done It This Way” blasted over the speakers right before the lights went low and Tim and Faith’s silhouettes appeared on a large screen on stage and the two shared in singing “Like I Never Loved At All”.  However, to everyone’s surprise, when the shade dropped, the two were not on stage, but walking in from the back of the theater down the aisles on both sides.  Faith sang the appropriate “Hey Baby Let’s Go to Vegas” and both shook hands and took pictures with fans as they made their way down the aisle to the stage. 

           

          As they got on stage, Tim ripped into the megahit, “Something Like That” as Faith danced around her husband, full of smiles.  It thrilled the crowd to see the two interact on stage with true affection.  Thee setup of the show was class all the way.  The backdrop for each of the songs were detailed with intricate moving shapes and an impressive light show.  Tim and Faith combined their respective band members for a megaband that added an impressive backing of instruments and vocals. 

          Each night was essentially the same, despite some of the banter and their wardrobe.  At one point, halfway through the show, the two sat at chairs and spoke directly to the crowd.  The first night, the two were absolutely hysterical.  They joked about orthodontists, twitter, the Grammy’s, and Duck Dynasty.  Faith told the crowd how she wants to be like Beyonce to which Tim responded with “Oh, Beyonce and Jay-Z ain’t got nothing on us”. 

          They also spoke about their music influences.  Faith said her first ever show was Elvis, when she was eight years old.  To which Tim responded with “yeah, he was fat”.  She also said she loved Tammy Wynettte, George Strait, Reba and Aretha Franklin.  

          Tim said he grew up on Merle Haggard and George Jones, but when he got older he got into Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, and Rush.  However, he said the band that made him want to make his own music was the Eagles.  Tim sang two Eagles songs after Faith sang a bit of Tammy Wynette.  He playfully said, “that sounded good, what you got Faith?”  She responded by singing a bombastic Aretha Franklin song and he said “oh well, this is where I get my ass kicked”. 

          The show’s setlist was set up similarly to Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne Tour (see http://millertimemusicspot.blogspot.com/2011/11/watch-throne-madison-square-garden.html) in that the couple performed songs separately mixed in with duets.  The crowd responded with a plethera of cheers and screams during their most intimate songs.  “Like I Never Loved at All” and “It’s Your Love” were performed with passion.  They embraced each other with hugs and kisses after many of the songs and the audience could see the true admiration the two have for each other. 

          One glaring omission from the setlist was “Let’s Make Love”.  Instead, they opted to sing “Like I Never Loved At All” twice.  Despite that one exclusion, the rest of the choices were perfect.  I had previously seen Tim live a half dozen or so times, but this was the first time I’d ever seen Faith.  She really surpassed my expectations and his voice was impeccable and she moved around the stage with true grace and class.  A stand-out moment was her performance of “Cry” which she appeared in front of green lights and a four illuminated circles that moved dramatically around the stage (see video below). 

          Tim performed an astounding version of “Live Like You Were Drying” that brought people to tears before the Encore.  As the lights went dim, two chairs facing each other, with a single microphone rose from beneath the stage.  Faith walked in from the left and Tim from the right and sat down grasping each other.  They performed a beautiful rendition of “I Need You”, all while looking into each other’s eyes.  At song’s end, they kissed, hugged, stood up and bowed.  They the walked off the stage and up the aisle to the exit, hand-in-hand.  You could not help getting goosebumps watching the two mega-stars perform to perfection, all the while showing style and elegance.  But, most of all, they displayed true love for each other.

          SETLIST:

          1. Like I Never Loved At All (Snippet)
          2. Hey Baby Let’s Go To Vegas
          3. Something Like That
          4. This Kiss
          5. Real Good Man
          6. Let Me Let Go
          7. It’s Your Love
          8. Cowboy In Me
          9. One of Those Nights
          10. Cry
          11. Like We Never Loved At All
          12. Time (Tammy Wynette Cover)
          13. Can’t Tell You Why (Eagles Cover)
          14. Life In The Fast Lane (Eagles Cover)
          15. Dr. Feelgood (Aretha Franklin Cover)
          16. Breathe
          17. American Heart
          18. Felt Good On My Lips
          19. Take Another Piece of My Heart
          20. Live Like I Was Dying
          21. I Need You (Encore)

          VIDEOS:

          Like I Never Loved At All
           

           

           
          It’s Your Love

           

           
          I Need You
           
           
           
          Cry
           
           
           
           
          Felt Good On My Lips
           
           
           
           
           
          
           
          

          A Conversation with John Driskell Hopkins of the Zac Brown Band

          A Conversation with John Driskell Hopkins of the Zac Brown Band
           
          I had the privilege of speaking with John Driskell Hopkins the day before he won a Grammy Award with Zac Brown Band for best country album of the year.  Hopkins released a side project with the bluegrass band, Balsam Range, and spoke to me about working with both bands. 

          You can see my review for “Daylight” at: http://millertimemusicspot.blogspot.com/2013/02/john-driskell-hopkins-and-balsam-range.html as well as my review for Zac Brown Band’s Grammy Award winnning “Uncaged” at: http://millertimemusicspot.blogspot.com/2013/02/john-driskell-hopkins-and-balsam-range.html

          Below is my conversation with Hopkins:

           

           
          Q: How did you get together with Balsam Range?

          A: Well, I am a fan. I listen to them on radio and I listen to a lot of Bluegrass radio where ever I go. Whenever I need my fix, I have my collection with me because I love Bluegrass music. They (Balsam Range) are on the radio, they have four albums plus had song of the year back on their last record. These guys are amazing, not only are they accomplished in the genre, but when you listen to them you realize there is something different about these guys. Their song choices are very heartfelt and they’ve got a more modern feel but they way they get after music is very traditional at the same time. They are just amazing and there is something different about Balsam Range that sets them apart to me. I found their website and e-mailed them asking if they were interested in making the record.

          Q: How long did you all work on the record together?

          A: It was in the middle of 2011 that we met and got together. Over the next year we played some gigs together and talked about how we would pursue the record. Of course I was a bit busy with you fans, but eight months later in February of 2012 we got in the studio. We made the record back in North Carolina and finished it all over the southeast in Florida, and over here at my house and mixed it in Nashville. We got done in August and the hard release was in October for our shows. We then did a radio release in January.

          Q: The one thing that stood out to me was your style on DJ and Shady Bald Breakdown. How do you describe that style?

          A: It something I learned from my early college days from some artists you have heard over the years, as well as in historical jazz music. It is singing without words, freestyling. It is like solo’ing, really. My instrumental chops are strongest in my throat. I’ve always tried to embrace that.

          Q: I have seen you do everything from “Baby Got Back” to “Enter the Sandman” at live shows. Is there any type of genre you won’t try?
           
          A: No! With us there are no rules.
           
          Q: What type of music to you grow up listening to? What would you say your roots are in?
           
           
          A: Well I have always listened to pop radio and have been affected by country in my decisioning. We also grew up on Church music and spent a lot of time in the mountains. We were exposed to lots of different styles. And radio became a big part of my musical experience. I loved Journey and big vocal harmonies like that. When I got older I got into U2 and R.E.M. and later Pearl Jam, as well as Marty Robbins. I love rich sounding artists. It’s been a long list of artists. I’ve been attracted to good music, no matter what it is. I never went country and stayed country, or went rock and stayed rock.
           
           
          Q: I guess that why you and Zac blend so well. As in your last ZBB album you had Island Song and Overnight, two non-traditional country songs.
           
           
          A: All of us in that band are alike in that respect. We all appreciate and write different styles and want to play different styles. Bluegrass to me is a wonderful marriage of country and folk and I’ve always been an acoustic guitar player. Then I learned the bass guitar and that’s what I mainly play in the Zac Brown Band and I think that was a good choice for me which fits great.
           
           
          Q: How many instruments can you play?
           
           
          A: Well, I can play a few. I am proficient on the bass and that’s it. My guitar playing is decent. I’m learning how to play the banjo. I love them all. I know a few chords on the madolin. As far as when I sit down to sing a song with the intrument, yeah, give me a few minutes and I can put it together. It’s just what musicians do. As far as the guys in Balsam Range, they are far more proficient on their instruments than I. But as my dad always said, surround yourself with people that are better than you and that is a way of proving yourself.
           
           
          Q: The banjo player, Marc Pruett, really stands out on the album.
           
           
          A: The world famous, Grammy Award winning, Marc Pruett. He is the real deal and all the guys in Balsam Range are like that. Being able to hang with them has been a real joy for me.
           
           
          Q: They are playing the Opry next month, correct?
           
           
          A: Yes, we are. I will be with them.
           
           
          Q: Any chance you can tell me what songs you will be playing at the Opry?
           
           
          A: Well, I am pretty sure we will sing “I Will Lay Me Down”. Not sure about the other as we were given two songs. It will either be “She Don’t Love Me Today” or “Runaway Train”, just not sure yet. “I Will Lay Me Down” is our strongest tune and we want to play that for sure. The other choices are will we knock it off the rails or take it straight down the pike. Either choice is going to be great for me, but I haven’t decided yet.
           
           
          Q: Any chance we see Balsam Range on the road with ZBB in the future?
           
           
          A: I’d love to. Whenever they are around I’d love to have them in. It puts a lot of us on stage together but its cool with me and cool with Zac. We had a good time with them all the other night. But with schedules it is hard coordinate. It’s quite the commitment and I have to be sensitive to them.
           
           
          Q: We would love to have you in the greater New York City/Tri-State area. When I saw you with ZBB at Madison Square Garden the atmosphere was electric. What were your feelings that night?
           
           
          A: That was a big night for us. Getting to play Madison Square Garden is maybe the biggest venue ever. You know, its like the golden ring. I’d love to bring Balsam Range up there with us at some point.
           
           
          Q: I saw you guys will be at the Grammy Awards this weekend and you are nominated.
           
           
          A: Yes and Zac will be on stage doing a Levon Helm tribute with some other artists. Whatever you have read is as much as I know there.
           
           
          Q: Thank you for your time and continued success with all your music projects.
           
           
          A: Thanks man, and I hope this album will be well received for a long time.
           
           
           

          John Driskell Hopkins and Balsam Range – “Daylight”: Track by Track Dissection (plus an interview with John Driskell Hopkins)

          Track by Track Dissection
          John Driskell Hopkins and Balsam Range – “Daylight”

          John Driskell Hopkins, founding member of the Grammy Award Winning Zac Brown Band, got together with Bluegrass specialists, Balsam Range to create “Daylight”.  It is mainly a bluegrass album which incorporates shades of country, folk, rock, and roots music.  Balsam Range, an award winning band in their own right, consists of Caleb Smith, Marc Pruett, Buddy Melton, Tim Surrett, and Darren Nicholson. 

          I found the album to be a beautiful listening experience with unique blends of harmony and a display of true skillmanship, intrumentally. What follows is a track by track review of what I heard and felt when listening to each of the songs.  I was also able to speak with John over the phone about this project and our conversation is listed after the review.  I urge all with able ears to get a copy of Daylight.  The exceptional vocal abilities of John really shine as his deep, profound voice pump passion to each and every track. 

          1. Runaway Train  (Featuring Jerry Douglas)

          The album starts out with John’s voice mimicking a train and some simple guitar picking.  What follows is bombastic first song which takes listeners inside the mind of man who seems to be completely out of control in his life.  “Runaway Train” is a rollicking ride of emotions sung with passion and, at times, controlled anger.  Musically, the guitars use a bit of slap throughout which add to the dramatic tone of the song. 


          2. I Will Lay Me Down (Featuring Zac Brown)

          This, as a big Zac Brown Band fan, was a true highlight.  The melody of the track is absolutely beautiful with all instruments connecting, tied together with a skilled rift.  John sings of not having a problem passing away happy, as long as he has lived a complete life.  Zac Brown adds his star vocals, harmonizing with John, as well as a solo verse.  The storyline, the instruments, and the harmonizes produce a masterfully executed track.  It was also refreshing to see two members of the Grammy Award Winning Zac Brown Band step outside of their normal country music setting and take on a true Bluegrass song. 




          3. Daylight (Featuring Tony Trischka)

          The title track takes on a more country vibe as it has a charming feel to a simple  love song.  John sings about a man who knows he must find a way to see through all of life’s problems to see how to truly find love.  The guitar work on the song really shines with several competing rifts and melodies meshed together to produce a beautiful tune. 


          4. Nothing

          The banjo is the star of this song as my ear constantly heard the instrument stand out above all others.  The song seems to be about a man who is very relieved that his woman has broken up with him.  What starts off somewhat solemn becomes a happy tune of a thankful man.  While the banjo is prominent, you can hear the immense skill of Balsam Range as all instruments again combine to a comforting combination. 

          5. Bye Baby Goodbye (Featuring Joey + Rory)

          John’s vocals are never better on the album as he is able to show how he can impressively hit both low and high octaves.  Country duo, Joey + Rory, add their skills to the song as a guest feature.  Joey and John trade bars within the song and, at times, harmonize together, singing words of a mutual break-up.  The song is more about the vocals than the instruments, which is rare on the “Daylight” album, yet effective nonetheless.

          6. She Don’t Love Me Today

          A light-hearted and humorous tune which has a fast tempo throughout.  The song’s basic message is how a man and woman can love each other unconditionally, but, at times, can be at each other’s throats.  John sings of how much he loves his woman, but how has done something stupid and is paying for it at home.  The banjo, played by Marc Pruett, is again very prominent throughout this witty song.
           

          7. Be My Girl

          A slow, soulful song which is more country than Bluegrass.  John’s delivery really makes the track work, specifically how he holds the last note of “girl” in the chorus.  It’s a beautiful set up where a man is describing what he has envisioned if she would agree to be with him.  The Band uses complex and extremely skilled sheet-music throughout this entire album, yet they keep it relatively simple on this track, and it worked perfectly. 

          8. The Devil Lives in a Mason Jar

          This is another track where John and the boys get to flex their muscles and sing with ripe passion.  As the song plays it builds with a sense of anger and mystery.  The message of the song of how, when this man drinks alcohol, he becomes a different, more devilish person.  John has a unique way of sounding possessed when he wants to and this song showcases that.

          9. How Could I? (Featuring Levi Lowrey)

          This song takes more of a folk song than any other.  Levi Lowrey is a song-writer who seems to create songs with a dark and poignsnt feel to them.  The man in the song is disgusted with himself for taking certain things for granted.  The harmonization of Levi with John was simple, yet effective. 

          10.  It’s Not Ok

          This is a remake of the song off of the Triple Platinum Zac Brown Band album “The Foundation”.  Daylight’s version is much more bluegrassy and a fresh take on a fan favorite song.  I have seen John take lead vocals on this tune various times at a ZBB show.  I found it entertaining that Balsam Range took it upon themselves to pay homage to the original while putting their own stamp on it.  Pruett’s banjo is the biggest difference between the original and this version. 

          11.  The Grass Don’t Get No Greener

          This track had me on my toes at all times.  It starts off with an almost show-tune type of feel, but John comes in with some thunderous vocals, followed with various other members of Balsam Range singing for the first time all album.  The tempo is unbelievably fast at some points, and slow and controlled at others.  Quite the musical kitchen sink. 

          12. DJ

          This is a song I can play over and over again.  The voice freestyling displayed by John is so unique in today’s music.  The voice modulations mirrored the instruments as the band frolics through the song with mastery.  I dare you to listen to this song and not have phrase “diggity-da-boom” running through your head the rest of the day. 

          13. Shady Bald Breakdown

          An instrumental track (besides some freestyling by John towards the end) which shows how immensly talented  Caleb Smith, Marc Pruett, Buddy Melton, Tim Surrett, Darren Nicholson, and John Driskell Hopkins are.  Fast paced, intense, and exquisite are all terms that came to my mind while listening to this song.  It is a perfect ending to superb album, as no words are needed to depict the mastery behind this collaborative project. 

          A MTS EXCLUSIVE
           *A Conversation with John Driskell Hopkins*
           
          Q: How did you get together with Balsam Range?
           
          A: Well, I am a fan.  I listen to them on radio and I listen to a lot of Bluegrass radio where ever I go.  Whenever I need my fix, I have my collection with me because I love Bluegrass music.  They (Balsam Range) are on the radio, they have four albums plus had song of the year back on their last record.  These guys are amazing, not only are they accomplished in the genre, but when you listen to them you realize there is something different about these guys.  Their song choices are very heartfelt and they’ve got a more modern feel but they way they get after music is very traditional at the same time.  They are just amazing and there is something different about Balsam Range that sets them apart to me.  I found their website and e-mailed them asking if they were interested in making the record. 
           
          Q: How long did you all work on the record together?
          A: It was in the middle of 2011 that we met and got together.  Over the next year we played some gigs together and talked about how we would pursue the record.  Of course I was a bit busy with you fans, but eight months later in February of 2012 we got in the studio.  We made the record back in North Carolina and finished it all over the southeast in Florida, and over here at my house and mixed it in Nashville.  We got done in August and the hard release was in October for our shows.  We then did a radio release in January.
           
          Q: The one thing that stood out to me was your style on DJ and Shady Bald Breakdown.  How do you describe that style?
          A: It something I learned from my early college days from some artists you have heard over the years, as well as in historical jazz music.  It is singing without words, freestyling.  It is like solo’ing, really.  My instrumental chops are strongest in my throat. I’ve always tried to embrace that.
          Q: I have seen you do everything from “Baby Got Back” to “Enter the Sandman” at live shows.  Is there any type of genre you won’t try?
          A: No! With us there are no rules. 
           
          Q: What type of music to you grow up listening to?  What would you say your roots are in?
          A: Well I have always listened to pop radio and have been affected by country in my decisioning.  We also grew up on Church music and spent a lot of time in the mountains.  We were exposed to lots of different styles.  And radio became a big part of my musical experience.  I loved Journey and big vocal harmonies like that.  When I got older I got into U2 and R.E.M. and later Pearl Jam, as well as Marty Robbins.  I love rich sounding artists.  It’s been a long list of artists.  I’ve been attracted to good music, no matter what it is.  I never went country and stayed country, or went rock and stayed rock. 
           
          Q: I guess that why you and Zac blend so well.  As in your last ZBB album you had Island Song and Overnight, two non-traditional country songs. 
          A: All of us in that band are alike in that respect.  We all appreciate and write different styles and want to play different styles.  Bluegrass to me is a wonderful marriage of country and folk and I’ve always been an acoustic guitar player.  Then I learned the bass guitar and that’s what I mainly play in the Zac Brown Band and I think that was a good choice for me which fits great.
           
          Q: How many instruments can you play?
          A: Well, I can play a few.  I am proficient on the bass and that’s it.  My guitar playing is decent.  I’m learning how to play the banjo.  I love them all.  I know a few chords on the madolin.  As far as when I sit down to sing a song with the intrument, yeah, give me a few minutes and I can put it together.  It’s just what musicians do.  As far as the guys in Balsam Range, they are far more proficient on their instruments than I.  But as my dad always said, surround yourself with people that are better than you and that is a way of proving yourself. 
           
          Q: The banjo player, Marc Pruett, really stands out on the album. 
          A: The world famous, Grammy Award winning, Marc Pruett.  He is the real deal and all the guys in Balsam Range are like that.  Being able to hang with them has been a real joy for me.
           
          Q: They are playing the Opry next month, correct?
          A: Yes, we are.  I will be with them.
           
          Q: Any chance you can tell me what songs you will be playing at the Opry?
          A: Well, I am pretty sure we will sing “I Will Lay Me Down”.  Not sure about the other as we were given two songs.  It will either be “She Don’t Love Me Today” or “Runaway Train”, just not sure yet.  “I Will Lay Me Down” is our strongest tune and we want to play that for sure.  The other choices are will we knock it off the rails or take it straight down the pike.  Either choice is going to be great for me, but I haven’t decided yet. 
           
          Q: Any chance we see Balsam Range on the road with ZBB in the future?
          A: I’d love to.  Whenever they are around I’d love to have them in.  It puts a lot of us on stage together but its cool with me and cool with Zac.  We had a good time with them all the other night.  But with schedules it is hard coordinate.  It’s quite the commitment and I have to be sensitive to them.
           
          Q: We would love to have you in the greater New York City/Tri-State area.  When I saw you with ZBB at Madison Square Garden the atmosphere was electric.  What were your feelings that night?
          A: That was a big night for us.  Getting to play Madison Square Garden is maybe the biggest venue ever.  You know, its like the golden ring.  I’d love to bring Balsam Range up there with us at some point.
           
          Q: I saw you guys will be at the Grammy Awards this weekend and you are nominated.
          A: Yes and Zac will be on stage doing a Levon Helm tribute with some other artists.  Whatever you have read is as much as I know there. 
           
          Q: Thank you for your time and continued success with all your music projects.
          A:  Thanks man, and I hope this album will be well received for a long time.