I am not what you would call a country music fan; for a long time, when identifying my musical tastes I placed myself firmly in the “pretty much everything BUT country” category. I’ll admit that this attitude arose at least partially from misconceptions about what country music sounded like (twangy and whiny) and who listened to country music (“hicks” and “white trash” – two groups that I have historically had very little in common with). But as I widened my horizons and kept an open mind, I found that while I don’t enjoy all country music it wasn’t nearly as terrible as I imagined and that plenty of nice normal folk enjoy that genre of music. It helped that country music itself went through something of a transformation as well – more and more artists adopted a sound that while definitely country music had a more poppy vibe as well. Country artists began to crossover more frequently and chart on more mainstream music lists as well. County music was no longer as isolated as it had been and was more accessible to the casual fan. Country is still not my first genre choice, but my iPod does have plenty or artists from the genre and some days at work I find myself listening to a country playlist on Spotify. It makes for good background music and unlike some other some types of music that I enjoy I don’t run as great a risk of curse words and foul language forcing me to dive to turn down the volume.
My increased exposure to country music has not translated to the concerts that I attend; the only county act that I had seen live was The Dixie Chicks and that was over a decade ago. It wasn’t from lack of chances – there are lots of country music fans in this neck of the woods and country artists make frequent stops in the area. There is usually a country music festival nearby every summer that is sponsored by one of the local radio stations. So if I really wanted to see some bands live, I had no excuse. I just never had the desire – I go to way too many shows as it is, so going to see some bands that I was moderately interested in seemed like a bad investment.
However, when a friend was looking for someone to go to a show with her this summer, I decided to further my country music education and volunteer to go with her. I picked the line-up of Rascal Flatts and The Band Perry for the experience, since I knew a handful of Rascal Flatts’ songs and I actually quite like The Band Perry’s hit “If I Die Young.” I was able to find some tickets inside the amphitheater that were only a few dollars more than sitting on the lawn, which was a real bonus since a) now that we’re in our thirties, having the option of an actual seat to sit down in is very attractive and b) the onslaught of rain this summer made the thought of sitting out in the open less appealing. Though it didn’t rain during the actual show – as far as I know – it was raining prior to show time so opting for amphitheater was a good choice.
After a slight misstep on what time the gates opened – we got there early thinking that the gates opened about an hour before they did (rookie mistake based on unclear tickets) – I was ready to immerse myself in the world of country music. We purchased some giant PBRs to get in the true spirit of the night, though I would have ordered a PBR at any event. I have a soft spot for that beer.
We hadn’t even taken a few sips when I saw it – the elusive Poutine food truck. Now close readers of the blog are well aware about how I feel about this concoction of French fries, cheese curds and gravy; I was smitten with Poutine from the first bite when had it for the first time in Montreal. It’s not quite as prevalent in the States, however, and I find myself having to explain Poutine to just about everyone that I mention it to. My friend Kristin is a seasoned professional when it comes to Poutine; she witnessed my excitement when I found out that they serve it at the Rogers Centre in Toronto when we were there for a Blue Jays game. So she was totally on board with me when we made a bee-line to the truck to place an order; we even went full cardiac arrest and requested the meat lover’s variation – the usual Poutine ingredients plus bacon, ground beef and sausage – to split.
The fries were a little soggy – I like my fries on the crispy side if they are going to be soaking in gravy – but it was still very tasty. The cheese curds “squeaked” which indicated that they were fresh. After we finished our order, I still had room for a “doughboy,” a Saratoga specialty; after all that yummy food, the concert was becoming something of an afterthought. With the chance of me lapsing into a food coma at “threat level midnight,” we made our way to our seats and waited for the show to begin.
The first opening act was Cassadee Pope, who I knew absolutely nothing about other than she won The Voice last season. She was impressive; she has a strong voice that has a lot of range. She was only on stage for approximately 20 minutes, but she made an impression. I particularly liked “Wasting All These Tears” and “Champagne.” I also thought that she did a great job with her cover of Miranda Lambert’s “Over You,” which you can hear in the clip below (though I didn’t record it, this is from the show I was act and looks to be not too far from where we sat):
The Band Perry then took the stage; I was a bit more familiar with them and could boast knowing at least two of their songs 🙂 I was struck by just how young that they looked in person. The two brothers in the band looked like babies and their sister (the lead singer) didn’t look much older, though Wikipedia tells me that she is 30. Good genes in that family. I quite enjoyed their set – they had a lot of energy and really seemed to be enjoying themselves while up on stage. Their choreography seemed a bit too calculated; I would have liked to see their see a little more spontaneity in their act, but that is only a minor complaint. They sounded great and they did a fair number of covers, which I enjoy at a concert. If you are going to see a show live, you want to have a different experience than you would have sitting at home and listening to the cds. Their rendition of Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” was a raucous good time. The did a beautiful version of “If I Die Young” that incorporated a lot of audience participation, though that I noticed that The Band Perry dwells on death a lot more than you would expect a country group featuring band members under the age of 30 to do. It was just a tiny bit morbid; one song I get, but it was a theme that came up in a few tunes. Of course, fans of the band knew this going in as they would be more familiar with their catalog, but I found it a little weird.
There was a longer time lag in between The Band Perry and the headlining Rascal Flatts than there had been between TBP and Cassadee Pope, so to entertain the crowd some ridiculous dance troupe came out while the roadies made the necessary set adjustments. Dance Y’all might have had the best of intentions, but they amounted to a waste of time in my opinion. Perhaps they were just pushing against my tolerance for all things country. I basically ignored them, except to complain that this distraction was going on way too long. Of far more interest was something that happened organically in the balcony: once Dance Y’all had (mercifully) left the stage, they piped some music into the theater to fill the void. A gentleman in the section in front of us started to dance, which was noticeable because he was the ONLY person who was dancing. Kristin and I noticed him right away and found him endlessly entertaining, but what was great was that you could literally watch the wave of amusement sweep our section as more and more people started to notice him and start laughing. Then something truly magical happened – everyone in our section started to clap along with him and urge him on, which only inspired him to become more awesome (and further mortify his wife who was sitting next to him). It was a tremendously fun moment, though probably confusing to all the other sections of the venue that could hear the commotion and had no idea what was happening. When he finally finished as the lights began to dim for Rascal Flatts, he took a bow and received a big ovation from the surrounding spectators.
Rascall Flatts were the reason I agreed to go to this particular concert since I had the best working knowledge of their songs than any of the other country bands that were rolling into town this summer. When they first became popular in the late 90s I was far more in tune with all music so they had popped up on my radar with their hits “This Everyday Love” and “Waiting for Daylight.” I’d picked up a few additional songs along the way so I felt confident that even if I didn’t recognize a ton of their songs, I knew and liked the lead singer Gary LeVox’s voice. It helped that they kicked off their set with their cover of Tom Cochrane’s “Life is a Highway” which they have kind of made their own and is an energetic way to get the party started. They played both of the songs that I knew from their early days and also performed their single “What Hurts the Most,” a song that I had always really enjoyed and hadn’t realized was them until very recently. Rascall Flatts have been doing this for a while now and had a great stage presence. They bantered well with the crowd and had a running joke throughout the show as to what that night’s attendance was (at one point they claimed that they were playing in front of millions of people; point of fact, SPAC’s seating capacity is about 25,000). They took a cell phone from a woman in the front and sang into it for the enjoyment of the person on the other end of the line and then briefly stole said phone. They also seemed to really enjoy playing in front of a loud audience and while about a third of the way through the show they had exhausted the songs that I knew, I still enjoyed watching them perform and being exposed to some new music. As I collector, I especially enjoyed the bobbleheads of the band members that were projected on the screens during their song “Bob That Head.” They played for approximately 90 minutes and their encore ended with the crowd being showered with confetti.
All in all, it was a very fun night and a nice way for a newbie like me to be eased into the world of country music. I don’t know that it will ever be my genre of choice, but I would certainly entertain going to another show in the future. I’ll definitely download additional music from all the performers at the concert. The fans filing out of the show gave every appearance of being delighted by what they had just witnessed and they would know better than I if that was a good show. It pays off to try new things.
Rascal Flatts setlist
Life is a Highway
Here’s to You
This Everyday Love
Love You Out Loud
Prayin’ for Daylight
What Hurts the Most
I’m Movin’ On
(Jay on lead)
I Won’t Let Go
Take Me There
Me and My Gang
Bob That Head
Bless the Broken Road
Fast Cars and Freedom