The set-up: I notice ads running through my Facebook feed about Darius Rucker playing in Lincoln at the Pinnacle Bank Arena. I have never been to the Pinnacle Bank Arena and it has been many years since I've been to a stadium sized concert. I say,
"Hey Jon, would it be weird for me to go to a Darius Rucker concert by myself?"
Jon says, "No."
So I buy the ticket.
Friday night. The Pinnacle Bank Arena is new and fancy and awesome. And I bought a ticket on the floor. I find my seat and I am five rows from the catwalk thingy and smack in the middle. We call this, "the sweet spot." I get my beer and, because I am alone and have a very old phone, I bring a pen and a little notepad to take notes. Nerd alert.
Overall observations: It was incredible and super fancy and must have cost lots of money. I wondered how many tickets they have to sell on a night in order not to lose money.
Warning!!!!! If you read on, you will find that I am a live music fan, but not a super country fan. I know like 4 songs from Darius Rucker, two of which are from his Hootie days. I don't listen to much country radio because I don't think the songs on country radio are very good. So this is to tell you that I will be criticizing a few things. Now you know.
The opener was a band I have never heard of called A Thousand Horses. They sound like a tired version of The Black Crowes with Kid Rock as their frontman. They sung songs with titles such as "Let's get Trailer Trashed" and "This ain't no Drunk Dial" (people around me knew the drunk dial one). The music was fine. The back up singers were doing their job. The frontman was terrible.
"Hey Frontman! You have to work harder than the light show!! Somehow someone thought you were good enough to be gifted thousands of new listeners on a national tour, so how 'bout you show your gratitude by putting in a little effort so I don't see in your eyes that you're phoning it in!"
Can you tell I'm mad? Everyone has a bad night. I get it. But that band must hate each other or they are really actors pretending to be a band because they were not a group. They were out there counting down to when they could be done (from what I could tell). It just didn't feel real at all. I didn't believe anything about it. As a musician whose just trying to hang on to one fan at a time, desperately trying to connect with anyone in the bar who gives a shit, to see someone bored by an opportunity that I would beg borrow and steal for makes me crazy. Can you tell? I hope the next city gets more than we did.
Next up: David Nail. Never heard of him. So much better than the first band. I was worried that the whole evening was going to be a soul-less adventure in crap, but David Nail turned it around. His band was awesome. He was dialed into the music and they were working as a team. He was not a showman, he stayed in one place and rarely opened his eyes, but I was with him and I was grateful.
So what was the difference? The first guy, by his performance and body language seemed to be saying, "Look at me. Give me something."
Second guy by his performance and body language was sending the message, "Let me give you something." Huge difference. So much better. And his drummer kicked ass.
Darius Rucker. Incredible. I get why he's playing stadium shows. He killed it. He had a six piece band that killed it. The Russian dobro/pedal steel guy was the secret weapon. Amazing.
It was a party and everyone was invited. It was super fun, it felt real and I was into it. It was cool. And just like the Todd Snider show a few weeks earlier, there were moments that got me teary-eyed that I wouldn't have expected. I had a great seat where I could really study their faces and their musicianship and all of it and I had a smile on my face. I stood there and took it all in.
Other people, however, skipped the taking it all in in exchange for CONSTANTLY snapping photos, taking video and talking with their friends like they were in a beer garden! What??!!!! Most people were singing along to lots and lots of it. I know I looked like a dork scribbling notes during the show, but at least I was present for the whole thing. Hey people, what if you didn't capture any of it on a phone and instead just took in the moment and then let it disappear? It is pretty awesome when that happens.
Finally. The music. The music was solid, but there were few moments that really grabbed you and made you listen. Singing "NO diggity" with a stadium full of people was pretty fun. Singing that Lee Greenwood song together after a military vet was honored for his service felt forced and then the chanting of "USA! USA! USA!" afterward was an experience I have never had before. Best song of the night in my opinion? "Southern Style" I think that's a really good song.
Darius Rucker knows what he's doing. I'm glad he's a country singer. I think he loves songs. I love songs too. I think he's got more substance than all those "Let's get drunk in the country/on the beach/on a plane/truck/whatever" boys. I took it as a good sign that, before the lights went down, one of the songs that played was "24 frames" by Jason Isbell.
Lincoln had a great time last night. I hope the musicians did too. For all you singer/songwriters out there, no matter what the venue, or how big the show, let's always remember to come from a place of "Here, I brought you this. Let me give this to you" for whoever's listening. And do good work.