Story by Mike HeineTrick Pony, Montgomery Gentry, Martina McBride, Rascal Flatts, Brooks and Dunn - what do they all have in common? Well, besides being reviewed by this writer for their performances at Country Thunder (July 17-20 in Twin Lakes, Wis.) this year, they all know how to start out a concert and get the crowd ready for a heck-of-a performance. Here 's a little of what I thought.
Photos by Terry Mayer
Photo of Trick Pony by Mike Heine
The rockin' country trio, comprised of Heidi Newfield (vocals), Keith Burns (guitar, vocals) and Ira Dean (bass, vocals), got fans going Thursday with the title track of their newest CD, On a Mission. They followed it up with an hour-and-a-half show packed with enough hits to keep people in their seats or standing just in front of them. Not bad for their brief history.
With only two full albums out on shelves, this group already has tons of radio play and has an instantly recognizable sound. Most everyone in the crowd recognized such radio-played hits as "On a Night Like This," "A Boy Like You," and "Just What I Do," followed up by a closing rendition of the 12-steppin "Pour Me."
By the looks of this band, you could never peg them specifically as country. Newfield has kind of a trendy-pop look to her with diamond-studded earrings, a toned body and long blonde hair. Burns has that country look with his blue jeans and black Stetson, which contrast to the colorful cowboy hat of Dean, a near mirror image of Kid Rock. The bassist and the Kid even look so close that he belted out one of the rock-rappers most quotable lines, "I wanna be a cowboy, baby!" That assured me that this group is most decidedly country, and most definitely here to stay. They'll surely be a headliner in future shows.
There's no mistaking with this group. They're country and have already proven their staying power.
Unlike the band that preceded them Thursday evening, they were all dressed to fit the part; Eddie Montgomery draped in black hat and black trench coat, and Troy Gentry donning black leather pants, a western shirt and Jim Beam guitar.
They've got their own 12-step country hit and wasted no time in getting the crowd ready to party "All Night Long," a single released in 2000 from their first album Tattoos and Scars. I remember back about that time when the now-famous band was doing the mid-afternoon show and then came over to the beer stage for a brief show.
How things have changed. They added two more CDs, a slew of hits, and a stage presence that few can match. Montgomery Gentry is certainly deserving of a night's closing act.
Having the ability to sing a wide range of country styles has helped Eddie and Troy make it big. We've already mentioned their ability for a 12-step swing tune, but they can also pump out some slower, more meaningful tunes like "Lonely and Gone," and "Daddy Won't Sell the Farm," two of songs played early in the set, and followed later by, "She Couldn't Change Me," off MG's second CD titled "Carrying On." MG also can sing the blues, as demonstrated in an unreleased song off their newest CD, My Town. You'll recognize it from the harmonica, but it's called "Good Clean Fun."
Other new songs coming off "My Town" were "Speed," the newest released song "Hell Yeah," which the band debuted at Country Thunder last year, and the title cut which came right before an encore performance of their first single "Hillbilly Shoes."
Further showing off their musical depth, as it were, was a cover of the Allman Brothers' "Midnight Rider."
With such a well-rounded selection of music, one can only hope that Montgomery Gentry makes another round-trip back to Country Thunder next year.
Highlighting Friday night was Willie Nelson. A little before my time so I chose not to stick around for him. Preceding him was Martina McBride, who's time started out with the song "My Time."
It's too bad she didn't have enough time to perform every one of her songs off her four main albums, The Way that I Am, Wild Angels, Evolution, and Emotion. Each is a great buy and the two-time Country Music Association's Female Vocalist of the Year is most certainly deserving of a longer time slot. And with her on stage, it's also time for the folks at the festival venue to put some speakers in the middle of the audience or seriously pump up the volume. The open air and the sound coming only from the sides of the stage does little justice for a singer with such a huge voice.
I spent my time in the photographer's pit for the first two songs. The difference between hearing her there and back in my general admission lawn seat is like the difference between night and day. Still, her tiny body had enough voice stored in it to have songs like "My Baby Loves Me," "Valentine," "Blessed," "Happy Girl," "Love's the Only House," "Whatever You Say," "Broken Wing," and "Independence Day," sweep over the crowd to the far reaches of the grounds.
That limited time factor gave McBride time for only one encore song. She came back on stage with a flawless rendition of "When God Fearin' Women get the Blues."
Perhaps the fastest "up-and-coming" band in country music came to the stage Saturday. The band's Web site says only the Dixie Chicks and SheDaisy have done what they did within the last five years█sell more than one million copies of a debut album.
The trio of Jay DeMarcus (bass), Gary LeVox (lead vocals) and Joe Don Rooney (guitar) came out with "Too Good is True" and continued with other hits "Everyday Love," "While You Loved Me," "I'm Movin' On," and "Prayin' for Daylight."
Lighters came out and couples swayed together for their newest single, "Melt," which has one of the most controversial videos ever aired on Country Music Television (CMT). The video depicts a few steamy love scenes and Roony's "moony" rear end.
Thankfully keeping their pants on, Roony, DeMarcus and LeVox put on the most visually-friendly performance of the extended weekend. Lead singer LeVox is non-stop, grabbing drum sticks and smashing cymbals, and swinging a towel onto the strings of Roony's guitar. The fiddle player also kicked the devil further out of Georgia than Charlie Daniels ever could with an amazing featured performance.
Half rock, half pop and half country add up to 100-percent awesomeness. Don't miss them when they headline festivals like this in future years.
Brooks and Dunn
Longevity and hard-core country are the ways of Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn, a big-time country band for the last decade and then some. The duo let the thunder roll as Saturday night's final act, coming on stage with fan-favorite "Ain't Nothing ╬Bout You."
The band didn't produce much that was new, other than latest single "Red Dirt Road." Instead, they dipped into their bag of smash hits from over the last decade, including, but not limited to, "My Maria," "Hard Workin' Man" and "Neon Moon."
Not forgetting their American roots, "Only In America," is a song sang that everyone needed to hear, especially with the recent murders of US troops still stationed in Iraq. It was a good way to cap off an all-American show for that night.
Brooks & Dunn
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