Before Garth Brooks began using pyrotechnics in concert and flying over his screaming audiences like a cowboy-hatted Superman, country singers pretty much stood in front of a mic and sang of lost loves, cheatin’ and drinkin’. New artists influenced by Brooks are taking a page from the biggest-selling country artist of all time.
While old-school country singers like Merle Haggard and George Jones and their progeny, artists like Alan Jackson and George Strait, still stand stock still while delivering their message, new artists influenced by Brooks are taking a page from the biggest-selling country artist of all time and making their concerts an aerobic event, much like rock 'n'n roll's arena rockers of the ’70s and ’80s.
Call it “arena country.”
While country purists may like to nurse a longneck in a dimly lit bar while listening to the honky tonker on the small stage in the corner, many young fans, brought up on slick videos on Country Music Television, want a little flash and dash with their twang, and judging by recent vids on the channel, a singer who looks liked he or she has just crawled off the pages of GQ or Maxim.
You won't find a beefcake shot of George Strait on CMT, but you will see Kenny Chesney showing off his sculpted biceps poking through a threadbare sleeveless T-shirt. You won't see Loretta Lynn in a bikini, but you will see Gretchen Wilson dirty dancing on a beach in short-shorts.
It's not a bad thing, just different from the country music stars I grew up with. I'm old, and codgers like me have to hang on for dear life just to keep up with the changing times.
This is new era of country music, where stars like Chesney pack the arenas while superstars in waiting, like the Valley's Dierks Bentley and Texan Pat Green, play small to mid-sized venues while accumulating enough hits to launch them into the areas.
The surefire sign that an artist has made it to the arena level is the appearance of a live concert album, that ubiquitous status symbol that combines fist-pumping anthems with crowd noise loud enough to make anybody sound like they're going through Beatlemania.
Witness “Live Those Songs Again,” the new release by the aforementioned Chesney, a 14-song retrospective of the singer's hits, from his breakthrough “How Forever Feels” to more recent chart-toppers such as “Anything But Mine,” “Keg in the Closet” and “I Go Back.”
Chesney's mostly likable tunes (the ridiculous hokum of “She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy” excepted) have a little bit of twang, mainly courtesy of the singer's east Tennessee-flavored vocal delivery, and a whole lot of rock ’n’ roll riffs, which are designed with big arenas and big audiences in mind, something that does not escape the attention of up-and-coming country stars like Pat Green.
“Man, I wanted to put together a group of songs that could be played in big spaces, if you know what I mean,” Green recently told countrystandardtime.com of his new album, “Cannonball.”
He, and other aspiring country stars, should use Kenny Chesney as their arena country touchstone, and “Live Those Songs Again” is the perfect place to start.
(subhead) Valley 'arena country' shows
Here are a few other arena country acts that have played, or will play, Valley arenas this year.
These guys have been called Nashville's equivalent of a boy band (which is unfair, seeing as two-thirds of the trio, Joe Don Rooney and Jay DeMarcus are prodigiously talented multi-instrumentalists), three guys with frosted locks and pop/country hits. Their July 13 show at Cricket Pavilion was the biggest country show ever at the arena, according to promoter Live Nation.
Keith, who plays Cricket Pavilion on Sept. 22, has taken the bad-boy, outlaw route to stardom, never afraid to speak his mind in the press (as his feud with Dixie Chick Natalie Maines illustrated) or make his political views heard. The last few times Keith has passed through the Valley he's played to a near-capacity Cricket Pavilion crowd cheering for his anthems “The Angry American (Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue)” and “American Soldier.”
Wilson, who plays Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Oct. 21, has risen from Nashville club singer to arena packer courtesy of her hit “Redneck Woman” and a straight shootin,’ anti-Faith Hill tough-girl image. Wilson coattail jumped onto Kenny Chesney's ACM “Entertainer of the Year” award winning tour in 2005, which got her great arena exposure, enough to get her into the State Fair as a headliner this year.
Big & Rich
This duo has managed to tick off country purists and achieve arena headlining status (they'll play two shows at the Arizona State Fair this fall — Oct. 28 and 29 — with their mix of country, rock and hip-hop. Big Kenny and John Rich, founders of a loose collective of Nashville misfits called the Muzik Mafia (which also includes Gretchen Wilson), are riding high on the charts with “8th of November,” a surprisingly moving (coming from this duo) ode to a Vietnam Veteran.