It’s fun to entertain the idea of a “Mount Rushmore” of country music. Of course, there are all sorts of ways you can go about doing it. You can frame it objectively by either electing the actual first four country recording artists, or you can do it based off of who’s contributed the most to the genre over its near-100-year history (and of course, a vague statement such as that can lead to all sorts of debates as to who should be there).
If I had to do it, I’d make a personal one, and one name who I’d have to make a spot for would be Alan Jackson. Growing up with the country radio of the mid-to-late 2000s, him and George Strait were ancient to my ears and eyes. Heck, I probably thought those two were the pioneers of the entire genre at one point.
It’s hard to describe exactly why Jackson has remained so staunchly at the forefront of my mind when that aforementioned question pops up. Perhaps it’s his songwriting skills, or perhaps it’s his leadership skills. Perhaps it’s his uncanny ability to tug at your heartstrings just when you need it, or perhaps it’s because he’s an artist who has always focused on his legacy above the current trend of the day.
No, it’s not any of those one elements – it’s all of them combined.
Whatever it is, Jackson has always had “it,” and last Friday, he showcased all those qualities and more live in concert.
Before Jackson came on however, a new singer named Dee White opened for Jackson to perform a half-hour set. If I had to compare him to anyone else in music right now, it would be King Leg, both in terms of looks and style. Unfortunately, there seems to be incredibly little information about him and his band online, but he had a pretty cool rockabilly and blues fusion with some country thrown in for good measure.
Unfortunately tracking down accurate song titles was hard, but the band did perform one song in particular (I think) called “Rose Of Alabama” (and no, it’s not the Civil War song) that was an excellent example of good songwriting and a good hook. He and his band also did a pretty decent cover of Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On.” It’s unsure what plans White has in store for his career, but he was a good example of why you should never miss the openers in concerts. You’ll always discover something new and exciting.
As for Jackson, it wasn’t until he played “Don’t Rock The Jukebox,” 15 songs into his set list, that he let everyone in the crowd know he wasn’t feeling well. “I was going to cancel” Jackson said. “If you want your money back, let me know and I’ll give you a full refund. I’m serious.”
While it was a noble endeavor, truthfully it was hard to tell the difference. I’ve never seen Jackson in concert before, but as a fan and critic, I thought he played one of the best live shows I had ever seen, and he did it all with his music. “We’re pretty laid back up here usually, so sit down, get up and dance or do whatever you need to and have a good time” Jackson told the crowd with a laugh halfway in his set.
One shocking highlight came when he played “The Blues Man,” a song originally written by Hank Williams Jr. from his own perspective before turning into a tribute to him on Jackson’s version. The song only reached No. 37 on the charts for Jackson back in the day, but he’s never been one to care about chasing the hits. The slow, bluesy instrumental outro sounded incredibly smooth and was a nice surprise.
Going back to what I just said though, the only hit Jackson really does care about is his first one, “Here In The Real World.”
“We put out my first single and … it didn’t do too good. It was sad” Jackson jokingly told the crowd. “I told my wife that I was going to give up and go back to work doing something else. It was then she told me she was pregnant, and right away I knew we weren’t ready. Thankfully the record label gave me another shot, and I’ve never worked since” he said before leading into that aforementioned hit.
The only noticeable difference with Jackson’s older output compared to his current output is that his voice is deeper now than it was before, giving somewhat of a rougher, more lived-in vocal edge to some of the earlier tracks.
What else is there to even say? He played all of the biggest and best hits – “Livin’ On Love,” “Summertime Blues,” “Who’s Cheatin’ Who,” “Chattahoochee,” “Remember When” and of course, “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning).” The Tom T. Hall penned “Little Bitty” also garnered an unusually high rate of applause from the audience.
Of course, Jackson also played his latest song, “The Older I Get” and said it “may or may not be on a future album,” thus giving us our only hint for new music from Jackson unfortunately. Still, when you’ve had a career as extensive as Jackson’s, you can easily fall back on the decades of great material.
His band was also incredibly solid, with each of them also getting their own chance to show off with a solo during various points in the night. You can tell that all of them have been with Jackson for a long time.
The great thing about Jackson too is that he’s able to tell actual meaningful stories behind his songs, such as getting to spend time writing with Randy Travis back in the day (before leading into their collaboration, “She’s Got The Rhythm (And I Got The Blues)”), saluting his father on “Drive (For Daddy Gene),” or telling the aforementioned story of “Here In The Real World.” While country concerts have unfortunately become havens for redneck, reckless behavior that further diminishes the low status country music already carries in the eyes of other music fans, it’s important to remember that concerts are also places for sharing stories.
Yeah, Jackson played a few clunkers such as “Good Time” and “Country Boy” (which he actually forgot the words to), but at least something like “Where I Come From” had pictures and video of the town he was playing in floating along the background. I don’t know if Jackson and his crew do that for every city they play in but it was an incredibly cool touch that showed a level of care.
The set ended off with “Mercury Blues,” a song which I honestly had forgotten from Jackson’s catalog (not because of its quality, but because it’s not among his “bigger” hits). This was a fun, energetic way to end a Friday night, and I’m incredibly honored I got to see one of my heroes live.
In short, Jackson may have been fighting off illness to play for the crowd, but he definitely didn’t disappoint. He played nearly all of the hits you could have wanted him to and shared some memorable stories. Even if we can’t come to a universal consensus on what country music means, it’s hard not to look at someone like Jackson, point at him and say “him – he’s country music.”
- “Gone Country”
- “I Don’t Even Know Your Name”
- “Livin’ On Love”
- “Good Time”
- “The Blues Man”
- “Summertime Blues”
- “Who’s Cheatin’ Who”
- “Here In The Real World”
- “She’s Got The Rhythm (I Got The Blues)”
- “The Older I Get”
- “Little Bitty”
- “Country Boy”
- “Drive (For Daddy Gene)”
- “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)”
- “Don’t Rock The Jukebox”
- “Remember When”
- “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere”
- “Where I Come From”
- “Mercury Blues”