Saturday, May 14, 2011

Concert Review: "Twisted" Tornado Relief Concert Featuring Little Big Town, Aaron Lewis, Jason Michael Carroll and Johnny Orr

Event: "Twisted" Twister Relief Concert
Artists: Little Big Town, Aaron Lewis, Jason Michael Carroll, Johnny Orr
Date: 5/12/11
Venue: City Limits Saloon Raleigh, NC

I'm writing this 24 hrs after one of the most amazing shows I've ever attended and I am still in awe. North Carolina was unfortunately targeted by several tornadoes on April 16 and this swath of storms left many homeless and took several lives as it moved across the state. Those affected need help and City Limits Saloon and WQDR put together a show with some of country music's best artists and pulled off one AMAZING show that raised over $15,000.00 which was donated directly to the Salvation Army. I have to give a huge virtual round of applause to Kevin Frazier and Patrick Mulqueeny (the owners of City Limits Saloon). These two guys are by far the most knowledgeable, nicest and caring venue owners I've ever dealt with. They know what music their patrons want to hear and they make it happen. They don't hibernate in the back office all night but actually get outand work and mingle with their customers. This is the sign of a great venue and City Limits qualifies as a great venue in this area. Last night more than proved that. What a huge show to pull off. With the help of many other willing hands, they once again made it happen. HUGE thank you to WQDR for putting the talent together and working out the entertainment details and to the artists, Little Big Town, Aaron Lewis, Jason Michael Carroll and Johnny Orr Band who unselfishly gave their time and played this show for FREE. This is a reminder of what makes country music so great, these artists pull together when situations such as this occur and they don't think twice about doing what they can, regardless of how tired they might be. Just as an example, Little Big Town played in Charlotte late the night before in a benefit for St. Jude's Children's Hospital and then immediately turned around and came to Raleigh. They had also just filmed a performance for the CMT storm benefit show too so their schedule was pretty packed but yet they gave everything they had to this performance. Most of all, thank you to those who donated by purchasing a ticket and coming out for a great night of music.

I was actually one of the lucky few who was able to go in prior to the show and sit in on sound check. This is always my favorite part of any show because you get to see how the show itself is actually set up, how the artists make sure they're sounding good and you get to see them in a more natural, as well as hectic, environment. I'm not one of these "hounding" media types who stalk around every corner and hope to catch an artist coming out of the restroom or out of the bus to take pics or get an interview. I try to have permission first, be flexible and be polite, knowing how much of that they probably get on a daily basis and how quickly things can change with the artist's schedules. Little Big Town arrived late and were obviously tired from playing late the night before, so I kept my distance, letting them do what they needed to do and get some personal time to themselves before the show. Jason Michael Carroll was there with his family, so that's definitely a "hands off" situation as far as I am concerned. Aaron Lewis stayed out back, never even saw him until his performance. I assume he's a "bus recluse", he seemed like a very quiet person during his show. Now, Johnny Orr ... I adore some Johnny Orr. He's a local boy and an artist I've known personally for about 4 years having worked shows with him through my marketing director position with the Jason Marks Band. What an honestly nice and humble guy he is and talented as all get out. I even sweet talked him into hand delivering me a plate of some good NC BBQ, fried chicken, coleslaw, hush puppies and sweet tea. I'm telling you, check him out, his music is great! Little Big Town came in and did sound check harmonies with songs like "The Reason Why", "Bring it on Home", and "A Little More You". These are four of the strongest and most flawless voices in music and it's AMAZING what they can do with just 2 guitars. They have always been one band that's never let me down, never released a song that I'd consider mediocre and are always 100% on top of every note. Sound check did not disappoint, it was just more like an intimate show. What a phenomenal blend of voices. WOW! They don't even need rehearsal, gifts like that come directly from the "Man Upstairs" and it just flows.

Now on with the show ...

The doors opened to a sell outcrowd at 6pm (some of whom were lined up for tickets when I was there at 2pm!). The first band to take the stage was the Johnny Orr Band out of the Raleigh, NC area. This band has a huge local following and they were all out in full force last night. Johnny made it to the finals at Nashville Star, he’s been on CMT’s Big Break with Sara Evans, he’s opened for Kenny Chesney, Zac Brown Band, Gretchen Wilson, Phil Vassar, Josh Gracin, Josh Thompson, Jeff Bates, and many more. Some of his songs have been pitched to Billy Currington, and Jason Michael Carroll called him this year and wants to cut Johnny’s song “The Rain”. No commitment has been made so “it’s still up for grabs” Johnny says with a laugh. “But I’d love for Jason to cut it, his voice would sound great on it”. At least for now, all of Johnny’s songs still belong to him. He’s an awesome singer who sings with amazing passion, he’s a phenomenal musician, he’s an incredible song writer that is getting noticed in Nashville. He and his band came out and kicked off the show with a new song he's considering recording called "Workin' for the Weekend". I'd never heard this one before and LOVED it. I hope he records it and I hope WQDR picks it up as well as other country stations. He's too good of an artist to not have radio air play. He followed up with a song he wrote about growing up and his hometown, one of my favorites, "Sunday in Savannah" and then appropriately enough, a song he wrote for tragic times exactly like the one this night was all about, "The Rain". He wrapped up with "When We're 90", a country fried version of the Bryan Adams hit "Summer of 69" and my very favorite song of his, an amped up original composition called "That Ain't Country" which is another one that fans of his want to hear on local country radio stations and get the recognition it should be getting. Great opening set, the crowd was READY to get this party started and they weren't quiet about it.

Next up, one of NC's favorite hometown boys turned country star, Jason Michael Carroll. If you've never heard Jason Michael Carroll or seen his live show, what rock have you been hiding under? Jason takes the word "performance" to a whole other level of entertainment. Hell, he takes it up several floors to the penthouse of on stage entertainment. Even if you're not a country music fan (which I don't know why you're reading this if you're not), you will be a fan of Jason once you catch his energetic, fun filled live performance. He started his set with an as of yet unreleased song called "With You" which I personally wish was available even as a single if not on a cd itself. Great song! He has a new cd coming out this summer in a partnership with Cracker Barrel Restaurants and played a few new songs from the project, "This is For the Lonely", "Numbers' which is climbing the country music charts and is a fan favorite, "and a sexy, rambunctious, and damn near seductive tune called "Meet Me in the Barn". Jason, you tell me which barn and I'll point my Magellan GPS right to it and meet you there yesterday! He played a country charts favorite "Where I'm From", a tribute to his small town life and then threw his band completely off by decided to not do the set list and ask for requests. I love when he does this, it makes his show more interactive and if possible, even more fun than it already is. He played original songs that his "Honky Tonk Friends" love, songs that you rarely see him play since his career took off. He played "George Strait Cover Song" which always goes over great and a powerful tune called "Stray" which I'd never heard and fell in love with. He followed up with the one that started it all, his song about child abuse that can make a grown man cry, "Alyssa Lies". The crowd went crazy and let's just say it got pretty quiet. What a great moment to see a packed house almost quiet while he sang. He brought out the cutest little ponytailed pint sized rockstar onto the stage, his son "JW". "JW" had his own little mic stand and was singing along with his dad to the title song from his debut cd, "Waiting in the Country" and then Jason told the crowd the sad story of his friend, Brittany Coppedge, a 19 year old nonsmoker who died of lung cancer a few years ago. He looked up to the heavens and pointed up and dedicated "Living Our Love Song" to her memory. He and little "JW" wrapped up the show as a "duet" and the crowd was loving every minute of it. I could watch Jason perform all night, but we still had 2 acts to go!

Aaron Lewis of Staind was the next to take the stage and having never seen him, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I knew him from Staind although I was never really that into the band, and I knew alot of tattoos. I also knew two songs, "Country Boy" and the hit Staind song, "It's Been Awhile". I think I was expecting more of a rock performance from him so was quite surprised when they started setting up for him and it was a stool, 2 acoustic guitars and another chair. This was gonna be awesome, that's my kinda show! He came out and yep, lots of tattoos and not quite the "songwriter" look I've grown accustomed to working with so many over the past 4 years. He took his seat on the stool and introduced the "butt" that was going to occupy the second stool, his "bus driver" / steel guitar player Ben. He started off his set with a yet unrecorded song called "75" and it was amazing. Who wouldn't thunk it? Shows that you can't judge a book from the outside cover, the inside of this book had alot to say and the crowd was eager to hear it. The next song he did is one of my favorites, a song written by one of my favorite songwriters as one of the best in the industry, Jeffrey Steele. The song was "What Hurts the Most" which most people actually know from the version Rascal Flatts released. This version blew both out of the water and that is something I can honestly say I'll never say again, a song written and performed by the holiest of songwriters, Jeffrey Steele, was done one better by a guy with tattoos who is known for his alternative rock style. Just the thought that I admitted it was better made me tear up a little. Aaron brought it down a notch and cranked up the emotion behind the song to 11. I am pretty sure more than one person laughed at me with my pie hole wide open and jaw hitting the floor until the end of the song. HOLY SOUL FOOD AND GRANDMA'S BISCUITS it was amazing. I know I use that word alot but it was! He did a few others that I'm not gonna lie, I wasn't familiar with, but they were great. He sang a song about Massachusetts, and broke out "It's Been Awhile" which had the entire bar singing along. What a great moment. He wrapped up his set with the reason he was there, "Country Boy" and the place got pretty loud. What a talented guy, very impressive. I only have 2 negative things to say about Aaron and I'm sorry but you guys know I'm honest ... 1.) He didn't do a sound check. Yes, I'm selfish like that! and 2.) most of his songs seemed to sound alike with the exception of a couple. That being said, he was still freakin' sensational. I'd buy his music any day of the week and would recommend you buy it as well.

Finally, the finale performance of the night, the four part harmonies of Little Big Town! YAY! I've seen these guys perform several times and they are always a class act, always crowd friendly, and always spot on with their music. The foursome took the stage and the applause and cheers rocked the two story building. Jimi, Karen, Kimberly and Phillip took their places and launched into their hit song, "Little White Church" and let me tell you after hearing that, there ain't no more calling me baby, no more driving me crazy and no mo' chicken and gravy boys! This was gonna be an awesome way to wind up the night, but we knew that already didn't we? They played another good one that you don't hear too often, "Bones". I can relate to this one, I have a cemetery in my closet. Gotta love a song you can personally relate to. The perfection known as the harmonies of Little Big Town continued with one of the best songs they've ever recorded, "A Little More You" and then immediately after that they kicked into another one of my personal favorites, "I'm With the Band" which is definitely one I should have as my personal theme song. HA! They told stories about their redneck upbringing, tales of drinkin' moonshine and then told us that "Daddy's Got a Shotgun" and you know, I think Kimberly's daddy actually does after her stories! They then brought it all the way up with "All the Way Down" and then my no holds barred, no questions asked favorite of all favorites, "Bring it on Home". WOW! Wait, let me see if I can come up with another word ... mmmm...nope, WOW covers it. They went right into "Shut Up Train", one of the deeper more emotional songs off the latest cd, "The Reason Why". The crowd didn't want anything to do with shutting up, that's for sure. The applause was nearly deafening after every song. Next up was what they called "Scattered, Smothered and Covered" which is when they cover songs you might not expect them to do. Tonight they chose "Grenade" by pop sensation, Bruno Mars and they pulled the pin on it and blew it the hell up! Wasn't expecting that one! I LOVED IT! I'd love to see them make that a single if Bruno would give them the rights to do it. They'd sell a ton of those! They closed out the set with "The Reason Why" which is their latest single, "Runaway Train" and everyone favorite LBT foot stomping anthem, "Boondocks". I was actually sad to see that the show was over and was ready for a three hour encore of anything. They could sing an eye chart and make it sound like a top 10 hit. Loved it, loved them, love everything Little Big Town.

Again, what an amazing show! What a great way to bring relief to those that need it the most right now. I'm proud to have been a part of it and proud to know those that put their time and effort into making this such a huge success. If you're ever in the Raleigh area, please come out to City Limits and check out what a great venue it is, say hi to Kevin and Patrick and thank them for showing that a country bar doesn't have to be trashy and redneck and most of all, for putting their all into this event. Tune into WQDR 94.7 FM and let them know how appreciative you are of how hard they worked to do their part in this show. Thanks to all for an outstanding night of the best in country music.