Venue: Temple Theatre
Location: Sanford, NC
When I was first approached by Brandon, the show's promoter, about promoting and reviewing a show with Mark Wills and new artist, Karla Davis, in Sanford, NC, I have to admit, I got more excited about this opportunity than pretty much any other show I've covered this year (with the exception of the Oak Ridge Boys, well, because they're the Oak Ridge Boys). Even though I'd never seen Mark perform live, I knew that this performance would be different than the majority of shows I attend, this show was not going to be about the stage show, special effects, loud instruments that nearly drown out the vocals, or dodging overly intoxicated rude people crowding the stage just to be able to get that perfect concert shot. I knew this was going to be a simple show, the kind that would take music back to the good old fashioned basics and make me fall in love with good music all over again and reaffirm my belief that country music isn't dead (it just smells funny) and that not every artist has to sing about trucks, getting laid, and girls in cut off shorts. Don't get me wrong, I honestly don't mind some of the so-called "bro-country" music that's out there, but there are times where you just to hear music that is so good and so heartfelt that it can bring a room to silence. Mark Wills is an artist known for his realistic approach to writing a song, songs based on personal experience and things that mean something to him, songs that mean something to those that hear them. He's known for his deep love of family, his heartfelt appreciation for our military and his love of country, both country music and the country we live in and he infuses them all into his music. Having seen Karla Davis perform at Rapid Jam in 2011 and watched her time as a finalist on Season 2 of NBC's hit series, "The Voice", I already knew that she could sing my grocery list and turn it into a story, heck, she could make it a best seller.
When I first arrived at the theater, the first thing that caught my eye was the outdoor sign with the ticket price of $35.00. For an acoustic show, most would consider that on the high side, myself included. You can go to an amphitheater show with multiple top names and get a lawn ticket for less than that, but what you can't get is the intimate setting (this theater holds 300 people), wonderful acoustics, comfortable seating for everyone, and a well behaved crowd that is there for the appreciation of the music. This show was well worth the cost and if you were in the audience, you left with a newly enriched love of music that is honestly priceless.
The venue, the Temple Theatre, in downtown historic Sanford, NC was fantastic! It didn't look like much from the outside, unassuming with a simple plain awning, a marquee and an entrance that reminded one of an old 40's movie theater but when you walked in the door, it was actually quite breath taking and impressive.
Temple Theatre, located only one half block from the town's railroad station, was a frequent stop for Vaudeville shows and their performers. For years, it was the only venue for entertainment in Lee County, NC. Through out the years, the theatre showcased such various entertainment such as burlesque, 1930's road shows and was at one time a movie theatre. It even played host to the MGM lion at one time. In 1981, a group of people got together and decide that it was time to renovate the aging theatre and to once again make it the jewel in the Lee County crown for entertainment. The building was designated a National Historic Site in 1983. Since then, the venue has gone an extensive and ongoing renovation, adding decorative metal squares to accent the high ceilings, a perfect sized stage, elaborate chandeliers, a concession area, and comfortable padded theater seating. I honestly got so wrapped up in exploring the venue that I almost forgot why I was there. The owners of the Temple Theater have really done a great job in converting an old space into a new, updated place for locals to enjoy quality entertainment and to bring their families.I live 4 hours away and would make the drive anytime for a show. Sanford is a great location, it's only a one hour drive from the Raleigh/Durham area and only 30 minutes from Ft. Bragg, one of the country's top military installations and depending on the show and ticket prices, they offer various discounts to military, police, firefighters, and Lee County school employees.
After a 10 minute intermission, Mark Wills walked out on stage in typical Mark low key fashion, wearing a Superman t shirt, a hat, jeans and boots. He always keeps things simple and this time was no different, he only brought 2 things with him, his guitar and his fellow guitar player, Kevin Key (who was a phenomenal musician and harmony vocalist in his own right). They both had a stool and a mic stand so you knew this was just gonna be good but I completely underestimated just how good it was going to be. One thing I wasn't expecting was to laugh my ass off all night, not just periodically, but from start to finish, from meeting him before the show and hearing his stories all the way through until the end of the night. His sense of humor is wonderful and part of what makes him such a well loved entertainer. He let us know that he doesn't use a set list, that he prefers his shows to be different and provide audience participation so this night was going to be strictly request based. He cracked jokes with various members of the crowd, trading "insults" with people that were just belly shaking funny. I absolutely love an artist who interacts with his fans and doesn't just sit in front of a mic and sing. This is what makes Mark Wills a stand out from the rest and puts him with the best. Other than a great performance, you get a fun performance. You never know what he's gonna say or do. From the start, I should have known just from sound check that he was going to be great, but he proved himself to be one HELL of a vocalist. There aren't many artists that can give me the goosies, but damn if he isn't one of them. His vocals are spot on, not a note missed and he has a tone in his voice that is, well, I guess I could compare to a home cooked Sunday dinner, it's familiar and comforting. It's like coming home. There were several friends of Mark's in the crowd who were military and you could see in his eyes the appreciation he has for them and he expressed that vocally several times throughout the night. When he sang his song about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, "Crazy Being Home", the person he wrote the song about was in the crowd and you could see the emotion all over Mark's face as he sang it and as he made eye contact with the person throughout the song. It was only one of the soft spots of the night. He sang the songs he's most known for, his radio hits, but he also sang songs that were extremely personal to him such as "In My Arms" that he wrote for his oldest daughter. I don't think there was a dry eye in the house, including his own.
I can honestly say I could only find one thing to be critical of and that was the fact that it just didn't go on long enough for me, even though the show pretty much ran an extra hour thanks to Mark's random personality and his love of performing. I can also honestly say that both Mark and Karla have a fan for life in me, all of their music is now happily at home on my iPod and I would just like to thank both for a wonderful night, for maintaining the integrity and character of true country music and for giving us music that we can believe in, music that moves the listener and for giving it meaning again. I think that should be the new trend in country. Trucks and hot chicks are cliche, but a song with meaning will always be timeless. You can also find Mark online at www.markwills.com and on Twitter at @MarkWillsMusic. He does run his own twitter the majority of the time and he's great about responding so don't hesitate to follow him and say hello.