Alan Jackson has made it clear what he thinks of mainstream country radio and country music these days,
In a 2013 interview with the Baltimore Sun, Jackson said, “There’s some good music, good songwriting and good artists out there, but there’s really no country stuff left.… I think the real country, real roots-y traditional stuff, may be gone. I don’t know if it’ll ever be back on mainstream radio.”
Friday night at the Independence Events Center, Jackson and his veteran eight-piece band, the Strayhorns, gave an enthusiastic, sold-out crowd nearly two hours of songs that revived the traditions he fears are disappearing.
His Keeping It Country Tour celebrates the 25th anniversary of Jackson’s first country hit, “Here in the Real World,” the first of his 50 Top 10 country singles. His set list was stacked with many of those.
He opened with “Gone Country,” a loping anthem about people moving to Nashville to become country stars. Then came two more No. 1 hits, “I Don’t Even Know Your Name,” during which he tossed T-shirts into the crowd, and “Livin’ on Love,” a ballad about couples and enduring romance.
A native Georgian, Jackson, 56, speaks in a slow, deep, Southern drawl. Several times he preceded songs with the stories that inspired them.
He shared the spotlight generously with his band. The show was full of dazzling guitar, pedal steel and fiddle leads and piano virtuosity. A huge video screen broadcast videos and other visuals. During “Where I Come From,” it showed images and landmarks from around Kansas City plus several sports logos. The Royals, by far, got the loudest ovation.
Jackson typically writes about love, the working-class life and the Southern/country traditions. Rarely, as in “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” his duet with Jimmy Buffett, does he sing about the party life. Even the peppy “Pop a Top” is a tears-in-your beer lament about a guy mending a broken heart.
The set list included both of those, and several about the rural lifestyle, such as “Small Town Southern Man,” “Country Boy,” “Chattahoochee” and “Where I Come From.” Even his cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” was a tribute to the country life. As he sang, the video screen behind him and the band broadcast the songs video — footage of Jackson, family and friends wake-boarding, four-wheeling and wrestling in the mud.
He paid tribute to his father in “Drive (For Daddy Gene)” and to the circle of life in “Remember When,” which follows a couple from teenage romance to marriage, parenthood and empty-nesting.
And more than 13 years after he wrote it, “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” his reaction to the horrors of Sept. 11, 2001, still resonates: “Did you open your eyes, hope it never happened / Close your eyes and not go to sleep? / Did you notice the sunset the first time in ages / Or speak to some stranger on the street?”
He closed with “Mercury Blues,” a romping country rock song about the power and allure of an automobile. Toward the end of the song, he let the band jam for several minutes as he signed hats, boots, posters and some of those T-shirts he’d tossed into the crowd — a crowd that spanned four generations. Mainstream radio may have lost interest in Jackson’s kind of country music, but his fans love it as much as ever.
Brandy Clark is a veteran songwriter and a rising star in country music. Her set list included material from her stellar debut album, the Grammy-nominated “12 Songs,” including “What Will Keep Me Out of Heaven,” a song about an adulterous tryst. She also played a solo-acoustic medley of songs she has written for other artists, like “Gravedigger” and “Mama’s Broken Heart.”
Jon Pardi followed Clark with a set of rock anthems like “What I Can’t Put Down,” a song about woman, drinking and playing music in bars, and “Chasin’ Them Better Days,” a tuneful keep-your-chin up number.
Gone Country; I Don’t Even Know Your Name; Livin’ on Love; Summertime Blues; Small Town Southern Man; The Blues Man; Little Bitty; Country Boy; Drive (For Daddy Gene); Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning); Don’t Rock the Jukebox; Here in the Real World; Pop a Top; Song for the Life; You Never Know; As She’s Walking Away; Remember When; Good Time; It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere; Chattahoochee; Where I Come From. Encore: Mercury Blues.