Walking through the parking lot of the San Manuel Amphitheater before a Tim McGraw Emotional Traffic Tour show, one would never guess that they were in Southern California. With country tunes blasting, beer cans on the ground and girls dressed up like country queens, you’d liken the scene more to a NASCAR race in Bristol, Tennessee. As we made our way up the hill to grab our tickets we witnessed tan-skinned partiers jumping around on the roof of an RV with Jason Aldean’s newest hit playing; A scene that would give Stage Coach a run for its money. Seeing it all, I thought to myself, “Where do all these people come from? Surely there aren’t this many country fans in the Inland Empire!” Maybe it is my lack of perspective or my jadedness from living in LA County, but it was true: There are that many country fans in SoCal and they all love country music!
Although many of them were certainly there to see the headliner, mega-star Tim McGraw, the show opened up with up-and-comers The Band Perry (not featured in this article) and one of country’s newest shining stars Luke Bryan.
Luke has surely made a name for himself in the music business so far. With two full-length albums, a couple of successful summertime EP’s and three number one singles, Bryan is surely on his way to the top. When he first graced the country world with his presence in 2007 with single “All My Friends Say,” we all fell in love with his sincerity and country-boy charm. However, the music business is volatile and we were hoping that Luke wouldn’t follow the path of some of his cohorts and exit early. But after opening up for acts like Kenny Chesney, Keith Anderson and Tim McGraw, as well as winning multiple awards from The Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music Awards, I think LB is here to stay.
Luke’s opening song was upbeat and energetic as I expected it to be and he went through all of his popular tunes including “Do I”, “We Rode in Trucks” and my personal favorite, “Someone Else Calling You Baby.” I was pleasantly surprised when he busted out a b-side off his most recent album that I particularly enjoy, “Drinkin’ Beer and Wastin’ Bullets.” It’s a slow, heavy beat with solid guitar riffs and particularly fun to chant along to when you have had a few.
Despite the fact that there are typically middle-aged and teenaged girls that are swooning over the male artists, Luke is difficult not to like. He has a fun nature and you genuinely believe that he is having a great time when he is on stage. Even when a rabid and slightly intoxicated fan with a four-foot plastic horse statue threw Luke off balance and caused him to slip on the cat-walk, he still smiled, shrugged his shoulders and picked up where he left off. He showed off his moves on his new dance-influenced single “Country Girl (Shake it for Me)”, and from the comments I heard from the ladies, he has some pretty solid ones.
If there is one thing that I don’t like about Luke, it’s the ball cap that graces his head during the performance. I understand the “Good ol’ Boy” persona and all, but I come from an era where half the show was about what the artist was going wear; What kind of sequined suit was Kenny Rogers going to come out to tonight? Or, is Garth going wear the American flag shirt, or the one that looks like it’s on fire?” Most importantly, the guys were always dressed to kill; they didn’t just throw on their favorite jeans and hat with a v-neck that was a little too tight.
Other than my wardrobe snootiness, I enjoyed the show. The band was tight, the songs are great and out of all of the country artists out there today, I can honestly say that Luke puts on one of the most fun shows out there. You can’t help but love it.
Once Luke had cleared the stage it surprisingly wasn’t long before the lights came down for “The Main Act.” The crew obviously has been doing this for many years and the turn-around time was impressive.
As everyone was affixed intently upon the stage, I saw a guy out of the corner of my eye point to something behind me. I turned around and realized that Tim McGraw was behind us being escorted to a make-shift stage right in front of the grass section. The lights came up along with the piano-intro from one of Tim’s biggest songs, “Something Like That” and the show began in all of its glory with McGraw right in the middle of the cheap seats.
This really caught me off guard. When I saw Tim over the last few years, he appeared complacent and comfortable, even a bit sluggish at times. He seemed to almost stop caring about the fans and be more concerned with what movie he was going to do next. After his big intro though, it harkened back to the first time I saw him on the George Straight festival when he was jumping around the stage with reckless abandon and a blazing light show. I was excited about Tim McGraw again….
The show went on, hit after hit, taking the crowd on a relentless ride through the years. Tim played all the favorites including, “Just to See You Smile”, “Down on the Farm” and the popular tear-jerker, “Live Like You Were Dying.”
Everything he did screamed redemption: His newly fit physique, his energy and intent with the crowd, his outstretched arms with authenticity, and even the tour sponsors that were once beer companies were now a popular sports drink. He even invited both opening acts to come out and sing a tune with him. The Band Perry joined him for an old hit, “Can’t be Really Gone” and goofy Luke Bryan made Tim laugh after making gestures during their duet version of “Back When.”
My night was capped off when Tim and his veteran backing-band “The Dancehall Doctors” broke out into “Indian Outlaw”, a melody that took me back to my youth. But when he left the stage before singing his all time greatest song, the crowd chanted for more. Sure enough, he came back out to “I Like it, I Love it” and ended the eventful night.
In the end there wasn’t anything ground-shaking that happened that evening; It was great music with a solid band and an awesome light show. But why reinvent the wheel when you can pack a two and a half hour set full of straight hits? I walked away feeling that not only was Tim McGraw on a quest to be a country singer again, but on a quest to be the kingpin of country that he once was. Welcome back Tim!