This summer's edition of the annual Redneck Roadtrip saw the fellas and I head down to Motown for a day-long event at the mind-blowing Ford Field. After flying to Toronto and checking out the Jays against the Orioles on Friday night with my brothers (and purchasing a very sweet old-school Lloyd Moseby uni in the process), I met my co-travellers David (owner of the barely-breathing Parking Lot
) and Chris Farley's Ghost bright and early. After driving through the Sarnia/Port Huron border crossing and downing a hearty lunch at the Cracker Barrel, it was southward to Detroit Rock City, where we arrived to begin the tailgating festivities shortly after 2 PM. We put a healthy dent in a case of Bud Light, making friends from Toledo to Tennessee and enjoying the many sights, sounds and smells amidst an embarassing incident involving watersports in between parked cars before going in to the venue for the concert's 4:30 start.
First, Grammy nominee Pat Green kicked things off with an unremarkable half-hour set I'll mostly remember for complaints from the stage about the disinterested and sparse crowd, although he did interestingly segue into U2's "With Or Without You" at one point.
Next up was sweetheart Sara Evans who was given close to an hour to deliver her many hits. For being the second one up and playing on a massive stage, she was extremely confident and her vocals were pitch perfect, sounding better live than they do on record via tracks like "Suds In the Bucket", "Perfect", "Born to Fly" and "Always Be My Baby". I've always liked her a lot because she strikes me as extremely real, and the fact that she had her sisters doing background vocals and her brother on bass underlined that for me. (Oh, and she's stunningly beautiful.) By this time, the place was pretty much packed for Ms. Evans, numbering over 47,000 honkytonkers according to yesterday's news coverage. I also appreciated how she ended her set with Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way", an inside nod to those in the crowd familiar with why she left last fall's "Dancing with the Stars" competition.
The third act of the afternoon was the duo Sugarland, made famous by hits like "Baby Girl", "Settlin'" and "Something More", not to mention lead singer Jennifer Nettles' duet with New Jersey's favourite sons, the boys from Bon Jovi, on mega-smash "Who Says You Can't Go Home". Curiously, they entered to a cover of Pearl Jam's "Better Man" and also delivered a bluegrass version of Beyoncé's "Irreplaceable" during their set, which also included new single "Everyday America". I have never been a huge fan of Sugarland but I think that they will be a force to be to be reckoned with over the next few years in country music as they know how to give the fans what they want, which included a final number with Nettles donning a Detroit Lions jersey embossed with starting QB Jon Kitna's #8.
The second to last slot belonged to Brooks and Dunn who entered to a chorus of boos because their opening video was an advertisement for sponsor Toyota and their Tundra line of pick-up trucks. They should have known better than to pull that kind of stunt in the beleagured Motor City. However, the ill will was not to last, and how could it, really? These fellas are country music royalty, but I have to say that they didn't blow me away, especially compared when I saw them in 2001 as part of their Wild West and Neon Circus Sideshow, a tour which also featured Keith Urban, Montgomery Gentry and Toby Keith. Kix Brooks in particular was much less energetic tonight than he was on that occasion, and the newer material released since then by the boys like "Believe", "Building Bridges", "Play Something Country" and "Hillbilly Deluxe" doesn't compare to their older hits, of which there were understandably less. That said, latest single "Proud Of The House We Built" sounded quite good. Set closer, the flag-waving anthem "Only In America", was the highlight even though the crowd was not as enthusiastic as I had expected them to be. Half of us were already on our feet and the other half only got up when a corps of troops came out on to the stage about halfway through the song which concluded with a pair of boots, a helmet and a bayonet left on the stage in tribute to the fallen. It was extremely moving.
Finally, headliner Kenny Chesney delivered a high-octane hour and forty-five minute show that did not disappoint. Opening with "Beer In Mexico", the laid-back, Caribbean theme that Chesney has appropriated for himself and parlayed into a massively successful career was on big-time display tonight, and on a tour sponsored by Cruzan Rum, I would hope so. Other party tunes like "Keg In the Closet", "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem", "When the Sun Goes Down" (featuring a guest appearance by homeboy Uncle Kracker), and "Summertime" were delivered alongside ballads like "Anything But Mine" and "The Good Stuff", odes to home and family like "Back Where I Come From" and "I Go Back", and the obligatory classic rock cover, which on this evening was "Honky Tonk Women", featuring Brooks and (I think) a sunglasses-wearing Pat Green. The only disappointment was that he didn't play "There Goes My Life", one of my favourite country songs ever. (Oh, and I would have preferred an appearance by Kid Rock rather than Kracker, but that's OK.) This guy loves what he does and is very fan-friendly (how many other shows have you been to at an NFL-sized stadium where the headliner doesn't run off while the band plays things out, but instead, stands at the lip of the stage signing autographs?) and knows how to deliver the goods. Now, if only he'd come to Ottawa, a trip for which he is long overdue.
Unfortunately, we had to return to Toronto early on Sunday afternoon as the rain in Detroit was too heavy to run the scheduled NASCAR race for which we had tickets, but this just gives us another experience to look forward to some other time.
Kenny Chesney: 9.5/10
Brooks and Dunn: 6.75/10
Sara Evans: 8.75/10
Pat Green: 5/10
Overall rating: 9.25/10