On Saturday night, West Palm Beach's Cruzan Amphitheatre was stormed by an army of country music fans. The parking lot was crowded with heavily modified pickup trucks, beer-pong tables, and legions of Brad Paisley's devoted followers, all ready to get some mud on the proverbial tires and have a great night of $8 beers, guitar histrionics, and all American fun, courtesy of the nicest guy in country music.
Opening the night was the winner of the 10th season of American Idol, Scotty McCreery. The set was well received, and the 19-year-old singer appeared right at home in front of the near capacity audience, something that his time on Idol certainly groomed him for.
After McCreery and his band cleared the stage, the Band Perry came out to a crowd that they played no small part in drawing. The trio of siblings have enjoyed the success of multiple singles from their now quadruple platinum selling debut album, and their performance was an exuberantly rocked-up departure from the gentle sounds on their most popular track, "If I Die Young." Though the siblings and their band of hired guns made sure to hit the singles hard, they also threw in some interesting cover selections, including a snippet of Tom Petty's "Free Falling," FUN's "We Are Young," and the entirety of Queen's "Fat Bottomed Girls," the last of which had the audience on their feet to sing along, signifying the end of the dreaded, if standard, opening band stand-off.
After a reprieve just long enough to allow for the purchase of a fresh beer or the release of previously consumed beer, the outline of a Fender Telecaster was projected onto a mesh screen that had ensconced the stage. Brad Paisley soon appeared, grinning from ear to ear as he manipulated the strings of one of his myriad Telecaster style guitars. Paisley roamed the stage endlessly while making full use of the extension into the first few rows of the audience to mingle with fans, all without missing a single lyric or guitar lick.
Brad Paisley is one of the few artists in modern country that isn't fronting when it comes to his "regular Joe" upbringing, and his dedication to his fans is proof-positive that he remembers his roots. After playing the introduction to a song on an acoustic guitar, Paisley signed the top of the instrument and handed the guitar to a young girl in the first row in what was the first of his many displays of fan adoration throughout the night.
Later on, Paisley made his way through the crowd to a small platform set right in front of the lawn seats where he performed two songs and leveled with the rowdy lawn occupants about his own time in the cheap seats as a teenager. In what might have been our favorite moment of fan interaction, Paisley accepted a cell phone from a fan standing beneath him in the first row and proceeded to film of a video of the audience from the stage and of himself singing a few bars, leaving the fan with some Youtube gold they will surely treasure forever.
Paisley puts on a show beyond just playing the songs and enjoying intimate moments with his fans: There is unique visual content to accompany each song, from chopped up versions of the music videos, to full on Matrix style code for the song "Online." The production aesthetic involved is rivaled only by your average Vegas residency, and in conjunction with Paisley's other-worldy guitar playing and the songs that people simply love, the entertainment factor is hard to beat. Highlights of the evening including a touching tribute to the recently passed Andy Griffith during "Waiting On A Woman," a hilarious video for "Celebrity" that featured a mascot version of Paisley (think large, plushly bobble-head) behaving badly, and then the physical entrance of bobble-head Brad.
During "Celebrity," Scotty McCreery appeared on stage again for a cameo, and the Band Perry's siblings provided support on the beautifully somber "Whiskey Lullaby," but our favorite cameo of the night came during "Remind Me," a duet he recorded with Carrie Underwood. Underwood was not in the building, however, her hologram was -- like the hologram Tupac that wowed fans at Coachella.
The musical highlight of the evening -- at least for fans of Paisley's guitar work -- was prompted by a video interruption by Captain Kirk himself, who was in need of assistance having been captured by either the Klingons or the Kardashians, and was in desperate need of dilithium crystals. Paisley and his band took off through the instrumental piece, "The Nervous Breakdown," with a Star Wars
themed cartoon (animated by Paisley himself) playing in the background. The song features every member of the backing band Paisley has toured and recorded with for the past 13 years stepping out over a break-neck tempo. While the solo breaks and licks Paisley's fingers effortlessly coaxed from his guitars throughout the night were all fine and well, this song provided the twang coup de grace and a true display of Paisley's immense guitar prowess.
Now, if you follow County Grind closely, you might expect some snark from us regarding our Paisley experience. The truth of the matter is that there was plenty to lampoon, between literally
every young lady in attendance wearing a uniform of cut-off shorts and cowboy boots, to the lowest common denominator pandering Paisley did with his short sermon on the "castration" of the modern man via women forcing men into poor hair-dye decisions and the occasional missed sporting event before the song "I'm Still a Guy." However, at the end of the day, the guy seems far less comfortable with terms like "redneck" and the other posturing that many of his peers have made careers off of throwing around, and the lyrical content of his newest single, "Southern Comfort Zone," completely betrays the close-minded trappings many associate with modern country music.
All things considered, Brad Paisley is an immensely talented guy that loves his fans as much as they love him, and, excluding the Larry the Cable Guy look-alike being carted off to the pokey, we believe everyone at the Cruzan on Saturday had a fantastic time.
"Welcome To The Future"
"This Is Country Music"
"Waiting On A Woman"
"I'm Still A Guy"
"Southern Comfort Zone"
"Letter to Me"
"Mud on the Tires"
"The Nervous Breakdown"
"I'm Gonna Miss Her"