KISS Stars and Guitars
With Easton Corbin, Lauren Alaina, Phil Vassar, Thompson Square, and Lee Brice
Hard Rock Live, Hollywood
Sunday, October 21, 2012
Better Than: Any number of other less professional, multi-act shows of various genres produced throughout South Florida
Last night marked another edition of KISS Country's annual Stars and Guitars concert, a showcase of a hand-picked roster of both established and emerging talent in the genre. This time around, that meant a varied bill. Representing the newcomers, there were northern Florida native Easton Corbin, husband-and-wife platinum sellers Thompson Square, and American Idol runner-up Lauren Alaina.
Lee Brice, meanwhile, boasts a slate of hit songwriting for other artists, but is now starting to score his own hits. Phil Vassar, finally, served as the not-so-elder statesman of the group, boasting a couple decades' worth of awards for both his songwriting and performance.
The two-hour show followed a format common in country's capital, Nashville. The five featured artists all took the stage at the same time, each performing a song before trading off, and occasionally joining each other on a tune. This meant a few important positives for the sold-out crowd: Absolutely no time was wasted, artists focused on the big hits everyone wanted to hear, and nobody could hide behind their own individual production setup. Instead, each artist appeared solo or with just a buddy or two on acoustic guitar (though Vassar instead opted to play a white baby grand piano), and just his or her unadorned voice.
In fact, country music prizes the kind of technical skill favored by other rock snobs -- flawless live singing without a lot of choreography or backing tracks to distract. That, combined with the almost-unplugged format of the show, meant that the evening's song selections mostly skipped the more rollicking, barroom-style side of country in favor of largely romantic fare.
For those easily emotionally manipulated by ballads, (guilty as charged) this would have been the night to break out a hanky at a few key moments. Lauren Alaina's "Like My Mother Does" was both sentimental and rousing, a paean to her mom's love and strength, and the kind of song that will send you running for a phone to call your own. Lee Brice's single "Hard to Love," meanwhile, is quickly ascending the radio charts as a kind of midtempo rock number. But last night, he rendered it even more heartstring-pulling, with the acoustic accompaniment turning it into a particularly bittersweet-sounding mea culpa to his lady.
When duo Thompson Square took a turn to perform a new song, "If I Didn't Have You," Shawna Thompson even got teary-eyed during the introduction alone, recalling how she had recorded the song shortly after losing her father. The poignant moment went, unfortunately, marred by a screaming match among some fans on the ground-level, but with the rowdiest fan ejected, the show then proceeded as before.
Otherwise, too, the crowd here impressed. People danced when appropriate, and sat quietly and attentively when appropriate. There wasn't even the glow of many cell phones. In fact, for the average South Florida concertgoer, Stars and Guitars could feel like visiting another planet -- one in which concerts start on time and proceed quickly apace, performers sing and play their hearts out without any trickery, and audiences truly listen. It's certainly a planet worth visiting more often.
Personal Bias: Half of my family hails from Nashville, and I'm a sucker for relationship ballads in any genre.
The Crowd: Lots of couples, packs of attractive blonde women in the country uniform of plaid shirts and cutoffs, older folks in cowboy hats, and plenty of people just dressed for a normal night out.
Overheard in the Crowd: Nothing, at least in my section. Seriously -- pat yourselves on the backs, parents of everyone in the crowd.
Random Detail: Among the corporate sponsors of the event was Sedano's supermarket, showing that in South Florida, even country fandom is truly a multicultural affair.