Note: The Blue Ridge Music Festival has been an all-day affair at Salem Football Stadium today. Read about the daytime action at roanoke.com. Following are reviews of Little Big Town, Hunter Hayes and Colt Ford, the final three acts on the bill.
One overriding thought struck me as I watched and listened to Little Big Town’s headlining set — which one will be the first to leave for a solo career?
With this pop-country act, you have four strong performers, including two exceptional singers in Karen Fairchild and Jimi Westbrook. Kimberly Schlapman and Phillip Sweet are no slouches, either. But the real star of this act is the quartet’s harmonies. Over the course of five albums in 11 years, the band has established itself as the best harmony group in the business, and in a 90-minute set full of hits, the four showed that their work is not a studio trick (always skeptical about whether a performance is pre-recorded or pitch-corrected, I listen closely for the occasional missed note. Thanks for missing some, Mrs. Schlapman).
But after all these years, I wonder if someone is going to get restless and bust out an attempt at a solo career. Fairchild and Westbrook are married, so where one goes, the other will likely follow. Here’s some advice for you, Little Big Town — if one of you is thinking about trying it, don’t.
The country highway is littered with the likes of Highway 101 and Trick Pony, harmony groups that saw a singer leave only to find all parties experiencing lesser success in the aftermath.
Riding the strength of its latest and most successful album to date, “Tornado,” Little Big Town got a great response from the crowd of more than 10,000, playing hits from throughout its career, including “Boondocks,” “Little White Church,” “Bring It On Home” and recent smashes, the “Tornado” title cut and “Pontoon.”
Toward the end of the set, it mashed up a bluegrass-style medley of recent pop hits by others. “Moves Like Jagger,” “Suit & Tie” and “Born This Way ” were in the mix. By the way, Franklin County’s own After Jack has been covering the Lady Gaga tune in the same style. You biting on them, LBT?
The band also put its own spin on Fleetwood Mac’s classic, “The Chain.” On that song and others, the backing band proved as talented and versatile as any Nashville act that has passed through the valley in recent years.
But it wouldn’t have been nearly the same without those unique and award-winning harmonies. So take my advice, Little Big Town. Avoid an attack of the ego monster.
By now, Hayes is well-known to Roanoke Valley country music fans. His dusk Saturday set was his sixth appearance here in three years. Each time he has been an opening act – last time was in March, when he warmed up the crowd for Carrie Underwood.
And every time he comes here, he is a little bigger star than before. This time out, Hayes had recently seen “Somebody’s Heartbreak” become his second consecutive No. 1 on the country singles chart. He stretched out the mid-tempo number, displaying the guitar skills that are almost as impressive as the fact that he is only recently old enough to drink.
Later on, the multi-instrumentalist sat at a piano to play his first No. 1, the Grammy-nominated ballad “Wanted.” He soon followed that one up with his latest chart-climber, “I Want Crazy.” Fans screamed in recognition, and he rewarded them with more guitar hero flourishes in an extended, set-closing jam.
All of those numbers — and his first hit, 2011′s “Storm Warning,” which peaked at No. 14 — are from his self-titled debut, which has been out since October 2011. It’s an impressive pop-country beginning for a guy who has been performing since age 4. And he co-wrote all of them.
Colt Ford, whose music is big in the country music nightclubs but never makes the charts, showed that he has a crowd-pleasing live act.
The extra-large Athenian (from Georgia, that is) rapped about drinking, fighting, guns, family and faith as his band pumped a guitar-riff-heavy, fiddle-flavored mix of hard rock and honky-tonk. That’s formula for arena and stadium success in this era of country music, and the folks in this region suck it down like so many tall cans of Bud Light.
Ford’s set included nightclub smash “Chicken & Biscuits” and “Dirt Road Anthem” – a Ford co-write that Jason Aldean took to the top of the country chart and onward to crossover success. But as the set ended, he got into the kind of novelty lyricism that summed up what is making him popular these days.
Over the honky-tonk shuffle of “No Trash In My Trailer,” Ford scolded an ex that there was no trash in his single-wide “since the day I threw you out of here.”
And on set closing “Waffle House,” a song about a woman who repeatedly cheats on him, this chorus emerged: “Meet me at the Waffle House/It’s Goin’ Down/I just found out my old lady’s been messin’ around … Bring me my gun/I need someone to talk to before I hurt someone.”