Route 91 – Round Up Day 2
Words by David England
Photos by HelsBels Photography
Saturday bought even more sun and sitting out in it, nursing an $11 can of bud – don’t worry it was a giant one – and feeling slightly worse for wear I caught the end of Canadian country superstar Dallas Smith. Not as well-known as he should be, it’s worth checking out his new album ‘Lifted’, you won’t be disappointed from what I heard with ‘Cheap Seats’ and ‘Tippin’ Point’.
With Mark Chesnutt & Jon Pardi up next neither were acts that I had really listened to before. Both bought a more traditional country feel to proceedings. Chesnutt has been in the business for over 25 years and with the older crowd around me they certainly knew all of the words to ‘Brother Jukebox’, amongst others. Pardi was the perfect partner for him and with songs such as ‘Empty Beer Cans & Trash A Hotel Room’ he felt tailor made for Vegas – although I’m sure the hotels wouldn’t agree. Finishing up on current single ‘Head Over Boots’ a cracking little number, it looks like Pardi will be around for quite a while a yet.
I hadn’t seen Joe Nichols since last year, also in Vegas, and with a cover of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s ‘Baby Got Back’ he was clearly in a playful mood. Opening with ‘Hard To Be Cool’ from the Crickets album, a fun upbeat number to get the crowd going, we were partying. Like Pardi, Nicols seems to have a perfect repertoire of songs for Vegas, including ‘Tequila Makes My Close Fall Off’, ‘Brokenheartsville’ which is usually me after the blackjack table and his encore ‘Sunny & 75’ although to be fair he was wrong about that, it has been sunny & 95 all day.
To the sound of ‘Watching Airplanes’ Gary Allan entered the stage. It takes a brave man to release a country concept album and an even braver one to cover a Waylon track, but he did both. If you haven’t listened to Set You Free yet, go and do it now, I can wait. While you’re at it listen to ‘Her Man’. The colossal ‘Every Storm’ sounds even better live & ‘Ain’t The Whiskey’ was a perfect end of the night, encore song. After Country 2 Country you’ll get a little survey asking you to vote for who you would like to see, you need to vote for Gary Allen and/or Joe Nichols. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
Talking of C2C last year’s headliners Lady Antebellum were up next playing their final concert of 2015. With ‘Long Stretch Of Love’ opening the set, the sun finally down and the strip beautifully lit, the piercing light from the top of the Luxor illuminating the night sky, it was a perfect start. With ‘Bartender’ the drinks were in air. A beautiful acoustic cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Landslide” alongside Shania’s, the Strip’s resident country superstar, ‘Any Man Of Mine’ were highlights of the night. Lady A was looking for a good time. With the lights down low, a spotlight illuminating Dave Heywood, you knew what was up next. Rewinding back to C2C, I’m not sure they could have done a better version of ‘Need You Now’, from Dave’s piano intro through to Hillary and Charles vocal’s, it was perfect. This was nearly as good as that. Nearly. Finishing with ‘We Owned The Night’ and their final concert of the year, it was a cracking performance.
One thing I like about singer/guitarists is they never stop playing whether addressing the crowd, introducing the band or in-between songs. So when Keith Urban started up his 90 minute set with ‘Long Hot Summer’ it was always going to be full on. Few breaks at the start of the set, with a quick change between ‘Even The Stars’ and ‘Somewhere in My Car’. Giving us a minute to breathe and have a drink, Urban, solo, gave us the wonderful ‘Without You’. Seemingly wanting to pick himself up again, perhaps with Nicole left alone in London teasing his mind, he raised the tempo once again. At the end of last year’s C2C, Keith Urban was my second choice of performer, after Eric Church (yeah), and half way through his set nothing could sway me from belief that this man needs to headline London and soon.
“John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” got the crowd singing along before going into “We Were Us” ably support by someone filling in Miranda’s vocals. I couldn’t get who, as at this precise point I was being hugged, tightly & repeatley, by a high school teacher from Idaho who I met on the Friday night. Going into the back third of the set with “Cop Car” and “You Look Good In My Shirt” we got a 10 minute version, at least, of Steve Millar’s “The Joker” with full band introductions. “Raise ‘Em Up” followed, before an encore acoustic version of “Stupid Boy”, a gloriously beautiful song of the way men like to mess up every decent relationship in their lives. It would have been a perfect way to end but Urban kicked it up a notch one final time with “Somebody Like You”. Looking at my watch the 90 minute set had ticked to 2 hours plus and nobody in that crowd wanted to go home. Absolute perfection from the Australian.