This could easily get very long, so either settle in, or bail now, seriously!
Last night, Lois and I went to Radio City Music Hall to see Martina McBride perform. From past posts (or if you just happen to know us), you know that Lois is a country music fanatic. However, for all of the live music we’ve seen over the past few years, none of it has been country.
At least two have been bluegrass, which we both like (me probably more than Lois), but it has been a long time (over 15 years) since we saw one show at the Grande Ole Opry in Nashville, and neither of us could tell you who was in it (at least I can’t).
I can remember when I first discovered that my stereotype of country music was wrong. It was 20 years ago (give or take a year), when my boss’ boss mentioned to us that his favorite artist was Juice Newton. Yup, I thought he was pulling my leg. I can’t remember whether he gave us a copy of her CD or we bought it, but either way, we ended up with a copy. It might also have been one of the first CD’s I ever owned, as I was a little late to the party of adding a CD player to my stereo at the time.
There are lots of excellent songs on the CD, but one of my favorites is “Angel of the Morning”. It’s not that I became an instant country fan after hearing that CD, but it is the case that my mind was opened to hearing more.
I honestly can’t recall whether Lois liked any country artists before that CD, but sometime close to hearing that CD, she went on a much deeper odyssey into the genre than me. For those who know us, you know both of us can be compulsive. Mine are usually gambling or gaming oriented, with an occasional tech project thrown in. Lois’ are generally more noble (or at least useful, and for certain less destructive).
Lois’ obsession with country music hasn’t faded one bit. It has simply grown and morphed. There are groups that we used to listen to repeatedly, that she has no interest in any longer. However, in all cases, they have just been replaced by someone she is now exploring, musically and lyrically, etc. It was not unusual in the past for us to listen to a specific song five times in a row. Now, it’s rarely more than twice, so some change has occurred.
Anyway, for a very long time, Martina McBride has been at or near the top of Lois’ favorites. She has a voice that is truly incredible, and even though she doesn’t write most of the songs she records, she is active in selecting and producing the records, and her talent for recognizing and polishing other talent is evident.
Our goddaughter is graduating from William and Mary tomorrow. When I first heard that Martina was coming to NYC, and to Radio City Music Hall no less, I was 99% sure that we’d already be down in Virginia for the graduation and wouldn’t be able to make the show. Through a series of events (some of which were misunderstandings on our part), we decided that we could commit to being in NYC through Friday night (the night of the concert). I bought tickets.
We had seats toward the back of the orchestra, center stage. Even though we were pretty far back, the seats were reasonably good, with one exception. The sound board (which is pretty damn big) was four rows in front of us. In itself, it wasn’t that distracting, but it attracts lots of people (most of whom are working) and they are standing around it, which is very distracting. Oh well.
The acoustics, as usual in RCMH, were outstanding.
RCMH is owned by the same people who own Madison Square Garden and The Beacon Theater. I’ve written about the Beacon twice already (Dave Koz and The Allman Brothers). They run a very impressive technology marketing program. I usually get emails directly from them announcing artists that are coming to one of their venues, and am offered an opportunity to purchase tickets at least two days before they go on sale to the public.
However, what was impressive to me this time, was that I got an email a day before the show, letting me know the lineup for the evening. The opening act was going to be Rodney Atkins, coming on at 8pm. He was to be followed by Little Big Town. Then there would be a short intermission, followed by Martina at roughly 9:30pm, all subject to change, of course.
I can’t ever recall getting this kind of information before (without having to explicitly dig for it myself). It was very nice to know that Martina wouldn’t be on until 9:30, so that expectations are set appropriately.
OK, finally, on to the show.
We are familiar with both Rodney Atkins and Little Big Town. We own Rodney’s most recent CD (he has three), and both of Little Big Town’s, so it was a bonus that they were both opening for Martina. Rodney came on almost exactly at 8pm (unusual, since most shows start at least 5-10 minutes late, and some much later). He was good, and didn’t disappoint, but he wasn’t amazing. In fact, he’s better on the CD (and the Radio, yes Jamie, including XM). I don’t mean to imply anything negative about him or his performance, it was all good, just not exceptional in any way.
He only played four songs, all good ones, including two of his big hits: “If You’re Going Through Hell” and “Watching You” (a.k.a “Buckaroo”).
After a short break, Little Big Town took the stage. They are incredible. Two guys, two women. All four can sing well enough to be solo stars. The guys both play guitar, reasonably well, but mostly rhythm. The band behind them are also incredible. Lead guitarist played a number of instruments (including Dobro), drummer, bassist, etc. Their harmonies are not to be believed. They played for nearly 50 minutes, and every second was delicious.
Then the expected “short intermission”, slightly longer than announced.
At around 9:40 Martina took the stage. Wow. Her voice is crystal clear, operatic range, strength, softness without breaking up, in short, she can produce any sound she wants, the way she wants to produce it. In addition, she has a stage presence that all of the greats do.
I realize that if I start describing individual songs, I’ll miss tomorrow’s graduation, so I’ll make some larger points, and then conclude with the encore.
Martina also has an exceptional band behind her, which includes her brother Marty, who plays guitar and sings really well too. They did a duet where he sang the part that Keith Urban does on her CD. The lead guitarist is amazing, which brings me to my big point.
Many people who profess to hate country (or more likely make fun of country music), do so on the basis of their perception of the lyrics of the genre. That’s my personal opinion. In addition to thinking that the lyrics are predictable (and silly), and that the voices are twangy, I guess that most non-country lovers also think that the musicians are inferior to their favorites.
If I’m right about that, then they are wrong. The top acts all have extraordinary musicians, and the musical productions are first rate as well. Some songs are as good as the best rock bands, other as good as the best pop bands, etc. To me, the genre is most defined by the content of the lyrics, but otherwise, it’s a little harder to categorize the entire genre as different than the others.
I’ll finish that thought in describing the encore.
After a long standing ovation (one of many that Martina garnered throughout her set), she came back with the entire band for an encore. Before the band came out, just the lead guitarist came out, and he played a wild solo electric guitar riff that was definitely rock. When the band joined in, and Martina took the stage, she rocked out with Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”. Of course, Martina nailed it. But, so did the guitarist. He did the solos as well as Pat Benatar’s group ever did, and that’s not to take anything away from Pat’s guitarist (get it?).
Martina has a woman in her band, Jennifer (I missed her last name). She played the fiddle, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and sings harmonies with Martina. She is so talented and has so much stage presence as well, that I will be surprised if I don’t hear about her going out on her own at some point in the future. As Martina said: “She sings like an angel”.
After “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” was over, the band left the stage, and Martina stayed only with her lead guitarist. This time, he only had an acoustic guitar. After telling a story to introduce her final song, she sang “Over the Rainbow”.
Are you kidding me? For Lois and I, accurately accused Wizard of Oz (and more importantly) Wicked fanatics, this was the perfect culmination of the evening. It was an amazing rendition (interestingly, Dave Koz also did a beautiful “Over the Rainbow” at the Beacon). Also, the guitarist was wonderful on the acoustic guitar this time, minutes after rocking RCMH on an electric one.
We walked home on cloud nine, and Lois couldn’t stop talking about the concert all the way down to Fredericksburg in the car this morning.
To sum it all up, Wow!