Jimmy Wayne

Brad Paisley at MSG

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We own one Brad Paisley CD, which we like, but in general, we don’t know his music all that well. When we saw Brad and Keith Urban perform Start a Band on the CMA Awards show a year ago, we fell in love with the song, and bought it right away. More importantly, it was the first time I paid attention to the fact that Brad is a guitar god!

The only person listed on the bill when we bought tickets was Dierks Bentley, someone who we’ve really liked for a long time. We got a wonderful surprise when we found out a few days ago that Jimmy Wayne was opening the show. More on Dierks and Jimmy after covering Brad’s set.

Most of these big shows open with a bang, from lights out to overwhelming multi-media delights. Brad took the opposite tack, and it worked to perfection! With the lights off, you could hear him playing an acoustic guitar only, and from our seats, make out the fact that he was walking down the runway into the crowd (still in complete darkness).

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When the lights came up, they were soft and Brad was alone with the acoustic guitar, playing the intro to Start a Band. He sang a few verses, paused, looked back at the main stage, and voila, the multi-media extravaganza began, ushering in his band, like the song instructs. Very nicely done!

They didn’t complete the song. When he joined them on the main stage, he switched to an electric guitar, and the set continued with another song.

Brad can mesmerize with just an acoustic guitar, even in a place like Madison Square Garden (MSG). With an electric guitar, he really only needs a drum and bass to create a very big sound. But, he doesn’t skimp. He has seven band members (not including him), and they are all really good (no surprise).

I’ve written twice about Keith Urban’s incredible guitar playing, spirit, showmanship stage presence. This isn’t a competition (between them, or anyone else), but Brad has all of that, with a few differences (not necessarily in capability, where I still think Keith is simply mind-boggling on the guitar).

One difference is that Brad takes more solos than Keith does, and most are of longer duration. Fantastic! He’s that good, that it would be a crime if he didn’t. He’s still as generous with highlighting his band members.

We’ve admired Brad as a person in pieces that we’ve read, and in a number of TV appearances. That comes across in spades on stage. His connection with the audience is palpable, and his comfort/ease is truly something to watch. He’s also as energetic as other top performers, running all over the place. Like Keith, he continues to play flawlessly while running at high speeds.

He descended into the crowd as well, as you can see from a shot that Lois got where he wasn’t too far from us. He also ran up on a platform that was above and behind the band, right in front of the big screens. In some shots he was just a silhouette, in others, he was lit up. Half the band joined him up there at least twice. Very cool effects.

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While the majority of the numbers are high-energy, Country Rock productions, there are electric ballads , and a few fully acoustic masterpieces thrown in (not just the opener). Basically, he does it all, and he does it all well!

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So, just great music, delivered by a great guy, right? Wrong! The entire production is clever, interesting and entertaining. The giant screens behind the stage switch between live shots, appropriate photos and full-blown videos, both animated and shot with cameras. The videos are a mix of professionally produced, and made-to-look-casual outings starring all of the band members. All fun and engaging.

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What blew me away was not just the overall creativity (there are a ton of extraordinary people who can hold my interest for hours on end), but that Brad was credited with a number of things, including the animation in a cool super-hero send-up starring Brad and many other Country stars. He’s simply talented at anything he sets himself to. Bravo!

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They did a creative bit with Guitar Hero playing in the background:

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Toward the end of the show someone near the stage boosted their son on their shoulders. The kid was wearing a cowboy hat like Brad wears, and Brad sang right to him, leaned down and high-fived the kid, who took off his hat and tipped it to Brad and the crowd. Precious!

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I called out Keith for his generosity to his band and entire crew and we continue to applaud him. Brad continues that spirit and tradition in his own creative way.

The band members are introduced in a special video that shows their name and what instruments (yes, most play multiple ones) they play. At the end, they also had a full-blown Credits video, like Keith. It included everyone (band, crew, caterers, bus and truck drivers, etc.). We love it.

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Unfortunately, as with the other two artists from last night, Brad’s web page doesn’t make it easy to find the band members names. They’re all good, but I would personally highlight the fiddle player and the drummer. The guitarist is really good too, but for the most part, Brad is playing lead. On occasion, Brad isn’t, and when I paid attention, there was still an excellent lead guitar sound, so I know there’s another guy wailing on that as well!

After the credits rolled, as the crowd was walking out, they put up a video of the entire crew (dozens of people), dancing a Broadway style big production. A nice touch to give them some exposure (as Keith did by bringing the crew out on stage!), and a fun way to end the evening with a laugh.

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As we were walking out, Lois excitedly said to me that this is the best show she’s ever seen. Then, knowing that I know that she rarely wants me to print statements like that, because she’s overly sensitive about hurting anyone else’s feelings, she said: “And you can quote me on that!”. Wow, there you go, you’re quoted. 🙂

Brad was on stage for 110 minutes including a very generous encore, which included both Dierks and Jimmy joining him to sing one number together.

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Bolstering the middle of this great night of music was Dierks Bentley. He’s another major talent, backed by a very talented band. He had four people backing him up. While Dierks played rhythm guitar on a few numbers, he’s really a singer/performer, with a very tight band behind him.

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He played a number of our favorites, but the rest of the crowd knew every single song (better than we did) and loved every single song. As is the case with all of these giant MSG shows, each performer gets a somewhat bigger production than the one before them, culminating with the headliner (Brad in this case). So, Dierks had more going on with the screens, etc., than Jimmy did, but nothing compared to Brad.

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His lead guitar player is incredible. His pedal steel guitar player is incredible (he also played the banjo on a few numbers). The drummer is something special too. He too spent the time to talk about each of them (something we completely appreciate), but I can’t find them mentioned by name on his site…

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Dierks was awesome, and held the crowd’s complete attention for 50 minutes!

Here are some shots of all of them together at the end of their set:

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Opening the show was Jimmy Wayne. We saw Jimmy Wayne play at Joe’s Pub on May 21st, 2009 and I wrote about the show in this post. Jimmy was fabulous that night, so we were excited to see him again. Of course, MSG wouldn’t and couldn’t be anything like a Joe’s Pub experience, so I was both nervous and interested to see what the differences would be.

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Just like Dierks, Jimmy had four band-members backing him up. Also like Dierks, he didn’t play too much guitar (though we know from the CMA show that he’s a good guitarist!). His band is really good too, every person! Jimmy is like a kid in a candy store, loving every second on the stage and infecting the crowd with his enthusiasm.

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I was impressed (and I admit a bit surprised) at how well he carries off the big stage persona, given how well he handled the intimate setting at Joe’s Pub. He’s a natural performer and makes the best of whatever the situation calls for.

His guitar player has been a friend for 20 years, and is superb. His drummer is the band leader and was excellent as well. The bassist is solid, and sang nice harmony with Jimmy.

The standout musician (close call, because the guitarist was exceptional) was Jake Clayton. Jimmy said he plays 27 instruments (are there even that many?). 😉 He played the fiddle unbelievably well (including behind his back walking from the center of the crowd down the catwalk back to center stage! He played electric keyboards, guitar and mandolin as well. Oh yeah, and he’s only 22-years-old!

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While Jimmy was very generous in his praise of the band, and he did introduce them all by name and tell how he met them and how long they’ve been together, I didn’t write the names down, and I am disappointed to find out that they aren’t named on his website…

I don’t have a single complaint about his set last night, it was wonderful. That said, I felt way more connected to him and his music in the more intimate environment. As I mentioned in that post, he writes and performs from the heart, and that comes across so much better in an effectively one-on-one performance more so than it does at MSG, where he’s just another excellent Country Star.

We also love the story telling that introduces many songs in the CMA series, for which there is little time (and perhaps little patience on the crowd’s part) in a venue like MSG.

Jimmy was on stage for just under 30 minutes.

I’ve complained about MSG in the past, both the acoustics/volume and the potential to be forced to stand for much of the show. I decided to experiment with our seats last and for the first time, picked seats on the side just above the floor. I was a little worried about the angle.

I’m very glad I did it, as this was by far our best experience at MSG to date. We were significantly closer to the stage (both elevation and distance). We also got very lucky (and are very thankful for it!). Our section was the only one anywhere near us where almost nobody stood throughout the entire show (including no one in the row in front of us, we were in the 2nd row). The section to the right of us had people stand in the front row, forcing everyone else to stand.

Second, for both Jimmy and Dierks, the volume level was perfect. Loud enough, but clear, with no distortion or pain. Unfortunately, literally the only complaint I have about the Brad set is that they cranked the sound significantly from that starting point.

I think they cranked it for three reasons: 1) He’s the big star, and they feel that he has to have a bigger sound, 2) He has three more people in his band, and they feel that they need more volume to get them all heard, and 3) The crowd is fuller and louder, and they feel that they need to pump it up to overcome that and keep the excitement at a fevered pitch.

Unfortunately, a few times it was actually painful and I felt that my left eardrum might vibrate right out of my ear. When we left, and I mentioned that, Lois said her ears were still ringing and she wasn’t happy about it. Also her only complaint of the entire evening.

Even with that, another show that we will never forget, and another set of artists that we will bend ourselves into a pretzel to see whenever we can. Thanks Brad, Dierks and Jimmy for making it a very special night!

CMA Writers Series at Joe’s Pub

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Last night was our ninth CMA Writers Series at Joe’s Pub. Yes, we already have our tickets for the next one, which will be #10. 🙂

They started at 6:35pm. This time, there were only four people on the stage, rather than the more typical five. There was a qualitative difference as well. As I’ve pointed out in the past, many of the songwriters are less-than-spectacular performers. On occasion, there’s a real full-time performer (e.g., Craig Morgan), or someone who could be if they wanted to be (e.g., Hillary Lindsey).

Aside from those exceptions (they were just examples, there are other professional performers on occasion), the talent level varies, pretty dramatically.

Last night saw three people, plus the ever-present Bob DiPiero, who were all excellent performers in their own right. In addition, they were every bit as interesting and entertaining in their story-telling as the more typical songwriters who are the backbone of this series.

From left-to-right on the stage:

Jimmy Wayne played the guitar and sang. He’s a singer-songwriter, meaning, he performs his own work, and cuts his own CDs, and tours. He’s opening for Brad Paisley this summer! He plays a superb finger-picking style on the guitar, and doesn’t need any further accompaniment to create an excellent sound to complement his singing.

Jimmy Wayne

Jimmy Wayne

Jimmy had a very rough childhood, and overcame more than most of us have to experience (thankfully so, on both fronts!). I thought he looked 25, but he’s 37. Because of his difficult upbringing, many of his songs are filled with those stories, including all of the anguish, but with hopeful or uplifting endings. In other words, he sings from the heart!

We enjoyed every one of Jimmy’s numbers, and his stories were touching and much appreciated as well. He has a winning smile. For the first time in our nine appearances at this series, we experienced women screaming to Jimmy about him, rather than just about the songs. If he wanted to go home with someone, he could have had his pick. 😉

Bob DiPiero played the guitar and sang. Bob did his usual giant hits, and also introduced a brand new one that was just cut by Brooks and Dunn. Nice to know that when you hit the CMA Writers Hall of Fame, you don’t stop writing new ones. 😉

Bob DiPiero

Bob DiPiero

Scotty Emerick played the guitar and sang. Scotty is a master guitarist (again, an anomaly for this kind of show, but not unheard of). Jimmy Wayne is excellent, but Scotty is better, exhibiting more styles. Scotty often writes with/for Toby Keith, which meant we got to hear a couple of our favorite Country songs, Beer for My Horses and I Love this Bar (both huge Toby Keith hits!).

Scotty Emerick

Scotty Emerick

Scotty has a gorgeous voice (click from the above site to his MySpace page to hear four of his songs). Couple that with his guitar playing, and he could be a full-time performer. Unlike Jimmy, he concentrates more on song-writing. That said, he does have a CD out, and Lois bought it last night (signed, of course).

Aside from getting to hear the Toby Keith songs, Scotty also played some hysterical songs, including the first cut from his CD (also available for you to listen to on MySpace) called Love Me Like My Dog! I laughed out loud at each and every line in the song. Aside from being funny, it’s also a good song musically. He’s a real talent!

He sang another song that broke up the crowd on every verse as well, I’ll Never Smoke Weed with Willie Again. If you want to see Scotty sing and play the guitar for yourself, then enjoy this YouTube version yourself:

Dean Dillon played guitar and sang. Dean was a professional performer for many years, so it was no surprise that he was excellent last night as well. However, he concentrates more nowadays on his writing, and it has more than paid off for him. George Strait has cut more than 30 of Dean’s songs!

Dean Dillon

Dean Dillon

I am sure that Dean and Scotty are good friends, and I think I heard them say that they have written together as well. That came across last night when they each sang harmony on the other’s songs. For example, in the video above, Scotty and Toby Keith sing harmony, and Dean played the Toby part last night (just for the harmony, as Scotty sang each of the verses).

In addition, Scotty played lead guitar on many of Dean’s numbers, enriching Dean’s performance very nicely. Well done by both of them.

As much as the crowd always goes nuts for anything/everything that Bob DiPiero sings or says, surrounding himself with three people who can all sing and play so much better than him is a testament to his committment to bring extrmeley talented people for us New Yorker’s to enjoy! Bravo Bob!

That’s it for the show. We had a little adventure that worked out in the end…

We walked to Joe’s Pub last night, something we haven’t done before. We got there in plenty of time, and were probably 20th on line. When we finally got in, for the first time ever, our name was not in the computer for a dinner reservation. Aside from being hungry, you need a dinner reservation if you want to sit. No reservation? You might end up standing, especially if the show sells out (which the CMA does nearly every time).

We’re super-regulars at Joe’s and were treated extremely curteously by the staff, who never accused us of lying about not having a dinner reservation, etc. They put us in a roped-off VIP area (communal seating) while they sorted it out. As they started putting other people in there with us, we heard the same story over and over, that these people also had reservations which were lost.

This was a first, and we’ve been to Joe’s so many times, so we’ll definitely forgive them.

10 minutes into the show (so two songs were played already), they came and got us and gave us a table. Well, not just a table, but rather our table, meaning, the exact table that we request in advance every time we call for a reservation. So, no harm no foul.

I got to eat my Tuna Steak, which was cooked to perfection! I also had a perfect Chocolate Martini (they make them so well there, it’s a crime not to order one!). 😉

Next CMA show is July 30th. See you there! 🙂