An incredibly powerful force blew through Arizona recently, wreaking havoc, spreading grit, and obliterating everything in its path. And oh yeah, there was a haboob too. But a big ol’ dust storm’s got nothin’ on the four fantastic bands that turned Phoenix into “West Nashville” as they carpeted Ashley Furniture HomeStore Pavilion with a little wall to wall country music.
Up and coming country stars Edens Edge kicked off the country fest with a fun – uh, make that Fun cover of “We Are Young.” The three kindred musical spirits from Arkansas – Hannah Blaylock, Dean Berner, and Cherrill Green – have been making great music together since 2006, but only recently released their self-titled debut.
The talented young musicians’ set may have been short on quantity – EE only played the opener and a tasty trio of tunes from “Edens Edge,” namely, “Who Am I Drinking Tonight,” “Too Good To Be True,” and “Amen.” But they more than made up for it with quality, brandishing the seasoned musicianship, dazzling harmonies and insightful songwriting that have made them one of country music’s fastest rising acts.
Phase two of the “Western Woodstock” kicked off with a bang – uh, make that a band – the Eli Young Band to be exact. The red-hot Texas quartet that met during their college days in the Lone Star State left the Grand Canyon State fans blistered and blissful with a set that included the rocking “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” and “Say Goodnight” from their latest best-selling album “Life at Best” and the melodic “Always The Love Songs” from “Jet Black & Jealous.”
Twelve years into a career built on relentless touring, EYB wasn’t about to leave the stage without playing one of the main reasons for their recent success, the platinum-selling ACM Song of the Year, “Crazy Girl.” The band closed their outstanding set with the popular Lee Brice penned tune accompanied by roughly 10,000 crazy backup singers.
And based on the lively ovation from the fans as EYB left the stage, it won’t be long until everyone finally realizes that there’s no one in the band named, ahem, Eli Young. Singer-guitarist Mike Eli and lead guitarist James Young can only hope.
No one is really sure who originally said, “Live like it’s heaven on earth.” But after listening to the harmonies from the celestial country choir masquerading as Little Big Town, the third incredible band to grace the Ashley stage on the evening, the crowd was sure of at least one thing – they must be living right.
The potent pair of pairs, Jimi Westbrook, Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman and Phillip Sweet, brought their matchless melodies and fantastic blend of country, rock and soul to Arizona’s biggest, big town as part of their current tour.
Country music’s fab four were on a real hot streak even before they hit Arizona, burning up the airwaves with charting singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and selling millions of albums in the process, including 2010’s chart topping “The Reason Why” which earned LBT a well-deserved Grammy nomination for Album of The Year and 2005’s “The Road To Here,” their platinum-selling second album.
And after listening to the double duo lay down a remarkable live version of “Pontoon,” the debut single (and first number one record) from their very recently released fifth effort, “Tornado,” don’t expect the landslide of precious metal to end any time soon. Having just received their seventh consecutive nomination as Country Music Association Vocal Group of the Year, I’m guessing that they must be doing something right.
The band thrilled the country music faithful with a heaping helping of the new album. In addition to “Pontoon” and the twirling title tune, LBT kicked off their set with “Front Porch Thing” and whipped up stellar editions of “Sober,” “Your Side Of The Bed,” and Self Made.”
And just in case there were any remaining country music non-believers in the house, the band quickly converted them with the contagious energy of smash hits “Little White Church” and “Boondocks.”
Rascal Flatts found themselves in the unenviable position of batting cleanup following three straight extraordinary sets. But the Grammy-winning trio – singer Gary LeVox, bassist Jay DeMarcus and guitarist Joe Don Rooney – hit it out of the park.
The fans stood from the moment the threesome delivered the set opening “Banjo,” chockfull of the bluegrass instrument of choice. And none of the music enthusiasts that came to hear Rascal Flatts’ seemingly endless string of hits were disappointed as the country superstars played dang near every one of them, including “These Days,” “Mayberry,” “My Wish,” “Why Wait,” and “Stand.”
The gregarious LeVox – coincidentally a log-time friend of Fairchild, Schlappman, and Westbrook – even showed his adventurous side by delegating the “singing” on the chorus to “Fast Cars and Freedom” to a willing, if somewhat less than musically inclined crowd.
Along with their opener, Rascal Flatts played two other outstanding cuts from their latest best-selling album “Changed,” the affecting ballad “Come Wake Me Up” and the rhythm heavy “Hot In Here,” highlighted by Rooney’s brilliant guitar work.
A concert presents a unique opportunity to hear an artist perform their work live, replete with once in a lifetime improvisation – and maybe even a mistake or two. But the reason that this music fan loves live shows is the chance it provides to hear an artist interpret someone else’s work.
And on that note, the boys didn’t disappoint, serving up exceptional countrified covers of Journey’s “Open Arms,” Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” and Tom Cochrane’s “Life Is A Highway,” the latter tune their popular contribution to the “Cars” soundtrack.
Joined by their American bandmates Little Big Town, Eli Young Band and Edens Edge, Rascal Flatts reluctantly closed down the joint with a powerful cover of Grand Funk Railroad‘s “We’re An American Band,” leaving ecstatic fans to try and remember when they’d seen that much musical firepower on the same stage.
Truth be told, they’re probably still trying to figure that one out…