It's funny that I should be writing this, especially since this is a rock & roll magazine. So, several months ago the editor, other staff members and I were sitting at breakfast and Adam asked if there was anyone who liked Country music. Sheepishly, I answered, "I do." Despite the fact that I have been a drummer for a rock band, played bass and harmonica for a group called the "103rd Street Blues Band" and I currently am jammin' with a couple of teachers from the school I work with. When asked, where in the hell does country come in? I told them about my job at my mothers little diner, back in the 70's, "Worth Restaurant," still there on 111th Street just east of Harlem (Southwest Side of Chicago), where all the truckers came in at 5 a.m. for a heapin' helpin' of Southside hospitality. The jukebox had 'em all - Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Johnnie Cash, Loretta Lynn and I listened to them all. Also my dad, miss ya pop, always had on US99 (Chicago's Country) or some other country station when in the car. Comin' out of the country closet has been weird because my wife had no idea. So here I am writing about a great concert by an artist who I'm absolutely sure ranks up there with the greats - Toby Keith and will be the next Willie Nelson minus the pot - or not? Hmmm.
Totin' my wife, Katie, to the "First Midwest Bank Amphitheater," what a mouth full, to see Toby was more like draggin' because she's not a country fan unless you discount the fact that she loves Garth Brooks. She went peaceably and was open to going. Yeah right, she was bragging and rubbing it in to her sister Nancy, who's a huge Toby fan. Trust me if she didn't want to go there were about 100 other folks I know that would have killed to be in her shoes, not including my sister-in-law. We had great seats 18th row just left of center stage and on the aisle. We had some pricey seats, but never sat in them until I had to sit down once in a while to rub Ben-Gay on my knees.
Opening for Toby Keith was Joe Nichols, who Katie said, "Kick Ass." I personally haven't heard of him although since coming out of the country closet and after hearing him and seeing Toby, I now tune into US99 now instead of my old rock stations on my way to work. I used to wait for the Eric and Kathy (WXRT Chicago) list but now I listen to Ray Stevens and look forward to the Nashville hotline. Yes, I'm a redneck and proud of it. Am I getting older or are the country stars getting younger? He looks like he hasn't reached puberty yet but man could he rock this country. What energy and enthusiasm. If Katie could 2 step. Woo Hoo!! In fact we went in to K-Mart yesterday to pick up a CD of his and we couldn't find one, she was bummed. I'm sure we'll hear more from him though.
WOW!!!! How to even begin to describe Toby's performance? It's tough putting it into words, to re-quote Katie, "Kick Ass!" He had pyrotechnics and confetti blasting all over the place. He even had a Ford F-150 Pickup truck on stage. For his entrance to the stage a huge white canvas filled the stage and you see Toby in a conference room and some ad people were pitching reality show for Toby to appear in like Sumo Wrestling with the Stars where Toby would take on one of these behemoths. His response was "Hell No" to each and every one of the ideas. Then he tells them his reality show where he has these pitch people eat cow eyes and the first one done wins. The winner gets to use his Ford Pickup to lift a huge vault filled with Toby bucks. The guy does the task and even though he succeeded - he failed - because the truck did all the work so the vault drops Toby bucks blast into the crowd the screen drops and Toby exits the pickup on stage and from that point on music and mayhem ensued. There were screens on both sides of the stage and in the center where you could either see Toby or watch as some clips from his videos were shown.
Toby has also gone a little Hollywood and promoted his CMT TV movie, "Broken Bridges" and had his co-star Lindsey Haun, who plays his daughter he reconnects with through music, performed the title song "Broken." This young lady has a set of pipes that blew me away. They showed the trailer and you can check it out at http://www.brokenbridgesmovie.com. He also happens to be friends with one of my country heroes, Willie Nelson, where he sang his one and only waltz, "Weed with Willie" where the lights turned green and the smoke machines were billowing, I swear on my fathers grave, I smelled Wacky Weed, and followed it with a video duet with Willie, which I thought was very cool. He finally got to my two favorite songs and the only two Katie heard of, my theme song "How Do You Like Me Now" and the one I hum to myself when she wants to get frisky, I'm not "As Good as I Once Was" where the mind is willing but the bodies not - Viagra for everyone. For his encore he got very patriotic, which made me misty eyed, when he sang "American Soldier." It made me remember 9/11, my father and stepfather, who served in WWII, and my brother, who served in the "Gulf War" and came back broken. Toby reminded everybody that it's OK to be a redneck. Did you know where the term came from? Well it was coined when white men who worked in the hot sun all day, especially in the Deep South , their necks would turn red, it meant you worked hard and it showed. Be Proud! Be American!