A travlin' honky-tonk rolled right into the western suburbs of Chicago the night after Valentine's Day and brought a truck load of love to a capacity crowd at the new Sears Center in Hoffman Estates. Now a honky-tonk used to be a tough talking, hard drinkin, din of ill repute that sprung up in the south west, but it was a spry young lady (Taylor Swift), a piano man (Ronnie Milsap) and a Texan balladeer (George Strait) that filled the space with a honky-tonk vibe.
Startin' off the show was seventeen year old Taylor Swift. After a rousing introduction she took to the diamond shaped stage right in the center of the action. The crowd was ready to listen to Swift's live voice, but initially the artist could not be heard. Due to technical difficulties the audience missed the opening lines of the tune, "Our Song."
Now even the most seasoned professional can be thrown by something like this but Swift handled it like a pro. She kept on singing and playing the guitar with the faith that she would eventually be heard and really didn't acknowledge that there was anything wrong. Finally, one of her backup singers walked up behind her and fixed the problem with her microphone. The audience was then rewarded with Swift's clear bell tone voice.
She playfully strutted around the stage from corner to corner, covering what I believe to be a country mile, during her five song set. She has a vocal tone all her own with little bits of Dolly Parton playfulness and the sass of a Faith Hill.
In performing her current single, "Teardrops On My Guitar" Swift tells of a high school crush that she had last year when she sat across from Drew, a boy in her class. She was the supportive listener of this 'boy next door' and his affections for another girl. The update is that the boy and this other woman are still together. Swift acknowledges a certain amount of sadness but commented that she did get something out of their friendship; a song.
She went on to say, "I try to be nice.but if you're mean to me, I'm going to write a song about it." Considering that she's written over 250 songs she's known some hard livin'. Swift's songs aren't of revenge, but of restitution, and right now it's payin in spades. Her self titled debut release just went Gold. Not bad for a high school girl that started carving her niche in country by utilizing the imagery of another country superstar.
With her hit song "Tim McGraw,"Swift conveys a musical kind of nostalgia when she hears a special song from McGraw. It's uncanny that she can have that kind of perspective at such a young age. Swift has joined the ingénue country club with stars like Tanya Tucker, Marie Osmond and LeAnn Rimes, in the fact that she has achieved a hit single before her 18 th birthday.
Next in line to perform was the incomparable Ronnie Milsap. He is one of the most recognizable voices of new country/pop sound from the 70's, 80's and 90's with a string of 40 number one country hits, third only to Conway Twitty and (current tour mate) George Strait.
After Swift had exited the stage, immediately the stage hands set up three keyboard/piano stations for Milsap so that he could, 'see what's going on' in different areas of the audience while rolling though a sixteen song set.
During a five song medley you could feel the fires of passion as he pounded the ivories, parlaying treasured songs into treasured memories. At the completion of "No Getting Over Me"he stood up from the piano triumphantly and absorbed the adoration of his work by standing a foot or two away from the edge of the stage. To observe someone bask in a well-deserved celebration of love was inspirational. Though he couldn't see it, you could tell that he felt the standing ovation.
Blind from birth, Milsap tapped into his other senses to develop into an extraordinary musical talent. They say when you loose one of your senses the other ones intensify. Some of this intensity came forth during his studio session days in playing keyboards on Elvis' "Kentucky Rain" and singing harmony on "Don't Cry Daddy."How profound that a blind man sings of how he sees love affect people's lives.
Millsap's song titles have a tendency to read like a discussion, and are sometimes quite long, but that doesn't take away from the sentiment in his voice. At 59 he is touring in support of his current release, "My Life," to which he plays the title track and the song "You Don't Know My Love." His new music is a departure from songs of woo and woe. This new record finds Milsap in a reflective mode where he expands his vision of having a love life to a life well loved.
Milsap closed by covering an old Rolling Stones' song, "Honky-Tonk Woman," setting the audience's line of sight strait ahead for the main attraction. With 53 hit records (and counting) it was time to meat the man behind the legend; George Strait.
In the music business, the story of George Strait is not a typical one. You see, he's stayed true to his musical roots for over 25 years. He has one of the most successful box sets in country music and is still out there recording and touring. This is what music business executives really want out of an artist; consistency.
Struttin' out into the wide open, Strait took his rightful place center stage and performed an extensive set of hit after hit until the crowd had to go home. A Strait song is kind of like budding up to your best friend and sharin' stories on how you got to be buddies. Opening up with, "Honk if you honky-tonk"he set out to bring the roadhouse feel to such a large venue.
You really get the feeling like he is just kicking back playin' some of your favorite ole' tunes while you toss back a couple of whiskeys washed down with beer. Brining back songs from his entire catalogue, folks were treated to a real nice slice of the strait life. With songs like, "Check yes or no," "She'll leave you with a smile," "I just want to dance with you," and "All My Ex's Live In Texas" takes you though a lyrical journey of the life cycle of love.
During the song, "How bout them cowgirls" video cameras took random shots of the audience members and put them on projection screens. Some gals were looking for themselves up on the video monitors; some were just enchanted with Straits solid tones.
The merchandise on Strait's tour gets the, 'did you really mean to put it that way' award. The concert T-shirt for this tour displayed the text, "Damn Strait." I could just see a flood of alternative lifestyle folks snatching up these items and displaying them proudly in gay bars all over town. It even sparked a conversation with a whiskey friendly bartender from Chicago's Coyote Ugly who was in attendance at the show. She noted that her boyfriend wanted to get in on the act and wear the kind of boy shorts that she sports at her job only with the text 'Strait' across his keister. The bartender in question, asked me to not mention her name so Jamie you got my word.
It's hard to leave a Strait show. With each song you are constantly reminded of stories from your own past and how a good song can take you back in time. George Strait is just timeless and at 55 he doesn't seem like he's goin' to settle down soon. I guess it just comes natural to him.
Taylor Swift Set List
- "Our Song"
- "Tear Drops On My Guitar"
- "Should Have Said No"
- "Tim McGraw"
- "Picture To Burn"
Ronnie Milsap's Set List
- "Stranger In My House"
- "Any Day Now"
- "What A Difference You've Made In My Life"- Medley Begins
- "I Wouldn't Have Missed It For The World"
- "Almost Like A Song"
- "Stand By My Woman Man"
- "Pure Love"
- "No Getting' Over Me"- Medley Ends
- "Lost In The 50's (In The Still Of The Night)"
- "A Woman In Love"
- "Houston Solution"
- "Button On My Shirt"
- "My Life"
- "You Don't Know My love"
- "Smoky Mountain Rain"
- "Honky-Tonk Woman"
George Strait (Partial List)
- "Honk If You Honky-Tonk"
- "Check Yes Or No"
- "She'll Leave You With A Smile"
- "I Just Want To Dance With You"
- "Amarillo By Morning"
- "The Fireman"
- "How Bout Them Cowgirls"
- "Somewhere Down In Texas"
- "Give It Away"