Hank Williams Jr. Brings His Rowdy Friendz Tour To Nashville
Country music was alive and well at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville last night as Hank Williams Jr. rolled into town with his Rowdy “Friendz”—Jamey Johnson, Eric Church, and The Grascals. Bocephus—who’s 58 now—does only about 20 shows per year and isn’t shy about the fact that he plays where he wants and with whom he wants. In recent years, his tour has featured other “rowdies” like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Gretchen Wilson.
This year, ole Hank really outdid himself. He was able to snag one of the premier groups in bluegrass with the Grascals, the best of the best singer-songwriters in Nashville with Jamey Johnson, and an up-and-coming performer in Eric Church.
Kristin Benson and the boys kicked the show off about ten minutes before the scheduled start time with “Last Train To Clarksville.” Bluegrass isn’t made for arena shows, but The Grascals did a nice job welcoming the crowd with a slew of barn-burnin’ bluegrass and country covers. “White Lightning” was right on point and was followed by Terry Smith’s thumping bass fiddle on “Lonesome Whistle.” Other covers included “Louisiana Saturday Night,” “Orange Blossom Special,” and the lone slow song of their set “Today I Started Loving You Again.” They kept the pace high and left the crowd buzzing.
The “rowdy” memo must have been passed amongst the artists, because Eric Church brought it…hard. Church had the most extravagant stage set-up of all four performers, opting for an impressive smoke and lights show. However, that wasn’t necessarily for the better. The hard-thumping guitars on “Ain’t Killed Me Yet,” “Two Pink Lines,” and “Guys Like Me” made all the songs mesh together in one big, loud, glitzy performance. Church would have been better served to mix some of his slower—and better—material into the set. “Those I’ve Loved,” “Carolina,” or “Sinners Like Me,” would have all provided a nice break in pace and tempo.
Granted, Church turned in a workman-like show. He didn’t even address the crowd until his third to last song in a 40-minute, 12-song set. He closed out with “Love Your Love The Most” which drew the loudest crowd sing-a-long.
Jamey Johnson is no longer a best-kept-secret. The guy is plain good—and just about everyone knows it and expects it. If Johnson had stuck to a set chockfull of songs from That Lonesome Song, he would have been great. But he didn’t—and was still great. The only songs he played off his Universal debut were the opener “High Cost of Living” and “In Color”—which earned him a standing ovation. The rest of the set was a mix of new songs and covers. It was actually hard to determine which was which. Waylon’s “Sweet Mental Revenge” could have easily been pulled out of Johnson’s own catalog.
But emotional new songs like “Can’t Cash My Checks” and “Actin’ Like I’m Playin’ The Part” were highlights of the show. Johnson added a bluesy touch to the show with “Even The Skies Are Blue” and introduced a stellar Strait-like father/son lesson called “Seat Of Your Pants.” Johnson had his fingertip on the pulse of his fans and delivered exactly the kind of staunch-country set they would want.
Through all the bravado and big personality, it’s easy to forget how talented Hank, Jr. really is. For some reason, it’s always a shock when he takes the stage and rips into a chunky guitar part on “My Name Is Bocephus”—but Hank won four straight entertainer of the year awards for a reason. His musicianship came up later in the set with a fiddle part on “Kawliga” and some Memphis-style piano banging on “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” Hank, for the most part, played it pretty safe, ad-libbing parts of hits like “If Heaven Ain’t A Lot Like Dixie” and “Blues Man.”
The best part of the evening came when Hank shed his backing band and pulled up a seat and his guitar. The acoustic set has always been part of Hank’s repertoire, but tonight, it seemed to last unusually long. Perhaps that’s what made “All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down)” particularly fitting. Other tunes included a cover of “I Walk The Line,” “Tear In My Beer,” and “Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound.”
When the band finally joined back in for the encore, Bocephus rattled off “Lonesome, On’ry, and Mean” and “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight” (which featured the same on-screen early-90’s football highlights that it has for years). Not unexpectedly, the show ended with a rousing sing-a-long of “Family Tradition” with Church, Johnson, and The Grascals.
What the show lacked in modern-day necessities (no large screens, so it was difficult for people in the back to see), it made up for in breadth. After 47 songs and more than four hours, Hank and co. left the rowdy crowd fat and satisfied.
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