Posted by: Amy | May 31, 2010

May 27 – Country Throwdown Tour, Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, Charlotte, NC

Rachel and I set out bright and early on Thursday morning bound for Charlotte and the Country Throwdown Tour! A couple of weeks before the show, I found out that I had been approved for press passes for the show. I had requested interviews with Eli Young Band, Eric Church and Jamey Johnson, but I didn’t know what to expect as this was the first time that I had a press pass. The day before the show, I got an e-mail from Eli Young Band’s PR rep to schedule an interview. I knew that we would get a chance to talk to EYB, but I hadn’t heard anything about my other two interview requests.

We made it to Charlotte and got checked into our hotel. After getting settled in and eating lunch, we made our way to the venue and picked up our press passes. We walked around the grounds and checked out the Bluebird Cafe tent and the various artists’ merchandise tents. We also caught a few minutes of Emily West’s performance at the Outlaw Stage. We walked back to the press trailer and looked at the press sign-up page on the door, but didn’t venture inside. We were hanging out at the Rockstar tent when I got a phone call from Stephany, the tour’s press coordinator. She said that she was at the press trailer and that she had lined up several artists for us to interview. We walked back to the trailer and were greeted with air conditioning, which was a nice break from the 85+ degree temperatures outside. Stephany explained that some of the artists performing on the Bluebird Cafe Stage and the Outlaw Stage had agreed to do press and that we would be able to talk to them. She also reiterated that we would be interviewing Eli Young Band. In addition she surprised us by saying that Eric Church had agreed to do an interview, too! He wasn’t doing any other press that day, so it was pretty exciting that he was going to talk to us. Jamey wasn’t doing any press, but with all of the other unexpected interviews that we were able to do, I wasn’t too disappointed. Rachel and I each had the recorder on our iPhone ready and we were excited to meet some of the great artists on the tour! And, thank goodness we were both recording each interview because for some reason, my phone didn’t record the Eric interview. I’m blaming operator error. I must’ve been more flustered about talking to Eric than I realized! 🙂 A huge thanks to Rachel for capturing the interview!

Due to the quantity of interviews that we did, I will feature the artists’ interviews in separate posts, but I’ll give you a quick run down of everyone with whom we spoke. First in the trailer was singer/songwriter Heather Morgan. She is one of the artists on the Bluebird Cafe stage. We had a nice chat with her about her background and about her songwriting career. While we were talking to Heather, Ashley Ray joined us. Heather and Ashley are good friends so we encouraged Heather to stick around while we talked to Ashley. We heard about their co-writing experiences. Next up was Eli Young Band. We talked with them about their use of social media as a way to connect with fans. Emily West followed EYB and we got to discuss her recent Celebrity Apprentice appearance. Bluebird Cafe Stage singer/songwriter Dave Pahanish also stopped by. He is best known for penning the Toby Keith hit “American Ride” and Jimmy Wayne’s “Do You Believe Me Now.” We also got a chance to talk to two Mobile, AL natives: Tyler Reeve, an artist now based in Atlanta, who is performing on the Tour’s Outlaw Stage and Walker Hayes, who is appearing on the Bluebird Cafe Stage and is a new artist signed to Capitol Records. During our chat with Walker, Eric Church came in, so we switched gears and interviewed Eric. I thought that I’d be more nervous about talking to him, but he was super cool and we even made him laugh a couple of times. Walker rejoined us for a few minutes after our talk with Eric. Our last interview of the day was with Sarah Buxton and Jedd Hughes of the new duo appropriately named Buxton Hughes. We had a lengthy chat about their individual career experiences and how they became a duo. Having the opportunity to hang out in the press trailer for most of the afternoon was such an amazing experience. I really couldn’t have planned a cooler experience if I had tried. The whole afternoon was so much fun!

When we’d finished the last interview, we headed out to check out the Bluebird Stage and were hoping to catch some of Ashley Ray and Heather Morgan’s set, but they had already wrapped up. We did see Heather and she was so sweet! She gave us an autographed copy of her EP with a sweet inscription on the inside cover. We checked out her music on the way home and she can really sing! Her voice is reminiscent of Lee Ann Womack, but not in a way that makes you think that she is trying to imitate Lee Ann. It’s just got a traditional country quality to it. We also ran into Walker Hayes again. We asked him if he had a CD available and he directed us to his merchandise table where we purchased the Collectors Edition Bootleg CD with a “Let’s Get Naked” koozie that served as the CD’s case. “Let’s Get Naked” is in reference to a song titled “Naked” from his forthcoming album. He assured us that there is nothing risque about the song, rather it’s about knowing everything about the person that you’re with. He also told us that he was excited because his family was flying from Nashville to the show the following day in Raleigh, NC and he showed us a picture of his kids from the airport prior to their boarding the plane. He seems like such a nice guy!

After we had checked out the songwriters’ stage and gotten some refreshments, it was almost time for Eric’s set to start. The one big disappointment about spending all afternoon in the press trailer was that we missed Eli Young Band’s set, which I had been looking forward to seeing. But, getting to interview Eric and all of the other artists was worth the trade-off. The venue had let fans with general admission tickets sit in the reserved seating until the end of Jack Ingram’s set, which we also missed. After Jack’s set, they made everyone clear out of the reserved area before allowing the ticket holders to re-enter and find their seats. We got really lucky with our tickets. We were on the end of the fifth row in the center section. We ordered our tickets through the Country Throwdown presale and were really impressed with the hologram tickets and the optional Eric Church tour tags that we bought. Our press passes allowed us to go to the front row to take pictures during the first three songs of each artist’s set, but I guess we were still in awe of everything that had happened to that point because we didn’t go up front for Eric’s set. We were still able to get lots of great pictures from our seats, though. Eric put on a great show, per usual. He was especially fired up because he had a lot of friends and family in the audience. During our interview with him, he told us that he was going to his hometown after the show. It was to be his first trip home since Christmas. We have gotten spoiled with seeing Eric’s full set and we missed several of our favorites that were omitted from the set list. The most surprising omission was “Carolina,” which seemed a shoo-in considering that we were in Eric’s home state. Even with the missing favorites, Eric’s set was still excellent. I would dare say that the crowd was just as rowdy during Eric’s set as they were during any part of Montgomery Gentry’s set at the end of the night. He had a lot of existing fans in the audience and I’m sure that he gained lots of new ones, too!

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Eric Church’s Set List

  • Ain’t Killed Me Yet
  • Guys Like Me
  • These Boots
  • Before She Does
  • Hell on the Heart
  • Pledge Allegiance to the Hag
  • How ‘Bout You
  • Lotta Boot Left to Fill
  • Love Your Love the Most
  • Smoke a Little Smoke

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A cool feature of the tour is that during the later set changes on the main stage, the Bluebird Cafe artists are asked to come back out and play songs acoustically. Our seats were on the side of the stage where the artists were performing so we got to see everyone that we’d just interviewed. The first group out included Heather and Ashley along with Brad Tursi, who we did not get to meet. We got waves from Ashley and Heather and got to hear three great songs, including Ashley’s single “Dirt Cheap.” It’s a song that feature’s Eli Young Band’s Mike Eli on background vocals. It is available on Ashley’s EP on iTunes!

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Little Big Town was next on the main stage. They opened the show with a new song from their upcoming album. We went up front to take pictures and got some really cool shots. Kimberly and Karen both looked beautiful and they all sounded great. I am always blown away by their harmonies! They sound so good live! A cute moment during the set was when new mom Karen was introducing the band and referred to Jimi Westbrook (her husband) as her baby daddy. Too funny!! The band played four songs from the new album, The Reason Why and filled in the rest of their set with songs from their first two albums, including most of their hits. They offered a stripped down version of “Wounded” complete with an upright bass and a bluegrass feel. They worked the stage waving at fans and touching hands and their set passed all too quickly.

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Little Big Town’s Set List

  • Why, Why (Special thanks to Rachel for getting the correct title!)
  • Fine Line
  • Bones
  • The Reason Why
  • A Little More You
  • Good As Gone
  • Wounded
  • Bring It on Home
  • Runaway Train
  • Little White Church
  • Boondocks

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Buxton Hughes and Walker Hayes followed Little Big Town. We got a little “I heart you” gesture from Walker prior to his playing his hilarious song “She Can Wear the Pants.” We were treated to two songs from Buxton Hughes including the hit single “Outside My Window” from Sarah’s solo album. Of all of the songs performed by the songwriters, it was probably the song with which the audience was most familiar. Sarah Buxton is so cute and peppy and her voice blends so well with Jedd’s. I really hope that they take off because they are both so incredibly talented and are so genuinely nice.

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With the set change complete, we were treated to Randy Houser’s “Whistlin’ Dixie” and following a couple more tunes, the familiar sound of prison bars slamming shut from the “Released” track on the That Lonesome Song album filled the amphitheatre and then the band started playing “The High Cost of Living.” Jamey Johnson took the stage with little fanfare. He’s all business on stage! We were up front for the first couple of songs taking pictures and I noticed that he had a blue cast on his right hand. He was strumming the guitar with his fingers and tried a couple of times to hold a guitar pick, but wasn’t very successful. A few songs into the show, Jamey said, “I got drunk and messed up my thumb.” That was the only explanation we got and pretty much the only talking that he did, with the exception of his introducing Jonathan Singleton and Heidi Newfield, who each came out to sing a song with him. His hand might not have allowed him to play his guitar the way that he would have liked, but there was absolutely nothing wrong with his voice. He sounded great as he worked through a set list which included a lot of new material and two cover songs. During the last chorus of “In Color” Jamey turned the microphone toward the audience and marveled at everyone singing his song back to him. It’s such a powerful song and the moment was very electric. I got a great picture of Jamey smiling while everyone was singing along. He closed his set with “Give It Away,” the hit that he wrote for George Strait. And then he left the stage just as simply as he’d entered. There’s no flash or glitz with Jamey’s shows and I’ve heard people complain that he’s boring, but I absolutely LOVE his voice and I think that he’s a brilliant songwriter. I could listen to him sing all day and never get bored. I am constantly blown away by his talent.

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Jamey Johnson’s Set List

  • Released/The High Cost of Living
  • Lonely at the Top
  • Thankful for the Rain
  • Can’t Cash My Checks
  • Actin’ Like I’m Playin’ the Part
  • Whiskey River (with Jonathan Singleton)
  • Midnight Rider (with Heidi Newfield)
  • In Color
  • Give It Away

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The final set of Bluebird artists to play included Dave Pahanish and two guys that we didn’t meet, Troy Olsen and Cory Branan. Troy and Cory played original songs while Dave opted for a cover of the Allman Brothers’ “Melissa” in honor of a bachelorette party seated on the front row. Dave even jumped off stage after the performance to take pictures with the group.

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Prior to Montgomery Gentry’s set, a Jim Beam curtain dropped at the front of the stage and an inflatable, illuminated bottle of Jim Beam was placed on either end of the stage. I had not seen MG before and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I like most of their radio singles, but I’ve never really listened to their albums. They opened the show with the title track of their upcoming album, Gravel Road. While we were up front taking pictures, we each got a picture of Eddie where he was posing and looking directly into our cameras, which was pretty cool. They played a good mix of their radio hits and as they started each one, I kept remembering how many good songs they’ve released. They are really entertaining. Eddie is constantly twirling his microphone stand and walking around the stage. Troy had three microphones set up on stage so that he could easily move to sing to different parts of audience. They played “While You’re Still Young,” the lead off single from the new album. They also played two cover songs, John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” as a lead-in to “Hillbilly Shoes” and Kiss’ “Rock and Roll All Night.” Eddie and Troy have been a duo for ten years and they are clearly comfortable performing together. They interacted with the fans up front as well as each other. And, they made sure that everyone was singing along and having fun. They were high energy and going non-stop for the whole set. It was a great show start to finish and I would definitely see them again!

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Montgomery Gentry’s Set List

  • Gravel Road
  • If You Ever Stop Loving Me
  • Back When I Knew It All
  • My Town
  • Lucky Man
  • Hell Yeah
  • A Long Line of Losers
  • Something to Be Proud of
  • While You’re Still Young
  • What Do You Think about That
  • Roll with Me
  • There’s One in Every Crowd
  • Thank God I’m a Country Boy
  • Hillbilly Shoes
  • Rock and Roll All Night
  • Gone

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Upon leaving the venue, I think that Rachel and I were both pinching ourselves in disbelief of everything that we had gotten to do. It was an absolutely ridiculous day! I am so excited about this tour and I only wish that we could go to another show and have a chance to see all of the artists play. The line up is incredible and the ticket prices are extremely reasonable for the amount of quality entertainment. Even if you’re only interested in seeing one or two of the artists on the schedule, it’s well worth the money and I guarantee that you’ll leave as a fan of at least one artist that you may have never heard of prior to the show or you may realize that you really like one of the established artists that you weren’t sure about before! All of the artists that we interviewed reiterated that this tour is a new concept for country music, but it’s one about which they were all excited. It’s a great way to spend a day and hear a huge variety of artists. If it’s coming to a city near you, check it out! I’m already looking forward to seeing which artists will be featured on next year’s tour!

We took LOTS of pictures, so browse here at your own risk! 🙂


Responses

  1. Best review I have read about the Country Throwdown. I thoroughly enjoyed the show I saw outside Cleveland – and I didn’t have the fun of press passes like you did. Lucky gals! Wonderful photos too. Thanks for capturing the show perfectly.

    • Thank you, Caroline! It was definitely a memorable day! I was disappointed to hear that they canceled four dates because of poor ticket sales. I truly hope that this tour format catches on and that next year’s tour will be bigger and better. It’s such a great way for fans to see a wide variety of artists at a very reasonable price!

  2. I’ve seen hundreds of concerts including the Stagecoach festivals and I just saw the Irvine, CA show. I have to say, it may have been the best concert outing I’ve been to. We were fourtunate to have 4th row center and have cool (read: not drunk n crazy) people around us, which helps! Every act brought something different and awsome to the show. EC was insane as always, but I was also very impressed with Jack Ingram and EYB, both of whom I’ve not seen before. Thanks for your AWSOME review of your show. It really got me pumped up
    to see mine, and it definitely didn’t disappoint!! I hope this comes around next year and ticket prices remain reasonable.

    • Thanks for your kind words, John! The tour really was great, wasn’t it? I’m glad that you had a good time! Having cool people around you definitely helps the experience! I agree that each act brought something different. And, you wouldn’t expect to see some of these acts on the same stage. The combination of artists was good and brought out a diverse crowd and also introduced fans of one artist to the other artists that those fans might not have considered before.

      I can’t wait to see next year’s line up, too! And hopefully, they will keep prices pretty reasonable. But, it almost felt like a steal to see all of those great artists for less than $50 per ticket!

  3. This was the best country tour going this summer, but for some reason ticket sales were very poor so they had to cancel around half of the dates. I wish they would have brought it to Birmingham or Atlanta. Little Big Town is my favorite band (Lady A and Zac Brown close behind).


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