At the beginning of this year’s iHeartCountry Festival at the Frank Erwin Center, host Bobby Bones remarked that tonight, “we are all family.” As with all families, no matter how many distinguishing qualities its members may have, each shares a part of the same DNA, for better or worse, and that was the case Saturday night at the Erwin Center, for better or worse.
This year’s show crammed 12 acts into five hours, which meant there was no room for improvisation from anyone, unless it fit into their roughly 20-minute set. Naturally, this also meant that many of the songs (and topics explored on those songs) started to run together. Old Dominion’s “Snapback” is Jake Owen’s “American Country Love Song” is Darius Rucker’s “Homegrown Honey” is Lady Antebellum’s “You Look Good” is...you get the picture.
As a live event, this year’s iHeartCountry Fest didn’t feel “live.” It felt like a series of perfectly executed live renditions of radio versions of the performing artist’s greatest hits.
It didn’t help that a majority of the acts Saturday night had played the iHeartCountry Festival in the past. This includes host Bobby Bones & the Raging Idiots, Little Big Town, Brantley Gilbert, Darius Rucker, Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Lady Antebellum, Jake Owen and Rascal Flatts. Many of them played the same songs Saturday night they played the first time around as well.
This isn’t the artists’ fault. It’s called the “iHeartCountry” Festival for a reason. The acts are supposed to sing the songs that everybody knows from the radio, the songs that get the crowd jumping and dancing. But with artists like Dierks Bentley, Darius Rucker and Rascal Flatts performing, who have back catalogs that have been around for half of Kelsea Ballerini’s life, it’s disheartening to hear the same two songs from the same artists over and over again.
Saturday night wasn’t without its surprises, though. Jake Owen brought pyrotechnics, a beach set and a full horn section to the stage. Little Big Town commanded the stage from the first note of “Happy People.”
A sickly-sounding Bentley looked like he had the most fun out of anyone throughout the marathon concert, mugging for the crowd and goofing off with his band. He even brought back Ballerini for her to sub in for Elle King on his recent hit “Different For Girls.”
Speaking of Ballerini, her performance of her hit “Peter Pan” had the crowd rapt from the first word. She was also the only solo female artist in the whole lineup. A way to fix that in the future would be to create a spot in place of the timeslot that host Bobby Bones and his band the Raging Idiots have occupied for the last few years. This year they wisely shared their spot with Chris Janson, who played the free Daytime Village show earlier in the day. Bones took a less involved role with hosting this year, too, appearing only a handful of times to emcee the event in between acts.
By the time Jason Aldean took the stage, the crowd had already sat through 11 other sets. It sounded like they would’ve waited a lot longer to hear him. As he blistered through a six-song set of his most high-octane hits, the crowd sung back every word about partying, summertime, nostalgic romance and back roads.
For better or worse, this year’s iHeartCountry Fest was a reflection of the radio-friendly country family. Songs about drinking, summertime and girls (and boys, in Ballerini’s case) only identified by their gender, all set to the same musical tempo. When everything sounds the same, it’s hard to stand out, even if you’re Jason Aldean.
No Such Thing as a Broken Heart
Break Up With Him
Song For Another Time
American Country Love Song
Good Company/”Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” theme song (Cover)
The One That Got Away
Barefoot Blue Jean Night
The Last Time
If I Told You
Wagon Wheel (Old Crow Medicine Show cover)
You Look Good
Heart Break (from upcoming new album)
Need You Now
We Owned The Night
The Wild Ones
Somethin' Bout a Truck
I’m To Blame
More Girls Like You
Love Me Like You Mean It
Devil Went Down to Georgia (Charlie Daniels Band cover)
Thank You For Being A Friend
When I Grow Up
Livin' on a Prayer (Bon Jovi cover)
Buy Me a Boat with Chris Janson
Kick It In The Sticks
You Don't Know Her Like I Do
One Hell of an Amen
I Hold On
Tip It On Back
Different For Girls
Somewhere on a Beach
Drunk On A Plane
Life Is A Highway
I Like The Sound of That
What Hurts the Most
Yours If You Want It
Lights Come On
They Don't Know
A Little More Summertime
Dirt Road Anthem
My Kinda Party
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