Were it not for radio-ready Southern rock(ish) ensemble A Thousand Horses’ trio of sashaying background vocalists, you wouldn’t have seen one female performer take the stage at last Tuesday night’s Golf & Guitars Children’s Charity Concert at Haggin Oaks in Sacramento.
There were plenty of women in the audience, though, and plenty of men eager to sing to them from the stage. A Thousand Horses professed true, non-inebriated love with “(This Ain’t No) Drunk Dial.” The reunited-just-for-this-event trio of One Flew South bonded over a woman who was “My (or is it Our?) Kind of Beautiful.” And so it went. Michael Ray wanted to kiss her in the morning, Old Dominion wished she’d break up with that other dude, The Swon Brothers wondered what she was doing later on, Jason Michael Carroll hoped she’d let him, Jon Pardi wanted to keep her up all night, Love and Theft detected a hint of devil in her angel eyes, Frankie Ballard found himself in danger of DWK (Driving While Kissing, if one of the sillier lyrics of 2014 is to be believed). Even Josh Turner, the night’s biggest act, knew who buttered his biscuit: He introduced three of his seven songs as being somehow for or about all the lovely Sacramento women, who hooted their pleasure.
Josh Turner’s wife, who used to (and maybe sometimes still does) travel around with him as a keyboard player and backing vocalist? Probably at home with those four boys of theirs.
To hear songs in female voices, you had to be at the previous night’s Singer/Songwriter Showcase for the smaller audience of golfers and VIP-level ticketbuyers. With two nights of music, two nights of dinner, and seating provided, this is one case where springing for the VIP ticket – if at all possible – is well worth the investment. Plus, lest you forget, all net proceeds go to worthy charities.
Taking the Monday night song swap rounds into account, female performers were actually better represented at this Golf & Guitars than they have been in most past years:
- There was bluesy Julie Roberts, who led with a Bobbie Gentry cover before killing with mature signature songs “Break Down Here” and “Wake Up Older.”
- There was down-the-middle Megan Conner, who pens songs for Rascal Flatts, Chris Young, and The Swon Brothers – in between, evidently, being a fitness trainer to folks like Roberts back in Nashville. (This fun fact brought to you courtesy of Julie Roberts’ stage banter.)
- American Idol alum Janell Wheeler was accompanied by boyfriend and Lockhart duo partner Johnny Bulford in one round.
- Texan songstress Courtney Patton brought her solo work to the fore alongside husband Jason Eady in another round, offering an enticing preview of So This Is Life. Speaking of fore, Patton also claimed the biggest prize in the golf tournament portion of the event, taking home $10,000 for her local chapter of Meals on Wheels.
- Texan-gone-to-Nashville Lindsay Lawler described her music as existing at the junction of Reba and Rihanna; in her vocals and manner, she reminded me most of Jennifer Nettles.
- Logan Brill, back from last year, seems to be settling into place as a crystalline vocalist with an especially discriminating song sense. Her sophomore album Shuteye (out June 2) is stacked with songs by quality writers like Brent Cobb, Tony Lane, Natalie Hemby, Chris Stapleton, Lori McKenna, and Don Schlitz. More on that soon?
- Finally, a late but significant addition to the lineup was golden-voiced Ashley Monroe, who offered her version of Miranda Lambert co-write “Heart Like Mine” and two songs from upcoming album The Blade on her way to ending the first night with “Like a Rose.”
The relatively free-form, acoustic setting of the Golf & Guitars shows also gave the male performers ample opportunity to distinguish themselves, which they used to varying extents. Among the more noteworthy performers and moments:
- Jason Eady got a nice, on-the-fly guitar assist from two-thirds of One Flew South on “Judgement Day,” with the resulting ovation prompting Chris Roberts to remark “well, looks like you just put a band together.” Eady also debuted a new song, quite unlike his past “old slow drinking songs” in that it is, as he explained, “a brand-new slow drinking song.”
- Trent Tomlinson, whose stint on Lyric Street beginning in 2005 netted him a few minor hits, has a hard-country sensibility and a fondness for Possum-like vocal swoops. Lately, as a songwriter, he’s had a hand in Love & Theft’s “Whiskey on My Breath” and Parmalee’s “Close Your Eyes” – though, as a singer, he was only interested in doing the former. It was fun to see Ashley Monroe reacting to him in their Night One round.
- Why isn’t Johnny Bulford a bigger deal as an artist? He’s best known as a writer of hits for Chris Young (“Lonely Eyes”) and Lee Brice (“A Woman Like You”), but he sings circles around most of the guys who are getting the big promotional push as singers.
- In repertoire and imaging, they seem to be going big on the ‘hearthrob’ thing with Michael Ray. But he also gave strong – albeit almost identical – performances both nights, so it’s not hard to imagine him staying around long enough to eke out a few hits.
- Joel Crouse surprised me with loose, committed performances of new songs (probably) true to his experience as fallible 22-year-old stoner guy who can only get his shit together in song. His favored topics were messing up relationships, getting kicked out of shared living spaces, and falling back on whiskey and weed. Where Michael Ray plays the hunk, Joel Crouse doesn’t mind playing the likable loser – a country archetype going back even further. His “Gettin’ Gone” and “Millionaire” were both winners.
- Old Dominion is solid and surely has a stockpile of potential hits at its disposal – the band is stacked with commercially successful songwriters – but it’s a little hard to see what will set it apart as an act in a radio environment already created in its own (ghost) image. In that respect, a band like A Thousand Horses is lucky that the mass audience’s first exposure to its particular Southern-rock-meets-mainstream-country sensibility will be through its own work.
- Jon Pardi, who hails from the city of Dixon just 30 minutes away, received a hearty hometown welcome, with much of the crowd singing along even to songs that barely dented the top 40. By the end, the outpouring of support had Pardi in tears.
- Frankie Ballard offered convincing, intimate, unaccompanied acoustic performances of songs he didn’t write, investing them with enough of his native charm to make you think they couldn’t have come from anywhere else. The mainstream needs more guys who can do that.
- It’s weird that Josh Turner’s first album came out 12 years ago. It’s also weird that his half-hour set could contain all but one of the Top 10 hits he has had in those years, with room to spare. Shouldn’t a guy who can write “Long Black Train” and sing like that have more hits?
Here are set lists from both nights.
LB: Don’t Pick It Up
JE: Judgement Day
LL: Goodbye Go
LB: Woman On Your Mind
JE: Ain’t No Genie In This Bottle? (new song)
LL: One Mile at a Time
LB: Wailing Wall
CP: So This Is Life
JE: Man On a Mountain
LL: Hate That I Love You
JB: Lonely Eyes (Chris Young single)
JW: One of Those Crazy Nights?
JR: He Made a Woman Out of Me (Bobbie Gentry cover)
MC: Save Water, Drink Beer (Chris Young cut)
JM: You Don’t Know Her Like I Do (Brantley Gilbert single)
JW: Take You Home?
JR: Wake Up Older
MC: Pretty Beautiful (Swon Brothers cut)
JM: Louisiana (Tim McGraw cut)
JB: A Woman Like You (Lee Brice single)
JW: On My Way to You?
JR: Break Down Here
JM: Take a Little Ride (Jason Aldean single)
MR: Look Like This
JC: Don’t Tell Me
TT: Angels Like Her
AM: Heart Like Mine (Miranda Lambert single)
MR: Wish I Was Here
JC: Gettin’ Gone
TT: One Wing in the Fire
AM: I’m Good at Leavin’ (Miranda Lambert co-write)
MR: Everything in Between
JC: Whiskey and Weed
TT: I Got Stories?
AM: On to Something Good
MR: Kiss You in the Morning
TT: Whiskey On My Breath (Love & Theft single)
AM: Like a Rose
General Admission Charity Concert
A Thousand Horses
(This Ain’t No) Drunk Dial
One Flew South
My Kind of Beautiful
On My Own (Hymn of the Road)
She’s a Gift
Southern Accents (Tom Petty cover)
Look Like This
Wish I Was Here
Kiss You in the Morning
Shut Me Up
Beer Can in a Truck Bed
Break Up With Him
Jason Michael Carroll
All I’m Drinking ‘Bout
Livin’ Our Love Song
Til the Speakers Blow
What I Can’t Put Down
All Time High
Empty Beer Cans (partial)
When I’ve Been Drinkin’
Up All Night
Love and Theft
Let’s Get Drunk and Make Friends
Runnin’ Out of Air
Whiskey On My Breath (w/ Trent Tomlinson)
Just Might Have Her Radio On (Trent Tomlinson)
Young and Crazy
Sunshine and Whiskey
Fightin’ Side of Me (Merle Haggard cover)
Would You Go With Me
All Over Me
Long Black Train
Why Don’t We Just Dance