Alan Jackson Proves He’s Still Got a Few Surprises Left Onstage in Nashville
Alan Jackson eased onto the stage to start his concert at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena as longtime fans welcomed him back and younger fans shouted wildly, eager to hear him for perhaps the first time. Then he eased into his familiar hits, occasionally leaning back to take in the packed house.
These days, the Country Music Hall of Famer does most things with ease. His band is too polished to be anything but guitar string-tight, and his set list too consistent to allow for a miss. "Summertime Blues" turned into "Livin' on Love," which became "I Don't Even Know Your Name." By the time he got to "Good Time," the audience was having a real good time.
Jackson's been pretty good to his Nashville fans in recent years, popping up on occasion at the Grand Ole Opry or Ryman Auditorium between shows at Bridgestone Arena or the outdoor Ascend Amphitheater (2017). Remarkable is how the crown turns over. Well, part of it does — the longtime fans still come, often staying seated in the front rows for much of the night. Joining them is a real youth movement of rowdy 20-something men who bring the same kind of energy one finds at an Eric Church concert. A few small children dotted the floor and two bowls on Friday night (Oct. 8), and when Jackson would see them, he'd be sure to point them out and instruct a camera to put them on the screen behind him. Thirty-plus years after his first hit "Here in the Real World," he still seems tremendously grateful, maybe even more so as he recognizes touring may soon become more challenging on account of his Charcot-Marie-Tooth diagnosis. The only evidence of that was a discreet, waist-high stand he'd lean against to sing, and a slightly slower lumber to the stage's edges.
A peek at SetList.fm shows Jackson has been playing variations of the same set for several years. The final seven songs before the encore are especially consistent. It's a heck of a finish, but the soft middle is hardly a bathroom break opportunity. Seated, he picked a few hits to sing verse and chorus of ("Chasin' That Neon Rainbow" among them) before surprising the crowd by bringing daughter Ali Bradshaw out to sing the wedding song Jackson wrote for her and her sisters. Both singers were nervous as they approached "You'll Always Be My Baby." The veteran singer would shift to harmonies as they took the chorus together, subtly showing all the tools in his chest and a deference to his talented daughter.
A cover of the Eagles' "Seven Bridges Road" was another surprise, and those who bolted before the encore missed a third. "Drive" and "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" began a crescendo that continued with "Don't Rock the Jukebox," "Remember When," "It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere," "Chattahoochee" and "Where I Come From." The 62-year-old and his band truly take you through all the emotions before he calls it a night.
"Mercury Blues" had been his only encore song, but for this Nashville and music industry crowd he also performed "Where Have You Gone," his lament of "real" country music. The statement was on the nose and embraced with both arms by everyone left standing.