Living less than 15 minutes from the famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre is one of the major advantages of living where I do, but it’s also the reason I find myself at quite a few shows I would not have attended otherwise. In fact, I doubt I would have been at even half of these events if they were held at some inferior venue. Last night was one of those events. That’s not to say I’m not a fan of Alan Jackson. During the months between the release of Here in the Real World and Don’t Rock the Jukebox, there were some domestic changes in my household — these changes, and the shuffling of living arranges that accompanied them, made the songs from this young artist ring true. Alan Jackson was one of the leaders in this new brand of country music — a genre I probably would have ignored if it didn’t blow up at the exact moment when I could relate to the themes within the songs.
As the years passed by, I lost interest in mainstream country, but I do believe Alan Jackson is one of the few that have kept it real. His refusal to diminish his portrayal of the modern-day cowboy by refusing to adopt (extreme) pop and hip-hop slang to sell albums, is something to be admired. In all reality, Alan Jackson’s biggest infraction is probably in his trying too hard to be the Jimmy Buffett of country music. But, I’ll take a little Parrothead parody over “honky tonk badonkadonks” and callin’ in “the po-po” any day of the week. And the fact that he released the masterpiece Like Red on a Rose as late as 2006 is as impressive as it gets! So, when a friend called and offered me an 8th row ticket, I will admit that Red Rocks was a big factor in my saying yes, but I also remembered taking my dad to see Alan Jackson back in 1996 and it being a great performance, so there was a part of me that was pretty excited to see if Mr. Jackson still had a live show in him.
The man strolled onto the stage to the roar of the crowd while statistics flashed across the digital board — odds on the likelihood of getting struck by lightning, winning the lottery, etc. All rare occurrences, but evidently not as rare as a small town country boy making a Number 1 hit record. Supposedly, those odds are around 11 million to 1. So, what were the odds that Alan Jackson would have 35 Number 1 hits? Who knows, who cares? As the medley of those hits rang out, math was the last thing on anyone’s mind. And the only thing on my mind was hoping he stuck to those hits, because those hits were the only ones I really knew. Luckily, I was not to be disappointed.
Backed by an 8-piece band called The Strayhorns, the man with the signature moustache and cowboy hat took us on a journey through his 23 year career. Kicking things off with the anthem “Gone Country” was a perfect way to warm the crowd, and by the response to his promise to make everyone “dance…smile…maybe cry a little”, it seemed that was exactly why everyone had “gone country” in the first place. The dancing came during “Summertime Blues”, complete with jetski and bikini clad scenes on the big screen. The smiles came from the couples singing along to “Livin’ on Love” and “Chattahoochee”. And the tears were flowing during “Remember When” and the 9/11 tribute “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)”. But the highlights for me were the red-light, whiskey-soaked “A Woman’s Love” and the all-to-real “Here in the Real World”. You don’t need to be a country music fan to understand why those are such great songs.
Throughout the set, Jackson made it clear how grateful he was to be playing this particular venue — giving props and sending thoughts out to those fighting, or affected by, the fires raging just south of us. At 53 years old, the fact that he is aging is obvious in his demeanor and the way he walks around the stage, but when it comes to his voice, he is the same man my dad and I saw 16 years ago. Thinking back on those days, during the ‘sit-down’ storytelling section of the show, he talked about how he almost gave up music in order to pursue something that would actually pay him, but then he wrote “Here in the Real World” and “hasn’t worked a day since!” The smile on his face showed that he was trying to be funny, but his body told another story. This was the first night of the tour, and the man looked like he was in some kind of physical pain. It didn’t affect the performance at all, but to say what he’s doing up there isn’t work, is a falsity that can’t be hidden once those bright lights hit his face.
The main set ended with “Where I Come From” as images from around Denver (The Bluebird, Rock Bar, Broncos, Rockies, etc.) played across the screen. It was a great way to wrap things up. The encore came minutes later with “Mercury Blues”, before ending the night with “Dixie Highway” from his latest album Thirty Miles West. It was only the third song from that album performed all night, proving Alan Jackson knows what his fans want. With 35 Number 1′s, and over 50 Top 10′s, you can’t please everyone, but he sure did his best to try. “Dallas”, “Wanted” and a little more from Like Red on a Rose would have made me happy, but overall I have no complaints.
On a day when you couldn’t avoid the political debate swirling around Obama’s healthcare bill — on a day when thousands of acres were being consumed by a hellashish inferno — on a day when people were digging the pieces (if there even were any pieces) of their worldly possessions from the ash — on a day, like any other, when terrible things were happening all over the United States– there was something to be said about being among a few thousand of those we share this country with. Listening to music about this country and its people, while standing in one of its most majestic spaces, is just beyond words. And although no artist can compete with the venue while playing Red Rocks, Alan Jackson gave it a run for its money, all while making good on his promise of dancing, smiling and crying.
Setlist: (might not be exactly in order)
I Don’t Even Know Your Name
A Woman’s Love
Small Town Southern Man
Livin’ on Love
Who’s Cheatin’ Who
Long Way To Go
Drive (For Daddy Gene)
Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)
Don’t Rock the Jukebox
Here in the Real World
So You Don’t Have To Love Me Anymore
As She’s Walking Away
It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere
Where I Come From