If country music is going to live and thrive as a true American music form – and there is doubt about it – a view of where the music may well end up was onstage at the Harley Davidson stage at Summerfest Thursday night.
Scotty McCreery is all of 20 years old, just three years removed from the factory of "American Idol." He just released his third album and is on the road with a big red tour bus.
I spent some time in that bus with him while a gaggle of girls gathered around what would soon be his stage. They had jeans and jean shorts, cowboy boots and lots of cowboy hats. They had signs with their phone numbers on them. They were ready for something down home, mixed with a healthy dose of clean-cut sex appeal.
It’s a big life, and McCreery seems to be living it well, not letting the star life take control.
"He’s a real level headed kid," said Mike Childers, the tour manager who has been in the business for 30 years. They called him right after the "American Idol" victory, and he’s been with McCreery ever since.
"I think I’ve done a pretty good job of balancing the celebrity thing and real life," McCreery said, lounging barefoot and in shorts (this is not a fancy kid). "I keep my family close and the guys here on the tour. And the friends I’ve had all my life are still my friends. I call them my biggest haters because they’ll hear one of my songs on the radio, and they’ll say, ‘Who’s that pretty boy we heard?’"
That kind of thing does tend to help keep your feet on the ground.
"I admit that I’m a traditionalist," he said. "I grew up wanting to be Elvis. I listened to Merle Haggard and Conway Twitty and Ronnie Milsap. I try to straddle the line between that music and the modern stuff. I can’t go too far back because nobody would come out. But I don’t want to be a guy who sells out and goes totally mainstream."
McCreery auditioned for "American Idol" in Milwaukee, first at the Bradley Center and then at the Calatrava.
"We had a good day today," he said. "We played golf at Brown Deer and then we were on our way to Cousins for a sub when we passed the Bradley Center. I said that’s where my dad and I sat at 4:45 in the morning and I said, ‘What the heck are we doing here?’"
McCreery has a good history of selling records and doing big live shows for a kid who can’t even walk into a bar legally yet. A big part of the reason is what he’s like on stage. His performance at Thursday night was striking. He’s got a deep voice, think Randy Travis before he went off the deep edge. When he sings, you can understand the words.
But what he really has is presence. He’s kind of like a young Marlon Brando walking onto a stage. You just know something good is coming. The stage is his. Sure, there are lights and a little flash, but he and his tight band avoid so many of the things that make country music the wasteland it has almost become.
No guitar player in the band wants to prove how many notes he can play in one measure of music. Nobody is dancing like crazy, although McCreery has some decent moves for a pitcher with a Division 1 slider and a Division 4 fastball.
And he can sing. Really sing. He’s the kind of guy who can change keys in the middle of the song all on his own, not needing to be led by a guitar or keyboard.
He’s in control, and the people love him. I mean, they absolutely loved him Thursday night. He opened with "Now" from his new album and worked his way through about 20 songs with a kind of frank and open honesty that is rare in the world of music these days.
Country music is just about overwhelmed these days by big, big drums; big, fast and frenzied guitar; and a kind of formulaic tempo to every song, regardless of what the words call for. It’s not that the world of male country stars is totally empty of talent. It’s just that they all sound the same.
Not this kid, who’s going to North Carolina State and has a girlfriend he’s known since kindergarten who wants to stay out of the limelight.
He’s a refreshing guy, whether chatting in his tour bus or watching him command a stage without the histrionics we see way too much of.
If I was guessing, and I am, I’d say that McCreery is going to carve a new niche in country music, between the revered olden days and the frantic pop-country that we have now. And that niche is going to be a wonderful treat for everyone who listens to country music.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Dave Begel
Published July 28, 2015
After several previous failed attempts Downtown and in Walker's Point, Silk Exotic applied once more yesterday for a Downtown location, this time at 804 N. Milwaukee St.
Published July 28, 2015
As Green Bay Packers training camp opens and the pro football season gets started, it's easy to have a whole bunch of things to anticipate with joy. Perhaps at the top of the list is that the Packers are one of the favorites to make it to the 50th Super Bowl in San Francisco. But I'm looking forward to something much more specific.
Published July 28, 2015
Who would ever expect to find some of the best soul food in Milwaukee in the North Shore suburb of Shorewood? The answer may be nobody, but you'd be wrong, especially if you haven't visited Nino's Southern Sides on Oakland Avenue.
Published July 27, 2015
Tuesday is a big day for the Milwaukee Bucks as the State Assembly is slated to take up the measure to provide $250 million in financing for the new downtown arena. If the bill is amended, and Democrats are going to fight for amendments, the measure will go back to the State Senate.
Published July 24, 2015
In a place that has hosted such decadent theater as a blistering "Cabaret" and a shockingly brutal "Trainspotting" it is stunningly surprising to find a morality play being staged in the tiny black box of Off The Wall Theatre.But that's what you get with the production of "Spring Awakening," the multiple Tony Award winning musical with book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik.
Published July 23, 2015
For the past two decades the Milwaukee Bucks have disproved a fear that former Milwaukee Brewers' owner Bud Selig had when it was time to build Miller Park. And the historic presence of the Bradley Center can provide confidence that Selig's fears will not resurface when the new arena is built.
Published July 21, 2015
The ceremony Saturday to retire Brett Favre's number and put him in the Packers Hall of Fame was a touching and emotional evening. It was quintessential Favre, drawing up a play in the dirt. But it was nearly ruined for the folks at home by a terribly lackluster WTMJ broadcast.
Published July 20, 2015
Brett Favre will be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame Saturday. The retired quarterback joins Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Paul Molitor as players who left Wisconsin under difficult circumstances but later were honored for their contributions.
Published July 16, 2015
Nothing is as exciting as watching young athletes try to qualify and make it to the big leagues. The Symmetry tour is for young women trying to make it to the LPGA tour and the Potawatomi are sponsoring a tournament with these players at Brown Deer Park golf course.
Published July 16, 2015
Governor Scott Walker has pitched his flag and declared that he is the kind of candidate who will stand up to all opposition and do what he believes is right. That dogmatic image of the fighter may not be enough to get him to the presidency.