If country music is going to live and thrive as a true American music form â€“ and there is doubt about it â€“ 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.Â
Itâ€™s a big life, and McCreery seems to be living it well, not letting the star life take control.
"Heâ€™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 heâ€™s been with McCreery ever since.
"I think Iâ€™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 Iâ€™ve had all my life are still my friends. I call them my biggest haters because theyâ€™ll hear one of my songs on the radio, and theyâ€™ll say, â€˜Whoâ€™s that pretty boy we heard?â€™"
That kind of thing does tend to help keep your feet on the ground.
"I admit that Iâ€™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 canâ€™t go too far back because nobody would come out. But I donâ€™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 thatâ€™s where my dad and I sat at 4:45 in the morning and I said, â€˜What the heck are we doing here?â€™"
McCreery has a good history of selling records and doing big live shows for a kid who canâ€™t even walk into a bar legally yet.Â A big part of the reason is what heâ€™s like on stage. His performance at Thursday night was striking.Â Heâ€™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. Heâ€™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. Heâ€™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.
Heâ€™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. Itâ€™s not that the world of male country stars is totally empty of talent. Itâ€™s just that they all sound the same.
Not this kid, whoâ€™s going to North Carolina State and has a girlfriend heâ€™s known since kindergarten who wants to stay out of the limelight.
Heâ€™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, Iâ€™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.Â 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 Sept. 3, 2015
It's fairly easy to understand why there is a mad rush to put body cameras on every police officer who hits the streets in America, including Milwaukee.There have been several incidents around the country, primarily black victims and white cops, that have in large part been responsible for increased cries for police oversight.
Published Sept. 1, 2015
Bob McGinn and Jason Wilde are the two most knowledgable reporters ever to cover the Green Bay Packers. If you want to know about this team, read or listen to them and avoid the silver tongued radio heads.
Published Aug. 27, 2015
With Donald Trump monopolizing the airwaves with his amazing campaign, it's important to recognize that our very own governor is also in this race. It is also important to note that there are significant differences between these two candidates.
Published Aug. 25, 2015
The 2015-16 theater season in Milwaukee is just underway and looking ahead there is promise of outstanding productions that will stimulate audiences to laugh, think and weep.It's an appropriate time to look back at the 2014-15 season that provided so much interesting theater. Milwaukee is fortunate to have so many theater companies, both old favorites and new and bold groups. We have a wealth of great theater that is abundant for a city our size.
Published Aug. 25, 2015
The injury to Jordy Nelson of the Green Bay Packers, as well as other injuries to players on other NFL teams in the last couple of weeks, is a blow to the teams as they approach the regular season.They also point to the continuing folly of having four preseason games, a relic of the past that serves no purpose other than to provide additional revenue to owners of teams in the most popular and highest revenue sport in the country.
Published Aug. 20, 2015
No less an authority than the United States Department of Justice has cracked open the door to allowing tribes, which are sovereign states, to grow marijuana on their reservations. Could this mean more revenue for Wisconsin tribes?
Published Aug. 16, 2015
Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Edward Albee has theory of evolution, if not about the existence of man, at least about the way one man lives and gets along with another. "Seascape," the third Pulitzer play Albee wrote, opened at American Players Theatre in Spring Green over the weekend and like his other great works, it looks at the evolution of relationships with an unerring eye and sensibility.
Published Aug. 15, 2015
There's this guy, see, and he lives in a hot apartment in Paris and he's got these three ladies, all of whom think he's going to marry them and they drop in and out of his place and he keeps track of all this dropping in and out by using the timetables of the airlines that the three ladies work for.
Published Aug. 14, 2015
Scott Walker is in danger of dropping off the radar screen unless someone lights a fire under him and gives him an injection of passion. He can learn a lot from the world of the theater, things that might actually make him seem like someone who cares.
Published Aug. 14, 2015
Angela Iannone, one of the finest actors ever to grace a stage in Milwaukee, has been engaged in a love affair for the past six years with a man who died when he was only 59 years old.Not only that, but the man died in June of 1893. Edwin Booth was his name, the finest actor of his time, the brother of the man who killed Abraham Lincoln and the object of desire for Iannone who has crafted a series of play about this lover.