McGraw smiles through smashing Summerfest set
There are plenty of bankable country tours this summer. As I've said before, country fans are just not fans of the country genre and most support the institution of country music more so than the individual act.
Yet there's no denying that Tim McGraw, after more than two decades on the road, 40 million album sales and 32 No. 1 songs is a true superstar and solo act that's truly worth seeing.
He's crossed over into film, and while fitness and extreme workouts have replaced his drinking past he doesn't dumb down (if you will) into non-stop drinking and partying songs that fill the set lists of many of today's tours. (Side note: I'm a fan of those of drinking and partying songs but I also respect the sincerity of an artist who shows who he or she really is).
This, though, is Summerfest, the world's largest music festival and a true drinking destination. So, while this was probably the first time many had seen McGraw in his completely dry days, Milwaukee did what it does best – danced, drank and sang through a two hour set that covered McGraw's fine body of work. And it did so as Milwaukee native Denny Hemingson played guitar on stage right next to McGraw and in his old backyard.
McGraw did something to open the show that I'd never seen at the Marcus Amphitheater: He entered from the top, hung out in the bleachers and walked down the aisles onto the stage.
Then he opened with "Where the Green Grass Grows," rocked through "Down on the Farm," "How Bad Do You Want It?," and "Everywhere" before turning onto the road that is "Two Lanes of Freedom." His 12th studio release that's already spawned three hits.
He even included "Nashville Without You," one of my favorites, and a page out of many of today's country catalogs as it's a nod to the greats from Hank Williams Jr. to Kenny Rogers to George Jones.
Indeed, McGraw tries to hit about every one of his hits this tour. He paused very little between songs, limited the banter – a simple, "My name is Tim," was about as much as the crowd got. The music spoke for itself.
McGraw, 46, is more than comfortable on stage smiling, flexing and working the jumbotron like a pro. And, he's letting others join in his success as many country stars are. Fellow Summerfest headliner, Pitbull, showed up on video as his duet partner for "Felt Good on My Lips." He also took time to thank FM 106.1, WMIL and gave program director Terry Wolfe a nice shout out. It was a cool moment that Wolfe and the station deserved.
McGraw closed his set with "Live Like You Were Dying" – the goose bump moment at all of his shows. It's a sing along song that's reached icon status and probably only Garth Brooks' "Unanswered Prayers" evokes similar emotions from country crowds. It's a great song, and on a near perfect evening Milwaukee drank it in and sang every word at a near fever pitch.
After a short breather, McGraw did a four song encore that opened with "One of those Nights," and closed with the fist pumping "Truck Yeah." Personally, I could do without "Indian Outlaw" as an encore number but most in the crowd went along with it and sang it strongly.
All in all, McGraw did what a country superstar should. He put on a fun show while working the crowd, leveraging the massive video behind him and letting his songs and personalty show why he's one of the greats in the genre.
Brantley Gilbert's set was sh*t kicking country and, frankly way too heavy on the bass. The volume level nearly drowned out his voice as he rocked a 45-minute set that included a few of the huge hits he's written for others including Jason Aldean's "Dirt Road Anthem." For those with short memories, Aldean opened for McGraw a mere four years ago and has headlined twice since. "You Don't Know Her Like I Do," for me, was the highlight of Gilbert's set. It's a great tune and was introduced with a visit from his fiancée, Jana Kramer, who played Summerfest on Tuesday night.
Rising duo Love and Theft celebrated their first No. one song "Angel Eyes" with a short opening set filled with harmony and their latest single "Runnin' Out of Air."
Tim McGraw Set ListSummerfest
Where the Green Grass Grows
All I Want Is a Life
Down on the Farm
How Bad Do You Want It
Let It Go
Just to See You Smile
She's My Kind Of Rain
Nashville Without You
Friend of a Friend
Highway Don't Care
Two Lanes of Freedom
Real Good Man
Between The River and Me
The Cowboy In Me
Felt Good On My Lips
Something Like That
Live Like You Were Dying
One of Those Nights
I Like It, I Love It
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