By Lora Kaelber Special to Published Jun 30, 2018 at 4:01 AM

The last time I saw Billy Currington, it was an equally steamy, borderline-disgusting summer night at Country Thunder last year. I expected a low-key, mellow night and was blown out of the water by the powerhouse that is Billy Currington. So it’s safe to say the bar for Friday night’s show on the U.S. Cellular Connection Stage was set super high.

Unequivocally, Currington hurdled the bar with plenty of clearance.

First up was the incredible up-and-coming talent, Jake Rose. A Minnesota native, Rose took the stage with the sun just dipping below the Milwaukee skyline. It was still crazy hot. Whenever the wind quit, it was an instant sheen of slimy sweat in odd, unwelcome places. It's safe to say that I really kind of wanted to be at home piled under a blanket of ice packs. So Rose needed to be excellent. And he would have been, except for …

You know, I just want to stop here and give a little PSA on the idea of less is more. It's happened so many times over the last year that an artist (doesn’t matter if he or she is new or seasoned) who could have laid down an excellent set falls short because he or she overdid the bass. It's a simple sound issue that doesn't need to happen. Bass is pervasive. Bass overtakes. Bass drowns literally everything else out.

So here it is, friends, country artists and musicians in general: Turn down the bass if you want the audience to hear you and your spectacular voice, that voice that got you this far. If you know you've got a live crowd, but they're not really responding to you, maybe pause. Maybe have a ringer, but not a yes man, in the audience. Do something.

That said, even though good portions of Jake Rose's vocals were drowned out by the bass, I still think he was great. I’ve been listening to him for a couple weeks now and he’s got a really good sound. So, benefit of the doubt goes to Rose here.

Rose’s 17-song set mixed up popular country party anthems with original songs like "Favor," a song he wrote about a girlfriend who cheated on him. So raw and so good.

His music is original and real. I love it when a songwriter writes about his life, things he likes and things he knows, rather than reaching for some aspirational version of reality or what he thinks listeners want to hear – or worse, some b.s. version of bro-country.

Rose’s song "Like This Like That" is an upbeat rock country song about good times.

Rose's style for sure swings to the rock side of the genre. He makes me smile. He makes me move. He makes me want to pick up my sticks and hit the skins again. It's good stuff.

Rose and his band pretty much brought down the house during "Summertime," a Kenny Chesney cover. And honestly, I really wish I'd caught "Econoline" on video. Such a good song. Find it and give it a listen.

Jake Rose paid tribute to Tom Petty with "I Won't Back Down" and then finished up his set with mostly original songs. My fangirl favorite from his entire set had to be "Sleeves." He asked if anyone in the crowd had tattoos which received loud cheers. Rose went on to say that tattoos sometimes got a bad wrap, ironically at church (so true) but that his tattoos, like most of us, represent his life story. Give it a listen and tell me you don't love it.

The crowd was to capacity – that is to say over-flowing and more than a little crazy by the time Currington hit the stage. And it must be said that it was still dripping heat. Even the wind was hot.

I totally get that Currington must be used to insanely hot summer nights having grown up on Tybee Island in Georgia. But man, the dude took to the stage in jeans, a long-sleeved tee and a camo baseball cap. I wanted to pass out from heat exhaustion just looking at him.

That said, he didn’t even come close to letting it muck up his set in any way. He was dripping by the end of the first song, but he danced and jammed and belted his way through his 15-song set. He had the crowd with him the entire time – they knew every word to every song. And I gotta say, it surprised me. Not because the mostly millennial crowd shouldn’t know Currington’s songs, because they should. But because he played some of his oldies and they knew all those songs, too. Which to me was just so cool.

Currington ripped off his first three songs in rapid fire succession. Beach balls took to the air almost immediately (yours truly got taken out three times; it even took the camera out for a split second during "Don’t It"). There was definitely a beach-country, party feel to the balmy night. 

He slowed it down a bit for "Let Me Down Easy," which featured some sick guitar licks by Will Hansen. And he also kept it slow for "I Got a Feelin’" before picking it back up for "It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To."

I was seriously floored by Currington’s stamina. I mean, they flew through 12 songs in 50 minutes and Currington danced and moved and revved up the crowd straight through. It’s not to say that he wasn’t soaked like he’d been in a rainstorm, because he was. But he just kept dancing like it wasn’t 90 degrees or better. And the crowd absolutely loved it.

He played hit after hit, because he has a ton. The highlight for me was "People Are Crazy" – the pedal steel was screaming sweetly during this song. Currington’s pedal steel player (his whole band really) is crazy talented. And it seemed like each song highlighted one member of the band. Just brilliant. 

Currington closed his set with "We Are Tonight," one of the great country party anthems. I can’t adequately describe how explosive this song was between Currington and the crowd.

After a pretty significant pause, the crowd really had to work for it, Currington and his band re-took the stage for a three-song encore which included all three verses of "Friends in Low Places," "Good Directions" and Walk the Moon’s "Shut Up and Dance."

Currington, like Rose, is a singer-songwriter. And he, too, writes about what he knows. It’s real. It’s fun. It always leaves you wanting more. He’s an artist who never gets old. And as long as he keeps coming to Wisconsin, I’ll keep heading out to his concerts – even in the nasty heat.

Just such a good night. Killer actually.


Billy Currington

"Don't It"
"That’s How Country Boys Roll"
"Love Done Gone"
"Pretty Good at Drinkin’ Beer"
"Let Me Down Easy"
"I Got a Feelin’"
"It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To"
"Do I Make You Wanna"
"People Are Crazy"
"Must Be Doin’ Something Right"
"Hey Girl"
"We Are Tonight"

"Friends in Low Places" - Garth Brooks cover
"Shut Up and Dance" - Walk the Moon cover
"Good Directions"

Jake Rose

"Like This Like That"
"Cold Beer and Pretty Girls"
"Same Time"
"Summertime" - Kenny Chesney cover
"Somewhere on a Beach" - Dierks Bentley cover
"Kiss Me"
"More Than a Little"
"That's a Country Song"
"I Won't Back Down" - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers cover
"I Will"
"Dream Girl"
"Play It Again" - Luke Bryan cover

Lora Kaelber Special to
Moving to Milwaukee in 1998, Lora quickly adapted to and embraced big city living. A graduate of Carthage College and Marquette University Law School, Lora clerked for the Hon. Diane Sykes at the Wisconsin Supreme Court, worked as a litigator in private practice, and most recently was employed as a development officer for the MACC Fund.

In all of her experiences, time was focused on writing which has been a passion since junior high school. A series of food service industry jobs both before and after law school taught her that bringing out the human side in any story is key to great storytelling and good writing.

A die-hard east side girl, you'll usually find Lora down by the lake or on the Oakleaf. She's an avid photographer, and sometimes storm chaser.

Hobbies include biking, gardening, cross country skiing, swimming, blogging, and of course working on her fictionalized autobiography--fictionalized, because whose life is really interesting enough to fill 400 pages?

She's in IMDb. Look her up.