By Lora Kaelber, Special to OnMilwaukee   Published May 19, 2018 at 3:02 PM

It's no secret that I'm a gigantical fan of old-school traditional and 90’s country music. Some of the new stuff out there kind of makes me want to scream, "Get off my lawn!"

So, it's safe to say that I was totally looking forward to seeing Joe Nichols on Friday night at The Rave. He didn't disappoint.

Opening for Joe Nichols was Spencer Crandall, a 22-year-old Denver native. Crandall hasn't seen a lot of radio play. But it's funny in this new country music world, airplay isn’t the be-all end-all that it used to be. Just because an artist isn't seeing airtime doesn't mean he isn't on his way to making it in the business.

Country musicians are finding creative ways to get their music to fans. Crandall is big – really big – on the socials. He's sweet and endearing and funny. Importantly, he posts his music often. And fans love him.

When he started playing on Friday night, the hall was about one-third full. It took maybe two songs until it was full to the soundboard. They loved him. Sang with him. Cheered for him. Just a really, really, solidly awesome set from Spencer Crandall.

He hit the stage doing full-blown acoustic – just his guitar, his voice and his foot. Pretty quickly, though, he had a crowd of backup singers.

His set was a great mix of original songs and covers. He even threw a song so shiny and new, it hasn't dropped yet. And it turned out to be my favorite. "Show You" hits the floor next Friday, a lyrically beautiful and powerful love song about showing the woman he loves how just much he loves her through his actions.

Crandall's set lasted only 40 minutes. Too short, but very cool. 

There was a 50-minute gap between Crandall leaving the stage and Joe Nichols taking it. That gave the packed house of flannel and beer time to get … more beer. It’s completely safe to say that the crowd was ready for Nichols at least 20 minutes before his set started. 

Joe Nichols blasted on stage with a completely bluesy, country-fried version of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s "Baby Got Back." Wow. Unexpected to say the least. Also, hilarious. 

After that, Nichols settled into what he does best, and that’s be Joe Nichols. He knows who he is and he’s not afraid to be that. Who is he? A true country artist, through and through. 

He mentioned late in his set when introducing his newest single, "Billy Graham’s Bible," that people told him to be careful that it might be "too country." That’s sad to hear for those of us who love the genre. Thankfully, Nichols is true to himself. And by the way, "Billy Graham’s Bible" is a poignant and painful song that you should download when it drops on May 29.

After the crazy, big-butt start, he rolled into "Hard To Be Cool" and put together a set filled with fun and power, sweet and sexy – a mix of old songs, new songs, songs that paid tribute to mentors and heroes like Alan Jackson and Merle Haggard. Nichols reminds me of Johnny Cash – the way he speaks, his drawl and, honestly, the way he looks, too. He’s truly the entire country package. 

Near the top of the set, he played my favorite Nichols song, "The Impossible." It’s his first No. 1 hit and he pretty much brought the house down.

The crowd was with him the entire way. How could they not be? Even when he was playing new songs, they were still great songs; they either had a beat or were just lyrically great. Standout from the new album? Definitely "Hostage," which Nichols said slants to the "Fifty Shades of Grey" side of, um, relationships. He said his wife loves the song. And, while I might be blushing over here, I can definitely see why. While the "hostage" part of the song refers to his heart being held captive, the song references, you know, "Fifty Shades of Grey"-type things. It’s hot. 

Nichols and his band have also launched something called the "Never Gets Old: Traditional Country Series," in which they record and pay tribute to country legends. He played a gorgeous rendition of Merle Haggard’s "Sing Me Back Home" and followed with a killer version of Haggard’s "Ramblin’ Fever."

It felt like he flew through his set even though he stopped to chat, talk about projects he has going on, the new album and explanations for some songs. He closed with "Gimme That Girl" leaving a couple songs on the table, so the audience didn’t hesitate to bring him back for an encore.

His encore was amazing. "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off" was first up. And lemme tell ya, there was some dir-TAY dancing going on next to me. It was, um, awkward – for me, probably not for them. Actually there was dirty dancing going on all around the house. You know you’re doing a great job when that happens, right? 

After that, he brought one of his fans up on stage, sang "Happy Birthday" to her and had her blow out candles on a cake. It was a sweet moment in an already very sweet night. 

Then he dropped "Sunny and 75" and the audience went half mad. So cool. 

And finally, Nichols closed with a brilliant version of Alan Jackson’s "The Blues Man."

Though it’s been awhile since Joe Nichols has had a No. 1 hit, he isn't by any stretch of the imagination on his way down. The four-time Grammy-nominated, multi-platinum recording artist has found a solid home at Red Bow Records. With six No. 1 and eight top-10 hits in his catalog, he's only getting better. 

Not bad for a guy who moved to Nashville and sold steaks door-to-door, while working his tail off to make his career what it is today. Impressive.

Joe Nichols Setlist

"Baby Got Back" - Sir Mix-a-Lot cover 

"Hard to Be Cool"

"The Shape I’m In"

"The Impossible"


"Size Matters Someday"

"Don’t Rock the Jukebox" - Alan Jackson cover

"Sing Me Back Home" - Merle Haggard cover

"Ramblin’ Fever" - Merle Haggard cover

"Billy Graham’s Bible"


"What’s a Guy Gotta Do"

"She Only Smokes When She Drinks"

"When You Say Nothing at All" - Alison Krauss cover 



"Gimme That Girl"


"Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off"

"Happy Birthday"

"Sunny and 75"

"Blue’s Man" - Alan Jackson cover 

Spencer Crandall Setlist

"Nothing to Lose"

"Drunk on Your Love" - Brett Eldridge cover 

"Show You"

"Let Me Love You" - Mario cover

"Get on with Mine"


"You Know You Hurt Me"

"Get Me Some of That" - Thomas Rhett cover

"I Thought We Broke Up"

"Body Like a Back Road" - Sam Hunt cover

"‘Til Our Feet Hurt"