In Festival Guide Reviews

Jerrod Niemann hit his first Big Gig Friday night. (PHOTO: David Bernacchi)

Jerrod Niemann satisfies the heart and the liver at his first Summerfest gig

I really wasn't sure what to expect from Jerrod Niemann's show Friday night on the U.S. Cellular Connections Stage. To be perfectly blunt, when I first picked this assignment, I kind of didn't want to like him – not because of Niemann himself, but because he seemed to be just one of any number of "country boy, let's party and find chicks" artists paraded across the country charts in the last five years. To wit, he faded into the blur of sameness of all the other bro-ish artists.

But to be fair, party anthems definitely have their place – especially at Summerfest. Because, really, who wants to be shooting tequila to The Carpenters, right?

When I started digging into Niemann's discography, I was … surprised. I liked him – really liked him. I laughed at pretty much every talk track on "Judge Jerrod and the Hung Jury." Do yourself a favor and listen to "Phone Call at 3 A.M." I laughed so hard I cried because it's just so real.

He's changing, though, as an artist. Niemann recently dropped a new single, "God Made a Woman," and has said that he's grown, that his songs going forward will feature more heart, less liver.

Given this desire to lead his fans away from the drinking songs to songs filled with more heart, I really wasn't sure what to expect. How would Niemann balance this new direction with what his fans have come to expect?

I shouldn't have wondered because, oh man, he blended it all perfectly, like a beer chases a tequila shot perfectly. Killed it. Totally. Both the heart and liver were super satisfied.

Niemann came out, red solo cup in hand, and hit it hard with "Zero to Crazy," afterwards telling the crowd, "Hell yeah! Let's party!" And we did just that for over 90 minutes. Niemann and his band masterfully navigated the U.S. Cellular Connection Stage crowd through his catalog and then some. It was almost like we were just old friends partying at a summer bonfire. We partied. We mellowed. We chilled. And then we partied some more. Stellar.

I didn't expect that, in between every song, Niemann would stop to engage with the crowd. Whether he was telling the story about being at a Jamey Johnson concert at the Pabst where Jamey trotted out 20 beer chuggers to race Jerrod and Jerrod won, or raising a glass to all the weed being torched (because I don't think anyone walked out of there without a contact high), or good naturedly ribbing a girl near the front who was on a phone call (like seriously who does that?), Niemann showed that this wasn't his first rodeo – even though it was his first Big Gig Friday night.

He got the crowd hollering and dancing with his standards like "One More Drinkin' Song," "The Buckin' Song," "Drink to That All Night" and "Donkey" – which he called the dumbest song ever written. Dumb? Totally – but so hilarious I was laughing out loud.

He also threw down some faster paced new songs, "I Got This" and "I'm Here Cuz I Ain't All There," both songs with an amped up thumping kick drum. For sure songs to dance to, and the crowd did.

Niemann, true to his interviews of late, did satisfy the heart. Even though "I Got This" had a total dance vibe, the lyrics were searching for long lasting love. And then he pulled out "God Made A Woman," which he dedicated to FM 106.1 Program Director and his brand new fiancée, Rachel. It was soft, sweet and rich in heart.

Toward the end of his set, Niemann asked the crowd if they were familiar with Charlie Daniels. He then challenged his guitar player, Tim Teague, to play "Devil Went Down to Georgia" ... without a violin, to match the song note for note on the guitar. And this skeptical girl was blown out of the water. Just freaking incredible.

But then again, Niemann himself blew it out of the water pretty much all night – even including a couple songs he's written, one for Garth Brooks (insert huge crowd roar) and one for Jamey Johnson.

After 19 songs, Jerrod sort of left abruptly, leaving the audience yelling, "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" In response, Teague came out and played "The Star Spangled Banner" with the crowd as the lead singer. It was a pretty cool moment, followed by an insane guitar mashup.

Then Niemann came back out and laid down four more songs before leaving his maiden Summerfest voyage behind, but not forgotten.

Niemann is a Kansas native who's been writing songs since he was eight, eventually writing songs for the likes of Garth Brooks. Jerrod got his professional start playing bars and clubs in Texas before eventually moving to Nashville. With all that experience, hits under his belt and multiple award nominations – plus throwing in his growth and movement towards more traditional country themes – it won't be long before Niemann explodes as an "it" guy.

Cannot. Wait. To. See. It.

Setlist

"Zero to Crazy"
"One More Drinkin' Song"
"I'm Here Cuz I Ain't All There"
"Lover, Lover"
"I Got This"
"God Made A Woman"
"A Little More Love"
"Shinin' On Me"
"The Buckin' Song"
"Redneck Side of Me"
"Good Ride Cowboy"
"Buzz Back Girl"
"Out of My Heart"
"What Do You Want"
"The Devil Went Down to Georgia" (The Charlie Daniels Band cover, feat. Tim Teague)
"Donkey"
"Drink to that All Night"
"Louisiana Saturday Night" (Mel McDaniel cover)
"Pride and Joy" (Stevie Ray Vaughan cover)

Encore

"Star Spangled Banner" (feat. Tim Teague)
"Santeria" (Sublime cover)
"You Never Even Called Me by My Name" (David Allen Coe cover)
"Family Tradition" (Hank Williams, Jr. cover)
"Mountain Music" (Alabama cover)


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