Country fans in the Washington, DC area apparently didn’t get the memo that the so-called “bro-country” movement is waning as 50,000-plus “cowboys” and “cowgirls” gathered on July 25 at Nationals Park to see Jason Aldean’s Burn It Down Tour with Tyler Farr and Florida Georgia Line.
Avoiding typical tailgating debauchery that has plagued big country shows in recent years, the sacred country pre-show rite was totally prohibited in the parking lots. No one seemed to mind as there was an official pre-show party which took place across from the stadium at the open air Half Street Fairgrounds. The unique outdoor space (outlined with painted shipping containers that serve as walls) was a rockin’ with live country music (including CMchat friend Joe Bachman), corn hole as far as the eye could see, and of course plenty of concessions for the mostly 21-and-over crowd.
As per every big concert I’ve ever attended in recent years, many people were slow to file into the stadium for the opening act. Those who arrived late for Tyler Farr’s five-song set truly missed out. The gravelly-voiced singer kicked off his performance with fine versions of “Ain’t Even Drinkin” and his second top 10 hit “Whiskey in My Water.” What happened next, well, I didn’t expect. Farr and his band broke into an almost sludge-metal version of AWOLnation’s “Sail.” He also debuted his reflective new single about the cycle of love and loss, “A Guy Walks Into A Bar.” Naturally, Farr closed his set with his anthemic first single “Redneck Crazy” which garnered a wild response from the growing crowd.
If Florida Georgia Line had more material they could have easily headlined this tour. The crowd was absolutely insane for the charismatic duo. The boys took the stage like a buzz saw and went straight into “It’s Just What We Do.” The party was ON! There was never a dull moment as the duo commanded the stage like only they can – by mostly running around, high-fiving everyone in sight and basically partying like it was the last day of the world. There was also Fireball. You name it, they played it. The singles off their debut album became massive sing-a-longs. The audience went absolutely bonkers for “Round Here,” but “Get Your Shine On,” “Stay,” and “This Is How We Roll” got a rabid response. The band then took a brief break from the party atmosphere to play their uncharacteristically poignant new single “Dirt,” before closing their show with their megahit “Cruise.” Like them or not, Florida Georgia Line knows how to rev up a crowd. Live, they are completely engaging and wildly entertaining.
This leads us to Jason Aldean. I like him. I wouldn’t have shelled out $65 a ticket, plus fees for two, and however much money I blew on overpriced stadium beers (it’s best not to think of that last one), if I didn’t, but he either really needs to amp up his stage presence or stop touring with ridiculously over-charismatic openers. I saw him a couple years ago with Luke Bryan and the perception was that Jason was blown off the stage, not because of the music (Jason’s is arguably better), but with the enthusiasm with which the music was performed (Luke is a total showman, Jason broods). I can’t help but think that the same thing happened on this tour even with fireworks and other pyrotechnics during Jason’s set. His performance wasn’t boring by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s hard to compete with Florida Georgia Line’s high-octane performance.
That said, Jason possess is a back catalog of songs that fans love to hear. And he delivers. From classics like “Johnny Cash,” “Amarillo Sky” and “Big Green Tractor” to current hits like “My Kinda Party,” “Tattoos On This Town,” “The Only Way I Know” (with Florida Georgia Line covering Luke Bryan and Eric Church’s parts), “Night Train,” and “When She Says Baby,” Jason had the crowd singin’ and swayin’ all night long. My only real criticism was the inclusion of “Don’t You Wanna Stay” with Kelly Clarkson performing her part via video screen. I said it was cheesy and unauthentic when I saw him a couple years ago, and I still feel that way today. And just so it doesn’t look like I’m picking on him (I’m sure he could take it though), I found it equally cheesy when Pink, Katy Perry and Brad Paisley did it on their most recent tours. I come to see live music, not videotaped performances.
The hits continued and Aldean saved some of his best for last including “Dirt Road Anthem, “Crazy Town” and an explosive “She’s Country” encore — a triumphant end a burnin’ night of country music in the Nation’s Capital.