Some nights you get home from a concert and you just shake your head and ask yourself if you really were just that fortunate to experience everything you had that evening. Jo Dee Messina’s February 21st show at Palm Beach State College’s Duncan Theater in Lake Worth, Florida caused that very reaction for me.
To lay a bit of foundation for you, I am a twenty-year fan of Jo Dee’s, dating back to the very beginning of her country music notoriety. If you told me in 1996 that if I fast-forwarded to 2015, I would be at a Jo Dee show, catching up with her like we are old friends, and sitting in the audience to write a review for a website like Country Music #CMchat, I never would have believed it. In fact, I’m still pinching myself as I type this, realizing just how blessed I am to have these kinds of opportunities.
Prior to the show, I had the privilege of speaking with Jo Dee, telling her everything she wanted to know about what’s going on in my life — yes, you read that right. She wanted to talk about me. Well, me and her insanely awesome new shoes (which she is pleased to report are so much cuter in person than when she saw them online). In a previous review I wrote, Jo Dee recalled that I had a few near death occurrences at or leaving her shows, so she immediately asked me, upon noticing my “bullet bracelet,” if I wore that because of my history when it comes to her events. The answer was a prominent “YES.”
The show began with the confident “Take It” from Jo Dee’s newest album Me. From the get go, it was clear that Jo Dee was on stage, before her fans, in an effort to let loose, gift them with an unforgettable evening, and express the freedom she feels in regard to her music since cutting the ties that bound her for years. Also evident was that her message resonated with the audience members who joined in Jo Dee’s celebration, savoring every second of the show from the opening note.
In a superb transition from newer music to what one fan called “the oldies,” Jo Dee performed “Breaking it Down” (Me) and then, without skipping a beat, took us back to her beginning. “Heads Carolina, Tails California” — the track that made flipping a coin the way to determine your destiny — elicited an audience response strewn with excitement and familiarity as soon as the lyrics began; a moment which also jumpstarted a personal relationship between Jo Dee and attendees.
If kicking it back to the music that launched Jo Dee’s beautiful career wasn’t enough to wrap the crowd around her finger, bringing her precious three-year-old son, Jonah, on stage sealed the deal. Jonah, who requested that his mom let him sing, came out and decided, once in front of the audience, that he changed his mind. What is a toddler to do in that situation but plop right down on the stage and take a seat? His mommy, who happens to be a Grammy-nominee, then pulled up a section of floor right next to him and, before we knew it, Jo Dee and the crowd were joining forces to sing “B-I-N-G-O” to Jonah.
Once Jonah headed backstage, the show took on a life of its own, mixing spectacular music with hilarious conversation. Showing her bold colors to the fans, Jo Dee made sure that no topic was off limits, including her PMS, PTA, and her tendency to be such a … “witch!” as she sang her single “A Woman’s Rant.” The track was written as a journal entry about her three-year period of sleep deprivation and the feeling of being stretched way too thin at times. The comical, quick-tongued song was met by laughter from the crowd and concluded with Jo Dee bursting into giggles herself.
At this point in the show, the theater transformed into a living room, seeming like a group of friends was sitting and watching someone near and dear to them perform. Each song was met with shouts of approval, demonstrating to this iconic country music star that she is every bit as loved today as she was when she sat atop the charts. Number 1 songs “I’m Alright” and “Stand Beside Me,” as well as Top 10 hit “Bring on the Rain,” were fan favorites, commemorated by hoots, hollers, and participation. However, it was “Lesson in Leavin’,” instantly identified by the electric guitar riff, that caused the loudest cheer and was later turned into a sing-along as Jo Dee held the microphone to her adoring audience.
During the initial setlist (which also included a fierce rendition of “I’m Free”), Jo Dee surprised those who are familiar with her catalog with two new songs. The first was a track that Jo Dee penned at a time she was overwhelmed and felt as though there simply wasn’t enough of her to go around. Admitting that she has been songwriting since the age of thirteen as a way to cope with pain, she wrote the song with a friend when she needed a bit of musical therapy to pull through. Taking the piano as the band cleared the stage, Jo Dee kept a cheat sheet of lyrics handy due to the newness of this brilliant ballad that she anticipates will be a part of her next project (the date of which is not yet determined, as she continues to write for it at this time).
The other was inspired by a friend who wasn’t there for Jo Dee when she needed her desperately. Explaining to the audience that she firmly believes a “ballsy” person is one whom reaches out a hand to someone when everybody else is pulling back, Jo Dee introduced “Will You Love Me?,” a song she has been performing as of late. Filled with passion, poise, and power, Jo Dee exploded on the stage, leaving her fans breathless and bewildered. The bridge of “Will You Love Me?” was one of the most memorable moments of any concert I have ever attended, showcasing superior vocal ability, coupled with raw emotion and spirit that goes unmatched.
During these two new songs, Jo Dee’s enormous, crystal clear, and incomparably stellar voice filled the theater, permeating the entire room and causing a deafening silence among onlookers.
As Jo Dee concluded the power ballads and jaws were lifted off the floor, she led into “My Give a Damn’s Busted” by sharing with everybody how important her fans are to her. Indicating that she has nothing more to give than music, she professed her love for those who support her, stating “I have nothing to give you and you show up because you care.” The sentiment received an uproarious response, as Jo Dee placed her purple guitar with a peace sign strap over her head and performed one of her staple snarky songs before exiting stage left.
Returning to the stage for an encore, Jo Dee decided to adhere to a fan request she received during her pre-show meet and greet. Performing a shortened version of the vocally challenging “Burn,” Jo Dee flawlessly hit notes across the spectrum, despite introducing the song as one that “you don’t just bust out during karaoke.” Then, noticing that a few people had left, Jo Dee questioned their disappearance, wondering if she had depressed them to the point that they were driven to drink.
Swiftly changing gears, she went from adorable humor to the sentimental “Even God Must Get the Blues,” a song off I’m Alright which her keyboardist was able to play on cue upon request, even though Jo Dee joked he wasn’t alive when it was released. Taking her vocals to an unprecedented level, Jo Dee, once again, shocked show-goers who thought they had already heard the extent of her prowess.
Ending the show on an inspirational note, Jo Dee shared that she has so much more that she wants to do and that this is just the beginning of her new career. Quoting her “crazy Italian neighbor,” Jo Dee encouraged her fans to “keep your eye on the prize,” chase after their dreams, and, most importantly, don’t stop believing. The opening chords of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” began and Jo Dee took it home with a cover of one of the most legendary songs in music history.
During the show, Jo Dee told the crowd that she will have a book coming out on March 17th, entitled Thanks to My Mom. The book will be a part of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series and she kindly requests that “you enjoy it and get it because I get some royalties out of it.” Of course, we will have the information for you as a separate article on Country Music #CMchat once it becomes available.
As always, Jo Dee Messina delivered a show that far exceeded the expectations of those who purchased tickets to hear some sensational country music on a Saturday night. Not only was the setlist comprehensive and thoughtfully contrived, but the crowd interaction, descriptive storytelling, and personable performer turned the evening into one appropriately housed in an intimate theater.
Having now seen Jo Dee Messina in a variety of settings, including large festivals, racetracks, and small venues, it leaves little doubt that she has found her niche in settings where she can reach out and truly touch each and every fan. One of the kindest, most respectable, and relatable artists whom I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, Jo Dee’s “new career” is off to an exciting start and I can assure you I will be along for every twist and turn of this ride. I hope you all will strap yourselves in as well, rather than mistakingly saying “Bye Bye.”