Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Wagon Wheel concert festival review 2010 Day 2

My reviews originally appeared on the Californian newspaper entertainment blog and can be viewed here:
Photo of Randy Houser by Ryan Ambrust; courtesy of EB Media PR

Concert Review
Wagon Wheel Country Music Festival, Day 2

When Randy Houser opened his Wagon Wheel set with “My Kind of Country,” the singer recalled outlaw performers of yore like Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash. Other acts on Sunday’s bill ran the gamut of country music sounds - from soul (James Otto) and pop (Sara Evans) to honky tonk (Dwight Yoakam).

Fewer people appeared to show up for the festival’s second day, but event promoter Just Cruzin’ Productions estimated a weekend attendance of 12,000 at The Diamond in Lake Elsinore.

Before headliner Yoakam closed out the proceedings, a tribute to slain Riverside police officer Ryan Bonaminio was held with local officials, colleagues, and the victim’s parents onstage to offer their thoughts. Concertgoers were given candles and glow sticks, which were waved in Bonaminio’s honor during a bagpiper’s song. A guitar and memorabilia auction was also held. A portion of proceeds from that, as well as ticket sales since last Wednesday, will go to the family.

Troy Olsen penned songs for Tim McGraw and Blake Shelton and has finally struck out on his own with a new  digital EP. In concert, tracks such as “Good Hands,” “Tumbleweed” and “Summer Thing” (the latter receiving prominent airplay on country radio) had an easygoing Kenny Chesney-type vibe. Olsen and his band did a jaunty medley of Dire Straits’ “Walk of Life” and Eddie Rabbitt’s “Drivin’ My Life Away” that went over well with early Wagon Wheel arrivals. The same held true on their pedal steel-enhanced take on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” Definitely one to watch.

James Otto notified the crowd that “we’ve come to get down and get a groove on.” He wasn’t exaggerating; the afternoon performance was easily Sunday’s best. The funky “Lover Man” featured Otto's tasteful electric guitar solo, while an extended version of Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” spotlighted the singer’s sultry pipes, alongside a dobro player. “Sun Comes ‘Round Again” had a classic Stax soul vibe. Otto had no trouble getting audience participation going on the playful “It’s a Good Time (For a Good Time)” and “Shake What God Gave Ya.”

Writhing, buxom cowgirls in front of the stage took the latter title to heart and the group incorporated a snatch of Nelly’s “Hot in Herre.” A fine Ronnie Milsap cover (“There’s No Getting Over Me”) and Otto’s big hit (“Just Got Started Loving You”) stirred things up even more.

Houser’s rambunctious performance was rowdy and fun. The singer/guitarist laughed a lot between song descriptions and made sure people were in the moment right along with him. “They Call Me Cadillac” was a prime example of Houser’s humor. The barrelhouse piano-led “Out Here in the Country” made light of the Hollywood lifestyle. His cover choices (Allman Brothers Band’s “Midnight Rider,” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man”) allowed the musicians to jam a bit and “Boots On” ended the party-hearty hour on a high note.

Wagon Wheel’s lone dose of estrogen in the lineup came from Sara Evans. She was very genial and professional, yet her predominantly jubilant set came across as bland as contemporaries Martina McBride and Faith Hill. With the exception of dramatic current single "A Little Bit Stronger," she stuck to the hits (“Born to Fly,” “A Real Fine Place to Start,” “Suds in the Bucket”), an odd attempt to rock a cover (Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me”) and was well-received by the crowd.

Yoakam dealt with unwanted feedback, a muddy sound mix and a cold, but still soldiered on. Steamrolling through one song after another and barely pausing in between - much like Willie Nelson does in concert – tended to make the songs blur into one another. Clad in trademark light blue jean jacket and pants plus white hat, Yoakam and his flashily attired band opened with the Northern California country sounds of idol Buck Owens (“Under Your Spell Again,” Act Naturally,” “Streets of Bakersfield”). 

The front man engaged in some loose limbed moves and nailed the emotional “If There Was a Way.” Three selections from the 1986 debut album, “Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.” were played, including the title track and the slow revamp of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” Once 10 p.m. arrived, The Diamond had noticeably thinned out. A passionate “To Love Somebody” (the Bee Gees number), appended with a verse of Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds,” reverb drenched, slide guitar wonder “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere,” “Little Sister” and “It Only Hurts When I Cry” were among the main set standouts.

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