Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Concert review: Jake Owen, Honey County, Dan Krikorian in Costa Mesa, Calif.

photo: Miguel Vasconcellos/OC Fair
Jake Owen is a master at creating a party atmosphere in concert.

Country music’s Prince of Surf ‘n’ Sand Vibes learned from the best: his first big tour was spent as an opener for Kenny Chesney in 2006. Owen proved to be the perfect choice to close out the 2017 Summer Concert Series Sunday at the OC Fair (this season’s slate also offered up top-notch country talent like The Band Perry, Kenny Rogers and Justin Moore).

Before the show began, a bunch of excited female fans were overheard raving about Owen’s headlining spot last spring at Coastal Country Jam in Huntington Beach. Several males in attendance here wore American flag attire - some with profane slogans. A pink flamingo curtain covered all the onstage gear and the crew laid carpeting for the headliner, who performs barefoot.

The 80-minute, 17-song set in Costa Mesa kicked off with – appropriately enough – “Beachin’”, the first of half a dozen country chart toppers. Owen, casually clad in pink shorts and t-shirt, happily traversed the two-tiered, faux palm tree-lined stage as the three-man horn section added a bright sheen.

A breezy “Good Company,” the latest single off 2016’s “American Love” that was partially recorded in Pomona, describes living it up on the weekends with friends. It got a rousing response. Owen looked out into the packed Pacific Amphitheatre crowd and marveled at a crutch being hoisted in time to the tunes, then said, “I appreciated playing fairs. It’s not every day you get to see a big (stuffed) Papa Smurf.”

“If He Ain’t Gonna Love You,” a R&B-fueled Chris Stapleton co-write, sizzled, especially with some tasty slide guitar, a swelling organ buildup and excellent brass accompaniment.

Having too much fun can be detrimental though. A truncated cover of Johnny Cash hit “Ring of Fire” started with Owen sounding like he was imitating the Man in Black and one musician played a keytar as if it was new wave. Later, the singer delivered sensual ballad “Alone with You” a bit too nonchalantly. The same attitude gave short shrift to “Don’t Think I Can’t Love You” which would’ve benefitted from more dramatic heft (the swelling organ and sax work were great though).
Owen’s take on Brooks & Dunn’s “Neon Moon” was just average (unfortunately OC didn’t get Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman,” done live last week and to fine effect for Owen’s Facebook followers). Turning serious, the singer explained the low-key ballad “LAX,” one of his favorites from “American Love” and co-written by a friend who passed away (Andrew Dorff) has lyrics “no one seems to get unless you’re from here.”

Late set highlights “Anywhere with You” and “The One That Got Away” and first encore “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” - with an odd nod to "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" TV theme - all rocked with abandon to massive singalongs. Owen capped the evening with more recent No. 1 hit, “American Country Love Song.” 

Honey County opened the proceedings with a pleasant, if unremarkable half hour performance. The ladies’ glossy pop take on country music boasted plenty of group harmonies, especially during “High on the Radio.” Guitarist Katie Stump, an OC native, took over lead vocals on a feisty cover of Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off.”

Earlier on Sunday, I caught Dan Krikorian’s last performance of the afternoon inside the fair’s Baja Blues Restaurant. Playing with a full band, the Costa Mesa singer/songwriter’s 45-minute pop/rock set definitely made a strong impression. Highlights included the appealingly upbeat “New York City Day” and well-crafted “Maggie” (both from “Windsor Blue,” one of my favorite local releases of ’11), an exquisite “Words,” the Ben Harper-ish "Something Good" - where his family and friends danced around - and the beautifully soulful “Need You Bad.” 

A version of my review originally appeared at

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