Concert Review: Alabama Country Music Group in Charlotte NC

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Teddy Gentry, left, and Randy Owen perform “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)” at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte on Friday night.

It really seemed like the universe didn’t know if it wanted Alabama to come to Charlotte.

Let’s Recap: In December 2018, the country music supergroup led by cousins ​​Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry and Jeff Cook announced a 2019 tour to celebrate their 50th anniversary. Charlotte was not among the original towns on the tour.

Then, in May 2019, Alabama announced that it would include Charlotte in the second leg of the tour, setting the date for October 11 with the opening of the Charlie Daniels Band. But in August, the band postponed because Owen, the lead singer, suffered from cluster migraines and dizziness. Eventually, they were rescheduled for July 11, 2020.

Then COVID hit and, well, that was it for 2020 for just about everyone.

By the time he was sure (pretty sure, that’s … or at least sure-ish) for people to return to amphitheatres and arenas in droves in July, however, guitarist / violinist Cook was for all intents and purposes retired due to health issues related to Parkinson’s disease.

And in August, the Delta variant of COVID was once again questioning whether doing things like this was still such a wise idea.

So it was something of a small miracle when Owen, Gentry and an eight-piece band appeared on stage as the lights rose at the Spectrum Center to open Charlotte’s edition of the “50th Anniversary Tour”. Alabama Friday night – about two years after the real birthday.

Was it worth the wait? For the most part, yes.

Not only did the cousins ​​keep their promise that the night would be a celebration of their legacy, but they did so in a way that makes it seem like they’re not just checking off a row item on a list of. tour dates.

During a leisurely 2 hour 6 minute set, Alabama performed many of their No.1 biggest hits while saving room for a few poignant deep cuts; shared stories behind the origins of several songs (more than one of which garnered perhaps stronger cheers in this part of the country than elsewhere, due to their connection to Myrtle Beach, SC, where Owen, Gentry and Cook cut their teeth in the ’70); and gave a few lucky fans memories they will never forget.

It’s hard to pick a highlight of a song, as it will frankly depend on what the songs mean the most to an individual fan, but I’ll try a few:

  1. The very energetic “Can’t Keep a Good Man Down”, with a special shout for the moment in the first verse where Owen sang the line “You didn’t even say goodbye when you slammed that door” while settling in a little squatting and miming by slamming a door.
  2. The nearly 11-minute opus that started with “Dixieland Delight” deep-fried in the depths of the South, followed by country Christian hymn “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”, then plunged back into “Dixieland Delight” , reaching a climax that featured frantic violins. by band member Megan Mullins (who sported a baby bump – which she is expecting in October) and a rousing electric piano solo from fast-fingered blind keyboardist Gordon Mote.
  3. A sweet rendition of the ballad “Angels Among Us”, which Owen prefaced with a heartfelt story of how he became a well-known supporter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and inspired viewers to turn on the lights of their home. cell phone to light up the arena. At the end of the song, Owen pulled out his own phone to take a video of the crowd as he sang. When he was done, he stuffed the device into the right back pocket of his jeans, nodded in approval, and kissed the air.

In the meantime, it’s a lot easier to pick a fan interaction highlight.

It wasn’t when Owen took a cowboy hat from a front row fan, wore it singing “The Closer You Get” (as the excited fan kept his face buried in his phone the entire song, probably posting a photo or video to social media or possibly texting a friend), then returned it. And it’s not when he serenaded a fan who identified himself as Natalie with a country version of “Happy Birthday.”

Rather, it was when Owen pulled out a sheet of paper to read an email from a female fan explaining that her boyfriend proposed to her when she was released from the hospital after surviving a COVID attack that left him had put in intensive care.

“At one point, the doctors told me I might be planning a funeral,” Owen said as he read. “Now I’m planning a wedding … and (he) refuse to let me cancel my flight from Washington state to Charlotte, NC, to see Alabama play Friday night. We’ll be there in the second row, oxygen tank and everything. We’re both just happy – “and for a second, Owen paused, his voice sounding like it was starting to break” – to be here. … Thank you for providing the soundtrack of our lives. ‘”

He then pointed his finger at the couple and invited the young woman and her new fiance – dressed in a black “Alabama 50th Anniversary Tour” concert t-shirt – onto the stage, where he recreated his proposal while taking Owen’s microphone.

When it was over, the young woman was in tears. I suspect more than a few members of the audience were too.

So yeah, for the most part it all added up to a show worth the wait. At the same time, however, it’s still hard to watch the people you love getting older, and Alabama is no exception.

Musically, the band sounded tight and brilliant on Friday night. But while they still sound great, Owen, 71, and Gentry, 69, have lost some of the sparkle in their vocals, and the harmonies aren’t as rich as they were back then. (although, side note, they sounded much better than Martina McBride, who appeared to be locked in a battle with pitch and key issues throughout her first set).

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During her eight-song opening set, Martina McBride told the crowd, “I can’t believe I, Martina McBride, could open for Alabama. A full time for me to come here. and to be on the road with them. It’s great. “Josué Komer

And despite the skillful violin offered by Mullins, Cook’s absence was felt, the emptiness emphasized when Gentry sang “Jeff’s Song (I Will Remember You),” an ode to their cousin that was performed while images of Cook played on the big screen behind them. .

Even here, Gentry may have shown his age: he accidentally started singing the second verse first, before controlling himself and restarting the band.

It was Owen, however, who definitely looked the more fragile of the two.

He did his best to prove himself a game artist – doing a bit of on-the-spot boogie at several times of the night, frequently waving his arms in the air to get the crowd moving, even briefly jumping high. downstairs to the beat of “Dixieland Delight” – but there were obvious signs he was slowing down.

When Gordon Mote sang lead on the ballad “How Do You Fall in Love” (a song made famous with Owen first), Owen rested on a chair towards the back of the stage; the frontman returned to that chair whenever Gentry was at bat on vocals, including for “Jeff’s Song”, lullaby “Never Be One” and southern rocker “Turn It Off”.

Owen also notably appeared to need the help of a machinist on several occasions when he needed to put the guitar strap on his head before or after the handful of songs he was strumming a guitar for.

These are, of course, fairly minor issues. But it can be hard to ignore them.

And even harder to ignore, if we’re real, is a much larger question: Was continues with this show – the largest local indoor gathering since before the pandemic and the first non-sporting entertainment event at the Spectrum Center in 523 days – such a great idea?

Michael Bublé didn’t think so. He recently postponed a concert scheduled to take place here next Wednesday until October, citing the increase in coronavirus infections in the country.

Maroon 5, which will perform an outdoor show on September 8 at the PNC Music Pavilion in Charlotte, recently announced that all fans will be required to present a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination in order to enter the show. Alabama didn’t need it either.

Jason Isbell will take the same approach with his fall shows and also require fans to cover up. Alabama did not. Of the roughly 6,000 people inside the Spectrum Center on Friday night, I assumed that about 1 in 100 – maybe 1 in 50 at best – wore face coverings.

The only other reminder that we’re still in the middle of a pandemic came an hour on the Alabama set, after the moment on the show where Owen handed his microphone to the guy making the offer. Owen was asking the woman who was celebrating her birthday what her name was, but he paused before giving his mic this time.

“So I’m trying to be careful with this mic and be COVID-friendly, COVID-aware,” he told the crowd. “I wasn’t there awhile ago, and they reminded me of it.”

Look, I promise you I’m not trying to argue here.

The performers, the venue, and the government apparently all agreed that it was OK to continue the show. If you’re an Alabama fan who waited two years for this show and was there on Friday night, I’m glad – delighted – that you finally got to see it. I hope you enjoyed.

But you were very lucky to see this. Because these are not normal times.

And me really hope that one day will return soon where they will be.

The Alabama setlist

1. “Pass it down”

2. “I can’t keep a good man”

3. “If you are going to play in Texas (you must have a violin in the band)”

4. “The closer you get”

5. “Sad looking moon”

6. “How do you fall in love”

7. “High cotton”

8. “Give me one more shot”

9. “Dixieland Delight” / “Will the circle be unbroken” / “Dixieland Delight”

10. “Never be one”

11. “The angels among us”

12. “Country of birth”

13. “Tennessee River”

14. “Jeff’s song (I’ll remember you)”

15. “Love in the first degree”

16. “I feel so good”

17. “Lady Down on Love”

18. “Turn it off”

19. “Dancing, kissing on the boulevard”

20. “As long as there is love”

21. “Mountain music”

Bis:

22. “My house is in Alabama”

Martina McBride’s setlist

1. “This one is for girls”

2. “Love is the only house”

3. “The wild angels”

4. “My baby loves me”

5. “Girls like me”

6. “Blessed”

7. “A broken wing”

8. “Independence day”

Théoden Janes spent 14 years covering entertainment and pop culture for The Observer. He also thrives on telling long and moving stories about amazing people in Charlotte, and as a veteran of over 20 Ironman marathons and two triathlons he occasionally writes about endurance and other sports.
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