With the dreary weather plaguing Friday’s opening performances of Red, White & Boom long gone, it’s closing night couldn’t have been more of a contrast, with sunny skies and dry weather drawing fans to Whitaker Bank Ballpark in droves dressed head to toe in cowboy boots and American flag garb to see Blake Shelton, Dustin Lynch, William Michael Morgan and Carly Pearce cap off a weekend of star-studded country music.
Kicking off the evening was Kentucky native and rising star Carly Pearce, who told the Herald-Leader last week that she used to come to Red, White & Boom every year.. From Taylor Mill, Pearce took the stage donning a custom Lexington Legends jersey, paying thanks to the ball club that hosts the super-sized country music festival year after year. A self-proclaimed Dolly Parton fanatic, Pearce dropped out of high school at age 16 to enter a contest at Dollywood, laying the foundation for her music career that will see the release of her debut record “Every Little Thing” on October 13.
Aside from Parton, Pearce said she’s heavily inspired by late 1990’s and early 2000’s country, notably Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Trisha Yearwood. Pearce performed several songs off her upcoming record including “Everyone Wanna Talk” which she introduced as a “Bad girl song;” “Hide the Wine” illustrating her affinity for red wine and “Every Little Thing,” the single off her aforementioned record that has received significant radio air time, reaching the top 10 on country music radio charts, citing that Lexington’s 98.1 The Bull, also a presenting sponsor of Red, White and Boom was one of the first stations to begin playing the hit tune. Pearce closed her abbreviated set with an energetic cover of Parton’s hit “9 to 5” to the approval of fans filling the outfield of Whitaker Bank Ballpark.
Mississippi’s country cowboy William Michael Morgan followed with covers of Mark Chesnutt’s “It’s a Little too Late,” Train’s “Drops of Jupiter” and “Check Yes or No” from George Strait, whom Morgan referred to as one of the two biggest inspirational figures in his life, alongside Jesus Christ.
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Morgan quickly took his music to the fans, literally, prancing down the stage’s catwalk and along the guardrails lined with attendees, snapping selfies, signing autographs and high-fiving fans. Morgan played plenty of his own material as well including “I Met A Girl,” “Beer Drinker” and “Vinyl,” the title track from his hit 2016 debut album.
As day became night, the stars emerged beginning with Nashville’s Dustin Lynch, who began his set perched atop an elevated platform behind another elevated podium, home to an illuminated drum kit, before jumping down and into “Mind Reader,” a cut from his 2014 record “Where It’s At.” Kicking off the release week for his upcoming album “Current Mood,” out September 8, Lynch performed several cuts from the record including “Why Not Tonight,” “I’d Be Jealous Too” and “Love Me or Leave Me Alone.”
Lynch later teased the intro to AC/DC's “Back in Black” along with the opening verse of Def Leppard's “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and Travis Tritt’s “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive” before making his way through the crowd and to a balcony atop the sound engineer’s booth for a rendition of Garth Brooks’ “I’ve Got Friends in Low Places,” referring to the song as the one that’s earned his band the most tip jar money when they met and began busking around downtown Nashville, years ago.
Capping off the night was superstar and master showman Blake Shelton. The crowd reached a fever pitch as Shelton entered stage right under bright stage lights and a near full moon, kicking off his set with the 2014 hit “Neon Light” and 2010’s “All About Tonight.” Throughout the evening Shelton performed hits spanning his career, illustrating the artist’s progression along with his longevity in the country music scene with hits such as 2004’s “Some Beach” and 2001’s “Ol’ Red,” a tune about a dog named Ol’ Red, referred to as “a four legged tracking machine” with “a nose that can smell a two day trail.”
Shelton’s performance felt more like a rock’n’roll concert rather than a country one at times, much to the approval of a record crowd, which according to iHeartRadio’s Michael Jordan set a Whitaker Bank Ballpark attendance record with roughly 17,500 fans packed in. Jordan added that daily attendance grew each day of the weekend as the remnants of Hurricane Harvey finished passing through the area.
Matt Wickstrom: @wickstromwrites