The chink in country music’s seemingly indestructible armor was exposed last night at Rupp Arena. Traditionally, a can’t miss hit when it comes to packing in huge crowds, the genre revealed perhaps its only commercial weakness in a triple bill performance headlined by Justin Moore: the fact it was booked on a weeknight. The result was a turnout estimated at barely 3,000. That’s proverbial chicken feed compared to what touring country shows usually rake in locally.
It was also a shame. Moore, one of the few young traditionalists on the arena circuit, turned in a refreshingly direct performance that was no-frills in all ways except for the Pink Floyd-ian lighting effects. His unassuming vocals proved flexible enough to fuel the electric drive of “Backwoods” before later easing into the very natural honky tonk charm of “Kinda Don’t Care” (the title tune to Moore’s most recent album). Even when his program veered into modernistic fare — “Somebody Else Will,” for instance — Moore looked and sounded remarkably at ease.
At the risk of seeming jingoistic, part of Moore’s resourcefulness came from his band, which was bolstered by a pair of home state natives — lead guitarist Roger Coleman (of Pike County) and keyboardist Kory Caudill (of Prestonsburg). Props to Moore for showcasing both in a playful instrumental skirmish that capped off “Kinda Don’t Care.”
Dylan Scott preceded Moore with a comparatively standardized set assisted by a somewhat unusual backing band design: a power trio limited to just guitar, bass and drums. That trio included another Kentuckian, drummer Darrick Cline of Bowling Green, who was in full Big Blue Nation mode sporting a Kentucky basketball jersey and a picture of UK football quarterback Stephen Johnson on his drum kit.
Georgia-born Scott’s material didn’t score bonus points for originality, from the set-opening “My Town” (not the Montgomery Gentry hit) to the closing “My Girl” (not the Temptations classic). Most of the fare was pop to an almost 1980s-ish degree, which Scott injected with considerable physicality, efficient though hardly remarkable vocals, and a torrent of between-song banter that touched upon what we must assume to be subjects indicative of modern country-pop: WalMart and Eminem.
Frankly, the most engaging surprise of the evening was show-opener Ashley McBryde, whose thematically far-reaching six-song set examined small town life with weathered picture post card imagery (“Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega”) that sometimes morphed into unapologetically dark portraits (as in “Leroy,” which outlined the kind of country cooking that comes not from a kitchen stove, but a meth lab).
Admittedly, this bill didn’t possess the kind of marquee power that many past Rupp shows have, which likely added to the sparse turnout. Regardless, it was a revealing glimpse of three very different artists in a genre too often ruled by stylistic sameness.