Following the successful first two nights of a re-imagined Red, White & Boom that saw Brad Paisley, Chris Young, Rodney Atkins and Jake Owen take to the Rupp Arena stage, expectations for night three were through the roof with a mix of youth and experience on tap for the finale with Luke Combs, David Lee Murphy, Toby Keith and others.
Sandwiched in the middle of Sunday’s performers, following opening sets from Craig Campbell and Tyler Farr, was songsmith Murphy, who kicked the evening into high gear with a vast catalog of music that included his own hits mixed with popular songs he penned for other country stars. Illustrating his longevity as a force within the world of country music, Murphy, now 59, opened his set with hits released a decade apart — 1994’s “Party Crowd” followed by 2004’s “Loco” — all while displaying the same youthful energy from his early days as a fresh face in Music City.
Murphy quickly veered into a plethora of hits he wrote for other artists including 2009’s “Good One Comin’ On” from Southern rock gods Blackberry Smoke; 2011’s “Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not” from Thompson Square; 2005’s “Living in Fast Forward” from Kenny Chesney; and Jason Aldean’s 2009 hit “Big Green Tractor” along with 2012’s “The Only Way I Know,” featuring Red, White and Boom alumni Luke Bryan and Eric Church. Speaking of “Living in Fast Forward,” Murphy managed to sneak in a rendition of “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” a new cut featuring the aforementioned Chesney off Murphy’s latest album “No Zip Code,” also produced by Chesney.
Once again going from old to new and back again, Murphy turned back time with set closer “Dust on the Bottle,” which the crowd sang in joyful unison after requesting it from the moment Murphy stormed the Rupp Arena stage.
With the crowd erupting, 28 year old North Carolinian and up-and-coming country star Luke Combs took to the stage, bringing with him songs of love, love lost, drinking cold beer, and in some cases all of those in the same song. The theme early was heartbreak, led by “One Number Away” and “Must’ve Never Met You” before transitioning into more jubilant tales of love and debauchery with “Don’t Tempt Me,” Beer Can,” “Sheriff You Want To” and “I’ve Got a Way With You” before diving into a cut about Kentucky white lightning with “Let the Moonshine.”
The conclusion of Comb’s set saw the concert turn more intimate, with Combs taking time to discuss his struggles and doubts of making it as a musician in between songs as the lights dimmed and his band receded into the shadows. That allowed for the artist to tackle songs with just his voice and six strings. With his band swapping in and out, Combs blazed through “Houston, We Got a Problem;” This One’s For You,” She Got the Best of Me” and “Hurricane,” the later about accompanying an ex-girlfriend to a natural disaster which became Comb’s first single, releasing in 2016. (It is worth noting that when Combs performed that song at last year’s RW&B, it was under the rainy remnants of Hurricane Harvey at Whitaker Bank Ball Park. This year, conditions were perfect all three nights in Rupp.)
Combs’ gritty and heartfelt performance left Red, White & Boom attendees raving for more, which headlining artist, country music legend and unwavering military supporter Toby Keith was happy to fulfill. With arena video screens displaying a highlight reel of Keith’s past concerts and time spent with military servicemen and women, the turntable stage slowly rotated to reveal Keith’s band, with the star himself soon walking out, stage right, in a full white outfit to fervent applause.
Despite his veteran status and more than 20 albums to his name, Keith brought an energy and passion to his Red, White & Boom performance that rivaled any artist that graced the Rupp Arena stage throughout the weekend. With a montage on video boards showing people working in factories and on homesteads, Keith performed 2011’s “Made in America,” the first of many tunes centered on pride in country that later included renditions of “American Soldier” and “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” the later bringing with it cheers that shook the Rupp rafters.
Sprinkled throughout the remainder of Keith’s concluding performance of the weekend were the 2001 hit “Wanna Talk About Me,” 2002’s “Beer for My Horses,” 2003’s “I Love This Bar,” the 2005 hit “As Good As I Once Was” and “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” the lead track from Keith’s 1993 debut, which his current tour is celebrating.
Keith closed out the night and another successful year of Red, White & Boom, the fest’s first at Rupp Arena, toasting the crowd with “Red Solo Cup” and putting a red, white and blue ribbon on a weekend that saw major changes in the popular country music festival while still yielding similar, successful results.