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Best of 2017: Lionel Richie, Sam Hunt, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill top Tampa Bay’s best concerts (Part 4)

By Brittany Volk | Times Staff
Published: December 28, 2017 Updated: December 28, 2017 at 02:46 PM
Lionel Richie performed at Tampa's Amalie Arena on Aug. 11, 2017. Photo: Jay Cridlin

(All week on Soundcheck, we're looking back at the best Tampa Bay concerts of 2017. Today: Times designer Brittany Volk.)

"Oh my god."


"We won."



There we were, minding our own business, somewhat enjoying Justin Moore's set at the Off the Rails country music festival in Frisco, Texas, when someone tapped on my sister's shoulder as we stared in shock at her phone.

"You're the winners!" exclaimed the woman. We just won a Twitter contest. We were going to meet Miranda Lambert.

Off The Rails is a second-year festival in the town where my dad lives. My sister, her girlfriend and I went to Toyota Stadium and sat in the hot sun to listen to some of mainstream country's best acts.

Lambert, Jason Aldean and Dierks Bentley were the headliners, but for me, it's the up-and-comers that I get excited about. I got to see Cam bop around on stage surrounded by sunflowers; and Mennonite bluegrass hotties High Valley made me theirs. When I purchased a tank reading "MAKE YOU MINE" after High Valley's hit song, we met the brothers, who were hanging out near the merchandise. Their twinkling eyes put me in a trance, and I'm sure I word-vomited some corny joke about brothers and sisters.

But back to Ms. Lambert.

We ran up the stadium stairs and waited in line with other radio winners; and the crazies who paid to meet the country music queen for only a few seconds. We were given passes and a pat-down. I walked up with only one boot, the other in my hand, ready for her sign. Classy.

The rest of the trip, I'd look over to my sister and say, "Hey, remember when we met Miranda?" And we'd laugh. Twitter can be good for something after all.

• • •

Back in Tampa Bay, I attended other country concerts at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre. Sam Hunt got me pregnant (not really, Mom) when he sang a little R. Kelly and Usher. Tourmate Maren Morris performed most of her award-winning album Hero, and absolutely floored me during Once.

REVIEW: Sam Hunt spins conventional country on its head at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre

I saw Lady Antebellum for the third time with new concert buddies who passionately belted out Need You Now with me. Dierks Bentley came to Tampa a month after his Texas show, and naturally I was there. When I left to get a beer during Different For Girls — because I absolutely hate that song — I ended up getting trapped with other angry fans who also weren't allowed back to their seats for three songs. They didn't want people milling about the aisles as they filmed for a music video. Gee thanks, Dierks.

Perhaps the show I was most looking forward to all year was Faith Hill and Tim McGraw at Amalie. My friend and I purchased our tickets almost a year before the October show. Not surprisingly, it was worth the anticipation. Their romance mesmerized a jealous crowd who sang every word to his and her songs, all while swooning over McGraw-Hill family pictures. My friend and I giggled about the material of his very tight pants; and clapped approvingly that she didn't wear heels for most of the show. Girl, ain't no one gonna fault your flats during your adorable mom-dancing.
They ended the show rising above the stage, floating between magical triangles of light, on two facing chairs, Tim's soft hands gliding … somewhere. Oh, to be that microphone. I need a moment.

REVIEW: Faith Hill, Tim McGraw shower love, star power on Tampa's Amalie Arena

A couple weeks later, I got a more intimate experience with another married duo. Johnnyswim played to a smaller crowd at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, but the show was filled with just as much sickeningly sweet tenderness. They sang French to each other!

But before Amanda and Abner killed me with their love, I crossed off another bucket-list band. Striking Matches first impressed me by writing some of the best songs on the show Nashville. So naturally I fell down a YouTube rabbit-hole watching Sarah Zimmermann and Justin Davis fiercely play their guitars. Their electrifying chemistry is obviously much better live; and after the show I met the Nashville duo, pleading that they come back for a longer set. I'll be right up front if/when they do.

REVIEW: Striking Matches, Johnnyswim electrify the heartstrings at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg

A last-minute decision sent me to one more local music festival this year: 97X Next Big Thing at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre. Realizing that #kidsthesedays dress straight outta the '90s, my friend and I were reminded how #old we are. We placed our walkers under our seats to dance with the lead singer of Saint Motel, who luckily strolled his way up our section. I re-lived some teenage emo feelings with Andrew McMahon, who momentarily crowd-surfed on an inflatable rubber ducky. And I was finally able to see Bleachers, who had previously played Jannus Live in September, and came out with one of my favorite albums of the year.

Headliner Paramore rocked the crap outta that stage. I may or may not have squealed when Hayley Williams started singing I Caught Myself, a song from the soundtrack of a little movie — maybe you've heard of it — called Twilight. Ten years later, we still know the words to Misery Business.

REVIEW: At 97X Next Big Thing, rock mounts a comeback with Paramore, the Lumineers, more at MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa

After all those shows, I'm here to report that my favorite show of the year was … LIONEL RICHIE. Yes, you guys. That 68-year-old man made me dance on the ceiling, and ultimately stole my heart. He was genuinely happy to be on that stage, donning that huge smile, and gallons of sweat. Plus, he brought along Mariah Carey, and with the low expectations I brought, she did a fine job. It was fine. She was fine.

REVIEW: Lionel Richie brings pure joy, Mariah Carey more mystery to Tampa's Amalie Arena

— Jay Cridlin