Alan Jackson was ready to make his case as "a true American icon" at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Ampitheatre on Friday night.
After an intro video that featured clips of country icons from George Jones to Hank Williams Jr. talking about him, an announcer introduced the "newest member of the Country Music Hall of Fame" and "a true American icon." Jackson sauntered on stage to the music of Good Time with a blue Solo cup in hand to roll out greatest hits from his nearly 30 year career in country music.
And throw out T-shirts. He threw out lots and lots of T-shirts.
Musically, he also threw it all the way back to his lesser known first hit single (and second single overall, he was quick to point out) Here in the Real World from 1990. "I went to Nashville about a hundred years ago now," he quipped. "… It became a hit and I haven't worked since."
The nostalgia fest included plenty of old family photos on screen and reflections on his career and life (including talking about his father, Daddy Gene, and the small town he hails from in Georgia) as well as original music videos from his '90s hits like Chattahoochee and Summertime Blues as he played them live. He's like the country Thor, showing off those flowing golden curls of the '90s.
Jackson, who hasn't been to Tampa in a few years, seemed to be enjoying his time in the Sunshine State though he remarked that it was "hotter than a hoochie coochie" on stage as he rolled up his sleeves. "I was out fishing today before I came here," he told the crowd. "Had a nice little wahoo bite. Didn't hook him but other than that it was good day."
He made good on his promise to "play you some real country music," from his own honky tonkin' (Chasin' That Neon Rainbow) and truck-drivin' (Country Boy) and family celebrating (When Daddy Let Me Drive) hits to bringing out opener Lee Ann Womack for a rendition of Tammy Wynette and George Jones' Golden Ring. Jackson said it was such a last minute addition he needed the words printed out. (He did flub the words to his own Little Bitty later on.)
Earlier on, Womack, whose biggest hits were also in the 1990s, played a couple songs from her most recent album, The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone. She told the crowd how she wanted her ninth album to blend sounds from her East Texas upbringing: a little (bitty) (sorry, couldn't resist) bluesy, twangy and gospel-y. It's a cinematic collection of songs that truly show off a voice with emotional resonance unlike many other country artists, then and now.
Her smoky, soulful voice is most impressive on the eerie single All the Trouble, which only casually impressed the modest crowd. Maybe if she had been performing in a more intimate setting, the audience would have been paying attention. Blame the Lightning traffic, or just the cluster that is I-4, as people slowly filled in, but the poor woman was beautifully belting to a dismal audience.
Her cascading blonde hair, blowing in the wind, could rival Carrie Underwood's locks. Which makes me want an Underwood-Womack sing-off duet.
Jackson slipped in a few newer songs as well, including current single The Older I Get and As She's Walking Away, recorded with the Zac Brown Band and for which "we won one of those Grammy kind of things," as he said. (It won the Grammy Award for best country collaboration in 2011. Okay, maybe it's not that new.) In his encore, Jackson paired 1993's rollicking Mercury Blues with 2012's non single Dixie Highway, another collaboration with Zac Brown.
It wasn't the only interesting marriage of songs in the show, as one stretch went from 9/11 ballad Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning) that had the crowd in tears and chanting "USA! USA!" to the swingin' Don't Rock the Jukebox back down to slow-dancing romantic ballad Remember When back up to It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere, the drankin' anthem any sane American might have expected in an encore.
After that but before the real encore, Jackson closed out the regular show with Where I Come From, set to a video filmed around Tampa, particularly heavy on the Ybor City shots — were those actual Ybor chickens in the video? — and Lightning pride. Of all the sports teams that got mentioned (almost all the Florida colleges got a glimpse, even the University of Miami for some raeson), the crowd was happiest to cheer along the Lightning, even though the Lightning was losing 4-2 across town.
"Thank you, Tampa," he said. "Hope we'll see you again soon."