Montgomery Gentry: Corporate rock parties don't suck
On Tuesday night, country duo Montgomery Gentry kicked off this week's Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am golf tournament with a concert at Tampa's A La Carte Pavilion.
Now, I know what you're thinking, and let me just go ahead and state up front: YES, this was a private corporate party, and YES, it was sponsors-only, and YES, the crowd contained a great many middle-aged Caucasians, and YES, their combined net worth could buy and sell the island nation of Tuvalu, and YES, there were celebrities there, and YES, Stone Phillips was among them, and YES, the sponsors served Norwegian Salmon with Mango Salsa, and YES, it was delicious, and YES, they deserve to die, and I hope they burn in HELL. (Whoops -- sorry, slipped into Samuel L. Jackson mode there for a second.)
But before you cry "Sellout!" let me just state for the record that no survey of the Tampa live music scene would be complete without a look at the high-rolling, tequila-soaked, Tommy Bahama-clad bashes sponsored by party-hardy corporations like Outback, which, despite the flagging economy (and its own reported struggles), still puts on its game face when it's time to throw a kickass fiesta.
This was one such event. And sellout or no, trust me, you wish you were there.
I've been fortunate enough to cover a handful of these big-money events over the years -- charity galas, Super Bowl parties and the like. And I'd have to say that while a good musical headliner is always a plus, it's rarely the focus of the night.
Wyclef Jean and Samantha Ronson may have headlined this year's ESPN Super Bowl party, but most of the guests there were more concerned with checking out hot bodies, looking for celebrities in the crowd and noshing on free food and drink. The musical performance is kind of a fun little bonus.
Montgomery Gentry was extremely solid, and they didn't skimp on the energy. But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, let me set the scene.
The Outback Pro-Am is a Champions Tour event that usually draws a ton of celebrity participants -- this year's list includes Mark Wahlberg, Bill Murray, Michael J. Fox, George Lopez and Emmitt Smith. I was once assigned to stalk Kevin Costner at this event. It was weird.
Anyway, they always kick the week off with an event called the Aussie Bash, where the amateur players draw their professional partners, and Outback serves a ton of food from its restauants, and everyone drinks a lot of cocktails and talks about the capital gains tax*. Past headliners include Jimmy Buffett, Hootie and the Blowfish and Huey Lewis.
Yeah. It's that kind of party.
While some of the celebrities are already in town -- I was told Wahlberg arrived in Tampa on Tuesday -- not all of them showed up at the Aussie Bash. I saw Joe Theismann, golfers Fuzzy Zoeller and Craig Stadler, and I was told Stone Phillips was in the house**.
Everyone was drinking Jim Beam (a sponsor) and Hornitos tequila (part of Jim Beam), and dining on top-shelf, entree-sized sampler platters from Outback, Fleming's, Roy's, Carrabba's and Bonefish Grill. Salmon, prime rib, sushi, shrimp ... plus maybe a dozen desserts from A La Carte Pavilion.
As any journalist knows, the first rule of rock criticism is: Always rate the finger foods. Here's how I would slot them:
1. Mixed Berry Truffle with Homemade Shortcake
2. Meringue Cup with Raspberry Mousse
3. Oh who cares, they were all fantastic, and I'll never taste any of them ever again, the end.
Here's the thing: The Aussie Bash is entirely about the sponsors. It's totally private; all the tickets were doled to the Pro-Am's corporate partners, and maybe 80 percent of everyone in the crowd was from out of town.
I don't think anyone came specifically to see Montgomery Gentry. Sure, there were a few real fans up near the stage, singing along with the band, but my guess is that was more of a coincidence than anything -- like, they were country music fans who just happen to work for OSI Restaurant Partners. I'd put the ratio of corporate heavies to actual fans at maybe 12 to 1.
As a result, you probably couldn't fault the duo if all they did was go up there and slog halfheartedly through a 40-minutes greatest-hits set. But to Montgomery Gentry's credit, they boot-scooted their asses off -- 19 songs over the course of an hour and a half.
Eddie Montgomery played the role of showman, waving his mic at the crowd and trotting back and forth across the stage until sweat dripped from his hat. Singer-guitarist Troy Gentry looked the part of a cocksure Nashville sex symbol, strutting around like he owned the place, much to the delight of the ladies in the house.
I'm not a big country fan, but I could tell that tracks like the stomper Hell Yeah and rockabilly shaker All Night Long went over well with the Nashville denizens in the house. And the encore's closer, Gone, was a big enough hit that even I could sing along with the chorus. (I did not, however, get to see Craig Stadler dance. Sorry to say.)
I pulled a setlist from the stage (scroll down for a look), so you could see that this was a real, honest-to-goodness concert, and not just a half-hour gig taken only for the money, like Snoop Dogg popping up onstage at some random bar mitzvah. (Although money was a huge part of it: Montgomery Gentry are from Kentucky, and Jim Beam is one of their sponsors. Gentry played several songs using a guitar emblazoned with a Jim Beam logo, and he mentioned the brand at least a half dozen times during the set.)
A note about the venue: The A La Carte Pavilion hosts boxing matches, MMA fights and corporate parties, but not concerts. And that's probably a good thing. The stage and sound were pretty nice, but this is a party venue, not a concert hall. If you want to ignore the band, it's pretty easy to do so -- and I don't think that's what you want in a rock venue.
So YES, this was corporate music at its apex, and YES, it was probably the least rock 'n' roll experience of my life, and YES, I spotted plenty of blond arm candy and a couple of unconscionable combovers, and YES, I now have a sudden and suspicious craving for a Bloomin' Onion and some Bang Bang Shrimp.
But for a night, at least, I got to see how the other half lives. They may not know how to rock -- but they definitely know how to party.
Next up in The 50-50 Club: The Helios Jazz Orchestra, April 21 at the West St. Petersburg Community Library.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*
** And trust me, ain't no party like a Stone Phillips party.