Best of 2016: Barbra Streisand, Miranda Lambert, Alabama Shakes among Tampa Bay's best concerts
(All week on Soundcheck, we’ll be revisiting our favorite Tampa Bay concerts of 2016. Today’s picks come from Times features designer Brittany Volk.)
2016 was the year I truly embraced my cowboy boot lifestyle. I stomped around at several country concerts — something I never thought would happen. But I found a fantastic concert buddy to dance next to, who constantly reminds me that she’s already seen many of these country stars in Walmart parking lots. Jealous.
Most of my boot-stomping happened in Texas at the first-ever Off The Rails Country Music Fest in the spring. I saw my boyfriend Sam Hunt once more, got drunk with Blake Shelton and belted out Springsteen with Eric Church. I’m going again next year where, hopefully, Miranda Lambert will sing lots of new songs off her perfect new album The Weight of These Wings. Jason Aldean and Dierks Bentley headline the next day, but I’m really looking forward to Cam and Old Dominion.
Closer to home, here are some highlights of my year in live music:
Patty Griffin, Sara Watkins and Anais Mitchell (Feb. 11, Mahaffey Theatre): This was the opening night of their “Use Your Voices” tour, and you could tell the three Americana mavens were still working out the show’s groove. They sped through their set list, only stopping a few times to praise each other and encourage everyone to vote. And even though everyone was there for Patty Griffin, it was fiddler Sara Watkins, a founding member of bluegrass group Nickel Creek, who blew us away.
Chris Stapleton and Hank Williams Jr. (Aug. 5, MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre): Looking back, this was the one concert I’ve felt apprehensive about. I knew walking into a rowdy Hank crowd that these weren’t my people. But music is supposed to bring us together, right? Well, we witnessed one random fight next to us, but for the most part, everyone kept to themselves. After purchasing a bejeweled Chris Stapleton concert T-shirt and a huge beer, I sat down to listen to Holly Williams, Hank’s daughter. She’s been on my bucket list for a while. But I was ultimately there for Chris Stapleton. He savored every song with his husky voice and instrumentals, including my favorites Tennessee Whiskey and Outlaw State of Mind. I think I stopped breathing during his wife Morgane’s haunting version of You Are My Sunshine. I’m counting the days when he announces a new album and tour.
Miranda Lambert with Kip Moore and Brothers Osborne (Sept. 19, MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre): I’m not quite sure why Miranda chose to tour right before dropping the best country album of 2016, but I’m glad she did. Her concerts are like parties, and she’s the coolest chick there. She rocked a bandana atop her blonde mane, as well as short jorts and black tights. Miranda’s long list of hits can keep the gig going all night, but I was happy to hear my jam Kerosene in the beginning. However, I need to give a shout out to newcomers and CMA winners Brothers Osborne, whose set might have actually topped Miranda’s. 21 Summer gives me all the feels. Lead guitarist John Osborne really outshone his brother during Stay A Little Longer, which he played … a little longer. I hope these guys are around, for a little longer. Okay, I’ll stop.
Dolly Parton (Nov. 26, Amalie Arena): When Dolly comes to town, you get out your hairspray and put on your best bra. And that’s exactly what I did. The afternoon before the show, I made a T-shirt with a blessed picture of Dolly in the ’80s, with the words “Full Bra, Full Heart.” But I also should have included “Full of Puns.” (There are so many saxophone jokes out there, you guys!) She played lots of her hits (Why’d You Come In Here Lookin’ Like That, Jolene, Do I Ever Cross Your Mind) and told lots of the same charming stories. Every instrument she played was adorned in rhinestones, which a hunky cowboy gave her each song. I could spend every evening with Ms. Parton.
My music tastes are scattered, though, and I enjoyed other delightful concerts, too:
Carly Rae Jepsen (Feb. 17, Ritz Ybor): A few days before my birthday, a gaggle of girls adorned in pink lipstick descended upon Ybor City for night of sax-filled ’80s pop tunes. Making our way to the bar for a round of Carly-Ritas, my friends and I didn’t pay much attention to the openers. But as soon as Run Away With Me hit the speakers, we ran up to the front to get close to Carly, who was appropriately frocked in fringe and leather. By the end of the show, we pushed ourselves to the very front, and grabbed guitar picks at the end.
Alabama Shakes (April 29, Cuban Club): This was the same night as the earth-shattering, life-changing, epic Beyonce concert. And while most of my friends stopped at nothing to go to that, I chose to spend my evening with another Queen B, Brittany Howard, instead. And I’m so glad I did. I don’t know if you know this about me, but I watch a lot of television. And I love when music is so poignantly used on TV; a great example being last year’s Mr. Robot finale, which featured the magical title track off Sound & Color. Being in the presence of Howard’s voice sends you to another galaxy, and I’d gladly never come back.
Florence and the Machine (May 14, Amway Center, Orlando): A few months before five of us packed into two cars and headed off to Orlando, one friend (who will remain nameless) turned to me and confided, “So, I’m probably going to cry at this show.” And yes, she did. Florence, a majestic fairy queen everyone should see live, hopped around the stage, once running into the audience and climbing atop a small platform to perform for the cheap seats in the back (ours). I was sad that Grimes didn’t open like she did at other Florence tour stops. Instead we were treated to the weird sounds of Anderson Paak and the Free Nationals, who also happened to be staying at our hotel. What a crazy world.
St. Lucia (June 13, State Theatre): Days after the Orlando Pulse shootings, I wasn’t sure I was ready to dance to some indie pop, but I had been looking forward to this show for months. My top songs of 2016 playlist on Spotify includes every song off Matter. That’s my bedroom “dance it out” album after a stressful day. But after walking into the venue, after being patted down, I knew this is exactly what I, and the rest of the crowd, needed. Everyone cheered when frontman Jean-Philip Grobler said, “You can’t choose who you love, and that is actually a beautiful thing.” We jumped around to every irresistible song, never wanting the night to end. Grobler ventured into the audience during the slow jam Love Somebody. He walked right next to my friend and I, where I showed off my fantastic dance moves and body rolls. Of course I did.
Stevie Nicks and the Pretenders (Nov. 2, Amalie Arena): The moment I remembered why I needed to see Stevie live was when she stepped out onto the stage in a large white fur coat amid a projected screen of wolves. Cloaked in a hood, she barely moved, her hands caressing the mic as she crooned Moonlight (A Vampire’s Dream). Only Stevie can get away with that melodrama to a song inspired by the second Twilight movie. But the most memorable moment came when the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde walked out onto Stevie’s set to sing the Tom Petty/Nicks duet Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around. Just two rock goddesses having fun on a Wednesday night.
Barbra Streisand (Nov. 30, Amalie Arena): A few weeks ago, when I was asked to contribute a list of my favorite shows this year, I didn’t have any more concerts on my 2016 calendar. But then the chance of lifetime dropped into my lap, and I was a seat filler at Babs’ concert. There must be a god, because I got to stay in my fourth-row seat all night to take in every soothing drop of Barbra’s voice. I teared up at You Don’t Bring Me Flowers, and my gleeful heart cried out when she started Don’t Rain on My Parade. Proudly belting out “the sun’s a ball of butter,” I nearly died when Barbra looked RIGHT AT ME and shouted “SING WITH ME!”
Coming in 2017: My country concert buddy, Caitlin, and I already have our tickets to see Tim McGraw and Faith Hill in October at Amalie Arena. I’ll also be going to Kurt Vile and, hopefully, reliving my junior high angst at Dashboard Confessional at the Ritz. And if anyone needs me after May 26, I will be recovering from Lionel Richie and Mariah Carey.
-- Brittany Volk