Mother Nature doesn't dig smart alecks. You know, smirky hop-alongs like Brad Paisley, who just had to call his travelin' summer fest the Wetter & Wilder World Tour, part concert, part makeshift aquapark meant to tame the heat. Great idea, Brad. Thanks a lot.
The two-stage, six-act, six-hour event wasn't but a few minutes old at the 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre Friday when seriously wet 'n' wild weather (in other words, September in FLA) rained out three acts — including, ironically, a gal named Sunny Sweeney — on a small side stage.
Considering the recent concert-stage tragedy at the Indiana State Fair, Live Nation officials took no chances when the skies turned ugly, shutting down the entire side stage area, which also hosted related slip-'n'-slide midway shenanigans.
By 6 p.m., however, Mama Nature relented; apparently, she does dig country music. And such was the star power of this loaded lineup, 15,500 fans were still on hand for the main show on the amp's big stage, soggier and stinkier, but giddy nonetheless.
Paisley is a country king, no argument here. And his two-hour headlining set revealed him to be a wee Eddie Van Halen in a curled cowboy hat, a guitar geek with a penchant for catchy songs that range from good novelty (the hilariously sexy Ticks) to bad novelty (the tedious Working on a Tan). His intricately shredded solos were fast, furious and frequent, a vaguely Latin playing style that started to sound samey after so many licks. That said, Paisley was a workhorse entertainer and a seemingly good guy.
But truth be told, the night belonged to the bill's second-biggest act, Blake Shelton, who might not be a country king yet, but the 6-foot-5er is definitely storming the castle. The breakout stud of NBC smash The Voice, Shelton is also basking in the recent hype of five noms at the upcoming CMA Awards, including entertainer of the year.
After make-nice sets by Sweeney and Edens Edge (both slated for the side stage), and a totally average performance from Kansas kid Jerrod Niemann, Shelton strolled onstage like he owned the joint. The 35-year-old plays the part of besotted poet, a heart-sleeved party star who likes a good time and a good cry. That he's married to crossbow-wielding wild child Miranda Lambert must make for some interesting gender-role switcheroos.
"I've been drinking since noon," he deadpanned, making like Dean Martin playing up the boozy shtick (but probably sober as a judge). For all the stone-cold-country hits Shelton played — including the Gothic menace of Ol' Red —- he also bowed to his crossover audience with cheeky but oomphy covers of disco classic Play That Funky Music, J. Geils' 80s flirtation Centerfold and, in an awesomely bizarro moment, Bobby Brown's My Prerogative.
Shelton closed his set with the life-affirming sing-along Honey Bee, which is nominated for a slew of CMAs, too. He would later join Paisley for Don't Drink the Water, the two of 'em mugging and bromancing for the throngs. When the song was over, Shelton bid adieu by smooching Paisley on the cheek. Here's one fan who wishes the big lug had stayed around a little longer.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. Follow him on Twitter (@seandalypoplife) and Facebook (facebook.com/seandaly.tampabay).