"It's gettin' hot in here," crooned Charles Kelley as he wiped the sweat off his face. As our sweltering Florida summer plays on, Darius Rucker and Lady Antebellum brought their Summer Plays On Tour to the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa for a Friday night of nostalgia.
The country-crossovers and longtime friends are a perfect pairing — letting us relive a certain decade, romance, or just a darn good time.
No question Rucker's voice takes us back to the '90s. The former frontman of Hootie & The Blowfish was always influenced by other genres. And after five country albums (and a Christmas one!), it's safe to say fans are embracing the second black artist after Charley Pride to find success in Nashville.
Wearing a black Nike Golf T-shirt, the chatty frontman is basking in his much-deserved success. "I've been in Nashville for 10 years," he said to cheering fans. "I made more county records than Hootie records!"
He cruised through his Nashville hits, opening with Homegrown Honey, Radio and Alright. Slower jams, If I Told You and Hands on You, highlight his soulful side. He tugs his shirt while also tugging our heartstrings.
As he began Hootie's Let Her Cry, the Charleston, S.C., native had us hold up our phones to light the night for the North Carolina floods. Rucker held onto Hootie with Only Wanna Be With You. After taking a shot with his band, Rucker went into Blackstreet's No Diggity. Seriously. The party continued as Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum joined him to sing Straight to Hell. The rowdy single features Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan, who are also in the music video that was playing behind Rucker and Kelley.
Naturally ending on Wagon Wheel, Rucker's energetic charm was the highlight of the entire night.
Lady Antebellum kept it pretty simple, leaving behind the brass band they brought to their Tampa show last July. The trio left it to their biggest hits, with little creative variation. It's not a complaint — their polished formula works. Whether they're wailing about lost love in Dancin' Away With My Heart — one of Kelley's favorites, he said — or stomping to We Own The Night, Lady A's sultry harmonies make for a fine time.
However, they could use a little more theatrics. The unoriginal stock images onscreen don't add much; the stage barely decorated; and everyone was dressed in jeans and T-shirts. But it sure doesn't stop the thousands of fans from singing along to every single song. Classics I Run To You, the group's first single, Just A Kiss and Lookin' For A Good Time showcase the trio's ability to produce crowd-pleasers. And groovier tunes such as opener You Look Good, Bartender and Downtown get everyone up from their seats.
"As the only lady on the stage tonight," Hillary Scott promised to hold it down. She sparkled in her Gucci shirt and bedazzled mic during her spotlight in Heart Break and American Honey. Her easy-going poise keeps those powerhouse chops in tune all night.
The group isn't slowing down and admitted to writing their new album "while we're on the road," said Kelley. Songwriters Dave Barnes and Mark Trussell joined Kelley, Scott and Dave Haywood onstage to sing a Blake Shelton song they wrote, God Gave Me You. But that wasn't the only surprise guest. After tricking the crowd to think a fan was getting the chance to drum for the band, Scott's husband, Chris Tyrrell, jumped and flossed his way to the drum set for a quick jam. He's taking a break from touring to raise their three children.
In the most shocking twist of the night, the Grammy-winning hit Need You Now was not part of their encore. After almost 10 years, Kelley and Scott continue to passionately sing that booty call ballad. But there was another all-time classic that still hadn't been played, yet.
It's the song that catapults you back almost 25 years ago. With a little love, and tenderness, and whole lot of screaming fans, Rucker began the familiar sounds to Hold My Hand. And eventually Lady A joined him for a fiery rendition of the nostalgic pop-rock-(and now a little country) anthem.
Opener Russell Dickerson joined everyone to round out the night with another '90s sentimental tune, Deana Carter's Strawberry Wine. Dickerson, whose hits Yours and Blue Tacoma blend genres and nostalgia, is a perfect addition to the tour. In fact, he needs to think about releasing his own cover of Strawberry Wine.
Ending on Lady A's song Love Don't Live Here, the joyous group made us all wish they had done more songs altogether. They slapped hands with people in the pit, grabbing their stick fans to cool off. Some lucky fan had them all sign a cowboy boot.
You can tell this tour is just a group of friends jamming to the hits. During his set, Rucker sincerely thanked Lady Antebellum for asking him to be part of the tour. But, naturally, the ever-smiling guy had to make a little jab: "I just want everyone to know that I can sing Love Don't Live Here a lot better than (Kelley) can!"
Yes, Rucker could headline a tour of this size on his own. It didn't matter who sang it better, because together is best.
One final note, to the guy in the Iowa Hawkeye gear who got lots of camera love from the pit: Go Hawks!