As the Crushin’ It Tour rolled through Central NY, Brad Paisley together with Eric Paslay and Cam certainly did ‘crush it’. This mutitalented country music superstar redefines the persona of a country music star. Yes, he wears a cowboy hat, cowboy boots and a plaid ensemble, but with his quick wit, stage presence, and musical talent he wins over the most skeptical rock fan to this new age genre of country.
His show at the Oncenter was a perfect example of this. As a music journalist/photographer, I often find myself visiting with security guards at these events who perhaps may not know the artists they are “securing”. After a few moments conversing about who will be performing, I happily informed them that they were in for treat as these three artists would take the stage and absolutely win them over, while also pointing out the need to pay attention to Paisley’s guitar playing and less to their preconceived notion of what country music is or sounds like.
First up was Cam. This beautiful young lady, with a sunny disposition and attire to match, has exploded onto the country music charts with her song “Burning House.” Up for several Grammy and ACM awards this year, this young artist, who writes from the heart and performs the same, is bound to be walking away with several armfuls in 2016 and rightly so. This song, written about a past relationship, comes from the heart, speaks to fans, and what really stands out is it’s unique folky sound which is refreshing and retro. She was a joy to see perform, and will be headlining a tour one day soon.
Next up was Eric Paslay, a great interview and one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. His down to earth personality, together with honest lyrics, and playful stage persona has earned him scores of fans along the way, including moi. Referred to by Brad as his ‘red headed step brother’, Eric’s musical talent extends far beyond the stage as his knowledge of the music business includes behind the scenes talents of producing and writing as well. A graduate of MTSU (go Middle Tennesee State Univerity Blue Raiders) with a degree in Music Business, this young man is a force to be reckoned with and is making a name in and around Nashville. In fact, this young newcomer has been nominated this year for a Grammy for Best Country Duo/Group Performance along with Charles Kelley and Dierks Bentley. Songs written by Paslay have hit number one for several artists and his song “She Don’t Love You” was one of the best songs in 2015. As he played hit after hit, it was his final song, a new one, “High Class” that grabbed attention as the band donned Ray Bans to rock out.
As Paisley took the stage, the energy surrounding his show explodes visually and audibly. He is a presence, an undoubted superstar and puts on one of the best visual shows I’ve seen recently. The kaleidoscope of colors, animation (some penned by the man himself), music videos, and cameos engage the audience from the start. Paisley plays for the crowd too. He enjoys moving around; he’s not a sedentary musician. He plays front and center, out on the catwalk, in the back of the auditorium on another stage, and throughout the crowd as he meanders around giving out high fives. Paisley makes sure no matter which seat you purchased, you had a great opportunity to see him up close and personal and not just on a video screen.
As Brad played hit after hit, several moments stand out throughout evening worth mentioning. First, “Country Nation.” The video featuring college football mascots, released in 2015, unfortunately omitted our beloved Otto. As the song began and the video began playing, the omission was corrected as the new video that graced the jumbotron featured not only the one and only Otto, but also panoramic views of the Syracuse University campus, the Oncenter War Memorial, and the SU basketball team taking it to the hoop. The crowd exploded in joy and cheers every time they graced the screen. Always curious how they chose the original mascots for that original video, I learned the video made last year featured the cities in which he visited during that tour, while the new one features this years mascots from cities he is currently touring. Okay Paisley, you’re forgiven, you absolutely have redeemed yourself.
The onstage bar was a sight for envious eyes. From the moment I spied that lovely set, I wanted an invite. How fun is that to join the show onstage while being served by the Brad Paisley Mascot? Whether is was lucky fans invited up, or tour partners, the fun times had at the bar were a highlight for all.
One of Paisley’s best loved songs is “Whiskey Lullaby” where he is joined in the original duet by the lovely and amazingly talented Alison Krauss. Never part of his sets at the past shows I’ve attended, on this tour, he is joined by Cam on stage for this song, and they completely blew my mind as she nailed it. This beautiful rendition was one of a highlights to the evening. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention his ability to skype in Carrie Underwood to join us all chatting and singing along. We all knew this was pre-recorded but it still was way cool and needs a shoutout.
I’ve never met Brad personally, but I am a pretty good judge of character and I’ve formed this opinion of him: I think he’s an all around “good guy” who loves his family, wife, fans, and what he does for a living. Each time I hear “She’s Everything” or “Perfect Storm” I know he wrote those about his wife. His sense of humor is also one of his admirable qualities. He has no problem busting chops on a co-star, calling Carrie Underwood “too stuck up to come to the show” or his agent for booking him in New York in the dead of winter.
His sincerity is genuine too. As he speaks with the audience he asks, “How you doin’ tonight?”, explaining, “That wasn’t one of those gratuitous artist things, where I go, ‘How you doin’?’ Seriously, how you doin’? How’s it goin’ at your job? How’s it goin’ at school? “I really want to know”. His graciousness is another quality that speaks volumes. He took every opporutnity to thank us for buying tickets and coming to see him. This fan oriented artist collected kudos as he gave away a signed guitar to a little girl in one of the front rows and his hat at the end of the evening to cute little adoring fan who caught his eye. He does this every show. He adores his fans, and they certainly adore him, rightly so.
This artist is much more than a country singer singing about beer, back roads, and ticks (okay he does sing about ticks, just another example of his sense of humor.). But in all seriousness, this guy can play a guitar. His ability to play is what constantly wins over those unsure of country music after seeing him. As one of my colleagues wrote, “he sticks out like a sore thumb” in country music. Perhaps it’s the fact he can play the guitar like a rock star. With his musical ability, he never needs to sing about beer, even as he played the guitar with a beer bottle. Come on? Who needs to sing about beer when he can use it as a musical tool.
As the evening came to an end, I approached the security team to find out their final take away. I believe they had been converted. They were surprised and pleased with the evening’s performances. Proof once again that good music, is just that, good music no matter what genre.
Set List: Eric Paslay – Song About A Girl, Like A Song, Never Really Wanted, Barefoot Blue Jean Night, She Don’t Love You, Even If It Breaks Your Heart, High Class, Less Than Whole, Keep On Fallin’, Friday Night.
Set List: Brad Paisley – River Bank, Water, Moonshine in the Trunk, Celebrity (joined by Eric Paslay), Country Nation, This is Country Music, I’m Stilla Guy, She’s Everything, Ticks, American Saturday Night, Wiskey Lullaby (joined by Cam), Beat This Summer, Perfect Storm, Old Alabama, Waitin’ on A Woman, You Remind Me, Southern Comfort Zone, I’m Gonna Miss Her, Crushin’ It, Mud on the Tires, Encore: Online, Then, Alcohol