KVOO’s appreciation

There are, in my experience, two kinds of music fans in the U.S.: those who just don’t “get” hip-hop, and those who just don’t “get” country music. I would seem to fall into the latter category, despite being raised in the great state of Nebraska; perhaps it’s because I was born in New England, the apex of cultural snobbery (well—if you ignore New York and L.A., of course, which I do). But regardless of the reason, I never really understood the appeal of a bunch of guys in cowboy hats standing around and singing imitation 70’s rock (yes, modern “country” is roughly 80% Lynyrd Skynyrd and exactly 0% Hank Williams) with silly lyrics about tractors and trucks. Seeing as I’m writing for an Oklahoma publication, I should probably stop there.

And seeing as I’m writing for an Oklahoma publication, I figured I should check out the KVOO listener appreciation party, which took place at Cain’s Ballroom on Saturday night, under the vigilance of the country legends whose pictures line their walls. It was a deal I couldn’t argue with, even if honkytonk isn’t my thing: $9.95 for a program of four acts, each of which played for nearly an hour. It was bound to be a foot-stompin’, knee-slappin’ good time. And it was—but of course I’m getting ahead of myself.

As I walked in, I admit I could tell I was out of my element. There were cowboy hats, flannel shirts, and tight jeans as far as the eye could see. I’m not ashamed to tell you that I’ve probably never worn a cowboy hat in my life, and my be-corduroy’d and be-polo’d self was seriously considering running then and there. But then KVOO (“Today’s Country Variety!”) morning hosts Gary Greenwood and Sunny Leigh took the stage and introduced opening act Justin Moore, whose impassioned acoustic music had me mesmerized immediately and made me forget all about leaving. His voice was decidedly country, but still powerful and soulful, and though he was accompanied by only a pair of acoustic guitars, he easily filled the hall, and set just the right tone for the show. He finished out his set with his hit “Back That Thing Up,” which is about tractors, but not really about tractors—wink, wink (I wonder if he’s ever heard Spinal Tap’s “Sex Farm”—would the irony be lost on him?).
Then things really kicked off when Randy Houser and Jamey Johnson took the stage. Actually, it was supposed to be two separate sets—one by Houser and one by Johnson—but Houser’s band couldn’t make it that night (“I can’t say enough bad things about those son-of-a-bitchin’ airlines today,” he added), so Johnson and his band backed him; in effect, it was one long set with two different frontmen. Despite the lack of his band (and the obvious frustration), Houser—decked out in a Skynyrd t-shirt and a golf cap—seemed perfectly at ease on stage, and played a rocking set, including his first single “Anything Goes” and the hit “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,” an ode to posteriors (I’m seeing a pattern here) that he and Johnson cowrote for Trace Adkins (“We can write some dumbass songs, but I don’t think I’ve ever written one as dumb as this one,” Johnson observed). When Johnson took center stage, the music didn’t change much, except for incorporating a few thumping bass and honkytonk piano solos. He went through most of his catalogue, plus the obligatory cover of “Tulsa Time.”

The evening concluded with a performance from Jimmy Wayne, who brought with him a large ensemble and pushed the limits of the amplification system. When they took the stage, it was clear that they were there to rock. Wayne took special care to introduce his fiddler, Jake Clayton, who (he says) could play no fewer than 27 instruments by the time he was 19. Clayton then proceeded to tear up the stage with one of the most intense fiddle solos I’ve ever heard, playing behind his back and breaking dozens of the strings on his bow. (The crowd was enthusiastically chanting “Go Jake, go Jake, go!”) Wayne went on to sing his radio hit “Do You Believe Me Now,” adding afterwards, “Do you know what it’s like to stand on stage and sing a number-one song? I feel like a kid.”
While Wayne was on stage, the crowd started to thin out considerably, and I couldn’t entirely blame them: Wayne and his band were excellent, but four hours of music can be exhausting, even (I assume) if you love country. When one woman in the front row turned to leave, Wayne asked her where she was going.
“I have to go pick up my daughter Dustin,” she said.
Wayne shook her hand and said, “We’ll sing this next song for Dustin.”

Though the room was almost empty by the time the concert ended, I have no doubts that most of the people in attendance had a great time. Even I did, and I had no clue what was going on.

Perhaps I should invest in a cowboy hat.

About the author:
A graduate of the University of Nebraska, Luke Harrington currently resides in Tulsa and works in the aerospace industry–but, at any given moment, would probably rather be reviewing movies and music.  In his spare time, he’s off playing blues piano, pretending to be Assistant Editor for MovieZeal.com, or reviewing the many musical events in Northeastern Oklahoma for Tulsa Today.