There are a couple of reasons Scotty McCreery’s concert at Carowinds Paladium on Saturday night was more than just a little worthy of note.
For one, he’s Scotty McCreery, and he’s from Garner, and he lives in Raleigh, and he once was the winner of a TV show called “American Idol,” and this was the first time the country singer had headlined a show in his home state’s biggest city.
On top of that, it’s Carowinds Paladium, and it’s got 13,000 seats, and it virtually always just sits there on the edge of the theme park, empty, lonely and ignored as families run back and forth between the thrill rides.
So this was a big deal for Carowinds. Management hosts a Christian music festival or two here every year, but McCreery was the first “mainstream” artist to perform at the Paladium since pop duo Aly & AJ took the stage eight years ago.
Unfortunately, while the former “Idol” champ showed lots of love for North Carolina on Saturday, the favor was not entirely returned: By my crude calculations, fans filled roughly one-eighth of the seats at the venue. (A Carowinds spokesperson said after the show that the park typically does not reveal attendance figures.)
There was some good news, though, for both the headliner and the Paladium.
The good news for the park is that the acoustics in its amphitheater were outstanding. McCreery’s baritone voice came through cleanly and clearly, and his five-piece band’s sound was free of the muddiness that sometimes plagues PNC Music Pavilion and Time Warner Cable Arena.
The good news for the singer is that the charm he displayed on “American Idol” more than three years ago remains intact, and his baritone is still astonishingly rich and steady for someone who’s only 20 years old.
Many of his own songs are pleasant but somewhat generic, and lack the originality of the work of Brad Paisley (whom McCreery toured with through Charlotte a couple years ago) or the emotional depth of someone like Tim McGraw.
So his 90-minute, 19-song set was periodically propped up by covers: Garth Brooks’ “Papa Loved Mama,” George Strait’s “Check Yes or No,” Jon Randall’s “North Carolina Moon,” and a fun, crowd-pleasing medley that included portions of songs by Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley and Alabama.
But his showmanship shined during “Write My Number on Your Hand,” when he left the stage to spend three minutes signing autographs (no, not actually giving out his number) to swarming girls in the first row; in introducing salute-to-our-troops ballad “The Dash” by dedicating it to the husband of his bass player’s cousin, killed in action in Iraq; and in closing with an energetic rendition of breezy summertime jam “Feelin’ It.”
His banter was decent, as he related stories from his “Idol” days about being urged by producers to sing Lady Gaga songs (but “I’ve got three words for you: I am country”), and how it’s impossible to find sweet tea in Los Angeles.
He also spent time both poking fun at and giving praise to North Carolina.
“It is so good to be back home in my home state,” McCreery said early in the show. “I love coming to Carolina and playing a show ’cause I look out and … I see a lot of red when I come out here. … And one of the reasons I’ll probably never leave: Girls in North Carolina, they are far above the rest. Y’all are beauties.”
Surely, though, he wishes he had seen more of them at Saturday’s show.