The two most emotional moments at Brad Paisley’s concert at PNC Music Pavilion on Saturday night had almost nothing to do with Brad Paisley.
The first – which came about halfway through his 23-song set, and halfway through his 2006 ballad “She’s Everything” – saw the country singer surrender the mic to a fan named Justin, who used the opportunity to present a voice-cracking proposal to his stunned girlfriend of six and a half years, Cassie.
“In front of all these people, and Brad FREAKIN’ Paisley,” said Justin, the “Pais” in Paisley landing about an octave and a half higher than the rest of the sentence, “I gotta know: Will you finally be my wife?”
She choked on sobs, he welled up, Brad FREAKIN’ Paisley recorded the whole thing on Justin’s iPhone; then the singer hugged the happy couple before sending them back into the crowd as he crushed yet another monster of a guitar solo to put the finishing touches on “She’s Everything.”
The second most-emotional high of the night, meanwhile, struck a completely different chord.
During his performance of “Celebrity” – another modern Paisley classic, from 2003’s “Mud on the Tires” CD – 17,000-plus fans chuckled through a hilarious, custom-made “South Park” video that lampooned Donald Trump, Bill Cosby, Kim Kardashian, Justin Bieber and lots of others.
But when they saw a goofily animated interpretation of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, kneeling on a football field as other players stood at attention, a thunderous chorus of virtually humor-less boos rocked the amphitheater. (Kaepernick has drawn both criticism and praise for his refusal to stand during the national anthem in protest of a country that he says “oppresses black people and people of color,” but you must know his Niners are in town to take on the Carolina Panthers on Sunday afternoon.)
As for the actual musical performance, the 43-year-old star hit pretty much all of his marks. As usual.
He careened effortlessly from tobacco-spittin’ foot-stompers like “Mud on the Tires” to the thinly veiled pop sensibilities of “Without a Fight,” a song he put out this past spring with Demi Lovato; and from the immature silliness of early hits like “I’m Gonna Miss Her” to grown-up stuff like 2011’s “Remind Me,” his heart-aching duet with Carrie Underwood. (His performance of the latter, by the way, employed a pre-recorded bit made to look like a live FaceTime call with her. You had to be there, but it was astonishingly cool.)
He did his thing in Charlotte with help from one drummer, one synthesizer, one (great) fiddler, and three guitarists – although none of those three play with quite the same gusto as Paisley, who’s never met a song he couldn’t squeeze a masterfully head-turning, ear-pleasing guitar solo out of.
He did it while doing the things he does so well with fans. Lots of high-fives, of course, but also matching bars on both sides of the stage that provided seating for about 30 fans who drank, danced and selfie-d the night away. Lots of posing for pictures, of course, but also a signed acoustic guitar for a girl in the pit halfway through “This Is Country Music. (“We’ll see you up here in 10 years,” he told her, then finished the 2010 hit on an electric.)
And he did it all while wearing black boots, blue jeans, a cowboy hat, and an Under Armour T-shirt with a big Hendrick Motorsports logo on the front of it; his repping of the Charlotte-based racing team, plus the Panthers clips his production team flashed up during opening song “Crushin’ It,” plus the Wolfpack and Tar Heels clips used during “Country Nation” were welcome shout-outs to N.C.
After gauging allegiances to the Wolfpack and the Heels – as well as the Blue Devils, the Demon Deacons, the Gamecocks and other area schools – by seeing how loud the cheers were for each, Paisley said: “When it comes to college football, I don’t know what to say around here. There’s so many teams!”
Then: “Let’s just all agree to get along for one night,” he said, pausing briefly. “Unless you’re San Francisco fans.”
Brad Paisley’s setlist
1. Crushin’ It
2. American Saturday Night
5. Perfect Storm
6. Without a Fight (duet with pre-recorded Demi Lovato)
7. Country Nation
8. Waitin’ on a Woman
9. This Is Country Music
10. I’m Still a Guy (with Tyler Farr)
11. She’s Everything
12. Whiskey Lullaby (with Maddie & Tae)
15. Old Alabama
17. Beat This Summer
18. I’m Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin’ Song)
19. River Bank
20. Remind Me
21. Southern Comfort Zone
22. Mud on the Tires