There’s a reason why Rascal Flatts can still fill up concert venues like PNC Music Pavilion after 16 consecutive years on tour: They have this live performance bit down to a science without losing any of the enthusiasm or heart.
After an indulgently suspenseful few seconds of playing the opening notes to “Summer Nights” behind a black curtain, the curtain was whipped up like a phantom for the dramatic reveal of the Rascal Flatts, here in Charlotte to kick off its 37-city Rhythm and Roots Tour.
Lead singer Gary LeVox (who was wearing tight black pants with distractingly questionable red patches with shiny embroidery right above the knees) delivered strong vocals throughout the 20-song performance, which included “I Melt,” “My Wish for You” and “Banjo.”
During the band’s version of Tom Cochrane’s “Life Is a Highway,” LeVox held out his microphone to amplify the crowd’s singalong. And during “Rewind,” a montage played of the band at different milestones: Meeting Muhammad Ali, getting their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and visiting Disney characters. As he sang “Fast Cars and Freedom,” LeVox accepted a Yeti camouflage cap from the audience, modeled it for the crowd and then tossed it back into the pit.
Jay DeMarcus also took some time to address recent events like the Orlando nightclub shooting, saying that when crazy things happen, “It can make you lose faith in humanity.”
But he said he gets hope when he’s around “a bunch of god-fearing country people” like those in the audience.
“I know that there is nothing in this world that could ever happen that would keep us – when we stand together and we unite – that would keep us from facing anything that comes our way. … That’s what it means to be a true American,” he said, before the band segued into “Stand.”
When DeMarcus played the opening notes of Journey’s “Faithfully,” the crowd erupted in cheers.
“I’m not trying to be mean but y’all screamed louder than any song we’ve played so far,” he said, pretending to take offense. “We’re Journey fans too but … we’ve got feelings and they’re fixing to get hurt.”
Demonstrating that, like Journey, they too are deserving of the love song hall of fame, the Rascal Flatts immediately began playing “Bless the Broken Road” as the audience sang along loudly and many hooked their arms around their loved one’s waist.
“We have to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for making that such a huge hit across the world,” said LeVox. “We’re so glad we’ve been a part of a lot of marriages.”
Earlier, Chris Lane (a Kernersville native) and Kelsea Ballerini both shined as opening acts.
Lane, whose sound seems closer to alternative pop rock band Maroon 5 than any country artist, displayed plenty of confidence and swagger as he rapped on “Saturday Night” and belted the lyrics to “Her Own Kind of Beautiful.”
And Ballerini, who has the fresh-faced, doe-eyed enthusiasm of a younger Mandy Moore, impressed with her soulful voice and inviting stage presence on songs like “Siren” and “Peter Pan.”
Rascal Flatts played their last main set song (“Here’s to You”) around 10:40 p.m. They reappeared a few seconds later to play their encore, “Me and My Gang,” as stagehands launched beach balls into the crowd.