Paisley, Jewel deliver gem of show

“We're gonna play some country music for all you NASCAR fans,” Brad Paisley said last Friday at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre after hitting the stage with “Mud on the Tires” at his Paisley Party Tour. “This being an election year – forget about that. The only party that matters is the Paisley party.”

Paisley's party actually kicked off earlier in the evening with “Dancing with the Stars” two-time champion Julianne Hough delivering a spunky five-song set. She brought as much sass and personality to the stage as she does to the dance-floor grooving to the strains of “Hello” in a pale vest and denim shorts that showed off killer legs. Luckily, she had pipes to match. “Charlotte was the first station to play my single,” she announced before her hit “That Song in My Head.”

Chucks Wicks and his five-piece band took the second shift, singing songs off his 2008 album “Starting Now.” His set was centered around his Top 5 hit “Stealing Cinderella” and what he called his personal favorite, “What If You Stay,” a country power ballad. Neither Wicks nor final opening act Jewel could match Hough's moves, but both were greeted warmly by the crowd.

Wearing a short black jumpsuit and Christian Louboutin heels, giving Hough a run for her money in the legs and vocals department, Jewel began her set with her 1998 hit “Hands.” Jewel, who recently released her first country album, “Perfectly Clear,” played only a handful of her new country tunes, including “Stronger Woman” and “I Do.” She hit on soul singing, yodeling, and scatting during her nine-song set. She highlighted early career favorites “You Were Meant For Me,” “Foolish Games,” “Standing Still,” and “Who Will Save Your Soul.” Another she dedicated to families of soldiers in Iraq. And she later joined Paisley for a duet of Merle Haggard's “That's the Way Love Goes.”

The headliner took the stage around 9:30 p.m. playing his baby blue Paisley Telecaster and firing one relatable and often humorous country-living anthem after another. He and guitarist Bobby Fleet surfed the catwalk ripping guitar solos during “Better Than This.” He hit on several of his No.1 country singles including “The World,” “I'm Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin' Song),” “She's Everything,” and his recent dissertation on metrosexuals, “I'm Still a Guy.”

He unveiled video footage during “Celebrity,” which featured a take-off on “Guitar Hero” called “Guitar Zero”; the high school-themed “Letter to Me” (yet another No.1); a James Bond-style cartoon during a surf-guitar instrumental; and the “Ticks” encore. At one point, a young girl, assisted by her parents, climbed on stage and hugged Paisley, who sweetly invited her and her family backstage after the show. He further illustrated his down-home, good-guy charm during a quick acoustic set that touched on funny (a song about putting down the toilet seat) and moving (“When I Get Where I'm Going”). “Alcohol,” which ended his main set, received the biggest response with its video of local bars including The Dog Bar and Snug Harbor and exploding bottles with names like “Bradweiser” and “Brad Light.”

As during last year's show, Paisley proved himself a fabulous entertainer, matching his guitar skills, songwriting and vocals with humor, verve and charisma. As The Washington Post said recently, it's a mystery why this guy isn't the Country Music Association's Entertainer of the Year.