Brad Paisley’s Friday night concert at American Legion Memorial Stadium, on the edge of Elizabeth and uptown Charlotte, had many of the hallmarks of a typical Brad Paisley concert.
As happened during his 2016 show here, he invited a smitten couple onto the stage so the guy could ask the girl to marry him, and — as happened during his 2016 show here — the girl said yes. He brought five Army soldiers on stage as a salute to the troops as part of “Love and War.” Carrie Underwood again dropped in, cleverly, via a pre-recorded video made to look like a live FaceTime call as part of “Remind Me.”
And, of course, Paisley made football references. More than usual, appropriately, given that this particular concert was squarely pegged to Saturday’s Belk College Kickoff Game pitting West Virginia against Tennessee, and because the show was designed to appeal to football fans.
But one key characteristic of a typical Brad Paisley concert that was noticeably absent on Friday night? A big turnout.
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In spite of favorable weather and a popular headliner (as in, like, a country-music star who consistently crams close to 20,000 souls into PNC Music Pavilion every summer), wide swaths of Memorial Stadium’s field and entire sections of its grandstands remained barren throughout the evening.
We were told before the show that the venue’s capacity for a concert is roughly 17,000 people; official figures weren’t available at press time, but most attendance guesstimates were in the 5,000 range.
This harkens back to the 2016 mini-debacle that saw the Charlotte Knights’ BB&T Ballpark attract maybe 1,500 folks to a Tim McGraw show tied to the Belk Bowl that organizers had said they’d cap at 10,000 — another situation in which a concert promoter pinned their hopes on a bunch of college football fans and woke up on event day to an alarming number of empty seats.
In that case, I think the issue was exclusivity (only Belk Bowl ticketholders could gain access to the show) and endurance (going to both the show and the game was same-day, all-afternoon and all-evening commitment). In this case, I suspect the main problem was that promoter Southern Entertainment struggled to create awareness; but on top of that, the ticket prices seemed on the high side for a show aimed at out-of-towners whose budgets were probably already stretched thin by travel, hotel and game expenses.
That said, the people who did show up got their money’s worth: a robust set from West Virginia’s Davisson Brothers Band, a peek at what could well be the future of country in R&B-tinged rising star Kane Brown, a full set from the headliner, and a surprise cameo by ... well, we’ll get to that.
Marketing for the show played up the fact that Paisley is a West Virginia native, and the 45-year-old country star did, too: During the first song of his set, “Mud On the Tires,” a fan handed him a WVU ballcap that he warmly autographed and returned; during the second, “Ticks,” he amended the first verse to the Mountaineers’ liking:
“In the small there of your back / Your jeans are playing peekaboo / I’d like to see the other half / Of your cute little WV tattoo...”
But seven songs in, after focusing on an altogether different state while singing his 2011 hit “Old Alabama,” he copped to being a little conflicted — even though the makeup of the crowd on hand was overwhelmingly skewed toward the old gold and blue.
“I think whoever planned this game wanted to screw with me,” Paisley said. “ ’Cause I was born and raised a proud Mountaineer. I still call it home.”
Then: “I also happen to have lived in Tennessee for 20 years now.” Many in the crowd booed.
Then again: “I still root and bleed gold and blue,” he continued, to cheers, “but about five of my best friends in the world bleed orange. ... It is a bittersweet thing to play your best friends in a sport.” Finally, as if realizing which way the wind was going to blow strongest all night, he solidified his allegiance to WVU: “But I don’t care. We have to win this.”
Though musically he seemed to be rushing a bit more than usual — he never really sunk his teeth all the way into the juicy, unhurried guitar solos I’ve come to love at his shows — Paisley made the most of breaks within songs when he decided to put them there.
Halfway through “This Is Country Music,” he paused to (apropos of nothing) sing the Nationwide Insurance jingle and shout out his ad’s co-star Peyton Manning, then signed and handed a guitar to a young girl in the front row. “That’s how you make a Taylor Swift right there. That’s how they’re born,” Paisley said to a crowd full of people who wished he’d chosen them as the souvenir recipient. Then, to her: “Learn how to play it, darlin’. You are gonna destroy some boys’ lives when you’re about 15 or 16 years old.”
Halfway through 2009 ballad “Then,” he pulled a couple who identified themselves as Sydney and Kurt, and then stepped back as he proposed to her. (Not sure of the spellings of their names, and I have no inside info on them — if you do, feel free to email me to tell me more.) She said yes. They kissed passionately. Paisley said “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! Honeymoon’s later, folks.” As they headed off-stage, he added: “Make it work, guys. Beat the odds.”
He would top both of those gestures when, halfway through a rendition of “I’m Still a Guy” that he partnered on with Kane Brown, Paisley stopped to take a selfie with his tour mate but then shook his head.
“You know what, there is a problem with this,” Paisley said. “This song’s about real men. Neither of us are real men. Is there a real man here who can come out and take a selfie... a real man, you know, like, a tough guy?”
And out of nowhere came a guy who looked a lot like Tim Tebow — and turned out to actually be Tim Tebow, who is in town working as an analyst for ESPN’s coverage of the game. After the University of Florida alum and former NFLer (unwittingly?) signed a West Virginia hat, the three took a selfie and Tebow took the mic, to warble a twist on “I’m Still a Guy’s” next verse:
“These days there’s dudes taking selfies (the original line is “getting facials”) / Manicured, waxed and botoxed / With deep spray-on tans and creamy lotiony hands / You can’t grip a tacklebox...”
Now, under normal circumstances — i.e. when Paisley plays to a packed house at PNC Music Pavilion — I feel confident this bit would have been met by a thunderous reaction. But on this night, with Memorial Stadium not even a third of the way full, it seemed to fail to generate the electricity that a stunt like this should typically have no problem creating.
I don’t know. Maybe it was just me, and my disappointment with the crowd size. And actually, maybe I shouldn’t even be complaining, because another way to look at it is that those of us who did show up got a much more intimate Brad Paisley show than we’ll probably ever get to see again.
At any rate, this was the final event for the venue before it undergoes a multi-year, $32 million rebuild; it will eventually become the home of the Charlotte Independence soccer team and the Charlotte Hounds lacrosse team, and might someday book concerts regularly in a more-modern facility. (Previously, there hadn’t been a show here since September 2013, when The Gap Band’s beloved Charlie Wilson, Bell Biv Devoe, Rakim, Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam, and Experience Unlimited teamed up for a night of nostalgia.)
But even in its current condition, Memorial Stadium provided a particularly picturesque setting for Friday night’s concert, with uptown Charlotte’s glowing, glimmering nighttime skyline serving as a striking background for the main stage.
It’s just kind of a shame more people didn’t get a chance to see it.
Brad Paisley’s setlist
1. “Mud On the Tires”
3. “The World”
4. “Perfect Storm”
6. “Last Time for Everything” (with “Purple Rain” outro)
7. “Old Alabama” (with “Mountain Music” intro)
8. “This Is Country Music”
9. “Love and War”
10. “American Saturday Night”
11. “I’m Still a Guy” (with Kane Brown)
12. “Remind Me”
15. “She’s Everything”
16. “Crushin’ It”
17. “Rocky Top” / “Take Me Home, Country Roads” (mashup)
18. “Country Nation”
19. “I’m Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin’ Song)”
20. “Chattahoochee” (Alan Jackson cover)
21. “River Bank”
Kane Brown’s setlist
1. “Found You”
3. “Used to Love You Sober”
4. “Better Place”
5. “Billionaire” / “Miss Jackson” / “Over My Head (Cable Car)”
7. “What’s Mine Is Yours”
8. “Lose It”
9. “Pull It Off”
12. “What Ifs”