Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
armers have not been immune from the COVID crisis, of course, but those behind the bread basket of America received some help in the from of a virtual benefit concert, The Show Must Go On, for Farm Rescue featuring the likes of Dustin Lynch, Maddie & Tae, Mickey Guyton, Travis Denning and Taylor Farr.
With a full Georgia drawl, Denning started his stint before what seemed liked a small live audience at the Brooklyn Bowl in Nashville (he later would say "I've got three clapping for me over here. That's the most I've had in months") with his mid-tempo humorous break-up song, "Abby." In a song appropriate for the cause, Denning sang the hopeful sounding "Good Years." Denning, whose voice sounded slightly strained throughout, concluded his short set with the more upbeat hit "After a Few." Many of Denning's songs contain references to imbibing. With that in mind, Denning went down pretty easy.
In between sets, each performer was interviewed about their participation. "They need our help, especially during a time like this," said Denning. "This is a no brainer. Farmers are hands down the backbone of the U.S."
Guyton has been the subject of a good deal of attention this year – for her songs, her perseverance as a Black singer in country (she finally released an EP in September after 10 years on Capitol), a rare occurrence especially if female and speaking out on racial issues. She was particularly prominent in the months following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.
Guyton has a stand-out, powerful voice as evidenced by her lead-off song, "Heaven Down Here," a plea to God to provide more help on planet earth in a crazy year ("Hey God, it's me/I hate to be a bother
But I could use a minute or two/ Yeah, I'm just so
Heartbroken, disappointed/In the way this world is coming unglued".)
Guyton penned the acoustic-based "Bridges" during the quarantine. "I really wanted to write a song about coming together," she said. "There's so much division in this world. More a soulful song vocally with Guyton's gorgeous voice sounding urgent ("it's just not black or white...what if we took these stones we're throwing").
"There's no question I'm pretty pregnant right now. I'm about six months, almost seven months," she said, offering a side profile of her pregnant status. Guyton probably isn't drinking now, but she offered the fun "Rosé" with its reggae feel, acquitting herself and showing why the attention finally coming her way is deserved.
The alcohol theme continued with the gritty voiced Tyler Farr's "Whiskey in My Water" from his 2013 release, "Redneck Crazy," which put him on the musical map. And he followed it up the percolating title track before closing with his biggest hit, "A Guy Walks Into a Bar."
While Farr has retained his vocal chops, it would have been nice to hear something from his latest release, "Only Truck in Town," a four-song EP that came out in June, his first in five years. Then again, given only three songs...
The bright, perky Maddie & Tae were the most country-steeped act, starting the acoustic-based, "Die From a Broken Heart." Maddie's voice resonated with the necessary sadness with Tae adding vocal harmonies. And while still in short supply in country music, M&T even spiced the song with pedal steel!
Maddie & Tae showcased the female power in music – country in particular –with their first hit, "Girl in a Country Song," an anti-bro country diatribe. "Shaking my money maker ain't ever made me a dime," Maddie & Tae sang. Nothing like standing up for yourself in a genre that hasn't been so kind to women in recent years. "An oldie but goodie," said Maddie afterwards. So true.
Maddie & Tae closed with "Everywhere I'm Goin' " the lead-off from their latest, "The Way It Feels," which they recorded in the very same studio they played from tonight. Once again, their vocal harmonies reigned.
Lynch closed the benefit, starting with "Ridin' Roads," which rocked a bit, amidst the rural imagery of the song, meshing with the theme of the night. Like Farr, Lynch also reached back for "Where It's At," the title cut of his 2014 disc.
Lynch is good at what he does with far more of a rocking sound (lots of guitar on "Momma's House" from his latest, "Tulluhoma") than the other four artists on the bill. Lynch could not be accused of being the most distinctive of artists, and he didn't do anything during his time to dispel that.
After an interview with concert host Ashley ShahAhmadi, Lynch switched gears with a solo acoustic take for a large chunk anyway of his self-described favorite song, "Cowboys & Angels," his first single. It may his favorite, but it was also his best offering as well. The timbre and emotion of his delivery came through loud and clear.
At three songs per singer (except for Lynch, who played six), this wasn't the kind of night where an artist was exactly given time to stretch it out and get into a rhythm.
The cause on this night also was right with John Deere providing matching funds. About $50,000 was raised during the 110-minute show. In these months where livestreams are about as good as you're going to get to the real deal, the benefit provided a welcome respite from the cold of winter and COVID with a night of country music.
Farm Rescue assists farm and ranch families experiencing a major illness, injury or natural disaster. Donations are still being accepted.