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Pandering aside, Wallen leads a fine night

Fenway Park, Boston, August 17, 2023

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Most of the artists on the four-act bill could have plead guilty for rooting for the home team.s After all, how else to explain how artist after artist – that would include headliner Morgan Wallen, HARDY, Ernest and Bailey Zimmerman - donned the uniform of one of the local teams.

Wallen held off for about as long as he possibly could – the encore – when he came out in a Larry Bird jersey. Others less so.

While that may have resulted in easy cheers for the artists, fortunately, there was a lot more to like about most of them besides pandering to the local sports teams and fans in the second of three sold-out shows at the iconic ballpark.

That was certainly true of Wallen. He's not exactly a hard core country guy, given his modern sound. But there was a lot to like about him during his very satisfying, fast-paced two-hour set.

For starters, Wallen showed himself to be a very fine singer. There's a lot emotionin his delivery. When he sang "More Than My Hometown," you got the feeling that the self-described mama's boy may just be telling the truth. There is a lot of simplicity about Wallen from his small town bent to thanking the crowd in song after song. In introducing his megahit "Last Night," the next to last song of the night, Wallen almost seemed in disbelief himself that the song was all over various charts.

"Last Night" was an easy going melody, but Wallen's delivery made the song stand out.

And while some heaped undeserved criticism at Wallen for covering Jason Isbell's very fine "Cover Me Up," the song rang true when delivered by Wallen as well.

Wallen tended to rock more when he brought out HARDY for "He Went to Jared" and perhaps was at his most country when Ernest was back for "Cowgirls." Maybe there was a little something for everyone.

And if country and drinking songs are synonymous, well, Wallen had a whole host of them with such titles as "Whiskey Friends," "This Bar" and "Wasted on You" as proof.

Truth be told, Wallen goes down pretty easy.

HARDY was not so easy - on the ears anyway. Having tremendous success as a songwriter (he helped write "Sand in My Boots," a hit for Wallen), he is increasingly making strides on his own. As a singer, HARDY pales in comparison to Wallen, for example, but he's very good at what he does anyway.

HARDY could not decide whether he wanted to be a rocker or a country singer. So, he went for both starting with the hard rocking "Sold Out" and "Kill Sh!t Till I Die." He played that off against other songs like "Boots" and the hell raising country of "Unapologetically Country As Hell." Not to mention his take on "God's Country," which Blake Shelton made a big hit.

Unlike the low-key Wallen, HARDY was a bit in your face. During "God's Country," he draped himself in the American flag as a prop (he handed it off to a roadie once he was done with his unsubtle pontification about the greatness of the US of A).

Fortunately, HARDY has a lot of really good songs, and maybe there's something that goes over well with his degree of brashness.

Another one name artist, Ernest, was the most country of any of the acts on the bill. Like HARDY, he, too, has enjoyed songwriting success. That would include Jelly Roll's recent hit "Son of a Sinner" and Wallen's catchy, "Somebody's Problem," both of which he covered.

Now, some songwriters try to perform, and you know why they were songwriters first and foremost. In the case of Ernest, that's a jumping off point because he's also quite capable of using his voice.

Ernest closed with his biggest song, "Flower Shops," but that was the icing on the cake in his case.

Show opener Zimmerman didn't have any particular connections to Wallen, but in his half hour, Zimmerman showed himself to be a straightforward performer. Zimmerman did not have too much to do with country music as he's far more of a rock artist. Zimmerman acquitted himself with hits "Religiously" and "Rock and a Hard Place," but there was also a bit of a paint by the numbers feel from the music.

On the other hand, Zimmerman also gave hope to the non-believers out there, saying he had no intention of doing music as of two years ago and encouraging people to live their dreams.

Chances are Zimmerman never expected to be playing Fenway Park. There might have been more than a little of that on this night for all of the artists. With or without Bruins, Sox or Patriots paraphernalia, Wallen led a fine night of music.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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