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It's a long, but worthwhile girls night out for Reba et al

Chula Vista, Cal., Coor's Auditorium, July 14, 2001

By Rick Bell

CHULA VISTA, Calif. - It didn't possess the sass of a Lilith Fair show or carry the party-down vibe of a Dixie Chicks concert, but the five women performing on the inaugural Girls Night Out tour more than gave the 7,000 strong their money's worth.

Clocking in at around four hours, the concert featuring headliners Reba McEntire and Martina McBride, along with Sara Evans, Jamie O'Neal and Carolyn Dawn Johnson, indeed was a night out for the girls. But make no mistake; plenty of guys were in attendance as well.

Despite its length, the show maintained a brisk pace. Set changes lasted no more than 10 minutes, and each artist did her best to keep fans into the marathon show with snappy playlists largely consisting of their hits.

Perhaps the ambition of such a concert might have been its biggest hindrance. Packing five artists into just over four hours may have been too much. The time constraints never let Johnson, a wonderful songwriter whose upcoming debut record "Room with a View" is a real treat, and the Australian-born O'Neal gather any momentum.

Even Evans, whose voice is as thrilling as any in country music today, was limited to a seven-song set. Nonetheless, it was 45 minutes of sheer pleasure.

Opening with her monster hit "Born to Fly," Evans, wearing a sleeveless white blouse and beige slacks, and her seven-member band tore through her hits. She debuted her next single, the touching "Saints and Angels," then closed with her current hit, Edwin McCain's "I Could Not Ask for More" and a compelling version of the Doobie Brothers' "Long Train Runnin'."

McBride's set ran slightly longer at just under an hour, and the Kansas native delivered in no uncertain terms. Dropping to the stage in what appeared to be a fiery orb, McBride and her six band members kicked off with "It's My Time" and continued with a nice blend of old and new as well as a couple of dandy renditions of pop standards.

With a voice that blurs country, rock and pop, McBride jumped from Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now" to her emotion-choked "Wild Angels," a song she admitted at the end literally left her breathless. No doubt by the ovation, the crowd felt much the same way.

McBride, wearing a white suit that included embroidered pedal pushers, simply torched "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" - a bow to her Kansas roots - then launched into her new single, "When God-Fearin' Women get the Blues."

She returned for one encore with Johnson on backing vocals - not surprising, since several of McBride's band members backed Johnson during her three-song set - on her crossover hit, "I Love You." It was the first time any of the stars appeared with one another - a bit of a disappointment, really, considering the Girls Night Out theme would seem to be one of companionship and solidarity.

McEntire offered no delusions that this night would turn into a girl-power singalong - at least, not initially. Dressed in a glittering blue cocktail dress, McEntire's gaudy 90-minute set seldom stopped to catch its breath.

Like McBride, McEntire ran through a lot of old and new tunes but dressed up several numbers in somewhat rudimentary dance numbers. Her dancers looking flashy and well-costumed, McEntire hoofed it along with them on "Why Haven't I Heard from You," though the choreography had all the verve and imagination of a night at the Lawrence Welk dinner theater just up the freeway in Escondido.

McEntire indeed was at her best on ballads like the throwback "You Lie" and "The Greatest Man." It was especially true of the first encore number, "Does He Love You," in which McBride returned to the stage to sing Linda Davis' mistress part to McEntire's jilted lover. It was the jolt the crowd needed as the clock wound past four hours.

The pair then was joined on stage by Evans, O'Neal and Johnson, and the girls really began their night in earnest. Launching into the Eagles' "Heartache Tonight," they followed with "Natural Woman" - each of the five taking a verse - then closed with the extremely appropriate Judds tune, "Girls Night Out."

If the Girls Night Out concept indeed does take root - McBride apparently organized much of the event after appearing in several Lilith Fair shows last year - the 2001 edition could be the start of something special. With a little fine-tuning, a Girls Night Out could be a wonderful staple of the summer concert schedule for years to come.

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