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For Martina McBride, the scene sets the table for fine show

Chateau Ste. Michelle, Woodinville, WA, July 2, 2003

By Brian Wahlert

WOODINVILLE, WA - Washington state has some magical places to see a concert. The Gorge Amphitheater in Eastern Washington, right on the Columbia River Gorge, is one. Pier 62/63 on the downtown Seattle waterfront is another.

The Chateau Ste. Michelle winery, however, may just be the most amazing concert venue of all. Located just a few miles from Microsoft's main campus, the winery provides an easy escape from urban and suburban life.

On this night, Martina McBride took the stage, and she owned it from the moment she arrived, declaring "It's My Time." After that, she quickly sang another one of her anthemic hits, "Wild Angels."

McBride has come a long way since selling concert merchandise for Garth Brooks back around 1990-1991. Her initial album, "The Time Has Come," showed promise but was a bit tentative. She really came into her own with her sophomore disc, "The Way That I Am," which contained her first women's anthem, "Independence Day," along with the feel-good women's song, "My Baby Loves Me."

Since then, she has continued to have success with songs that feature relatively calm verses contrasted with big, anthemic choruses. This success is one part due to fortunate choices of material and two parts due to McBride's amazing voice - the combination of power and beauty in McBride's voice is unmatched in country music today.

Songs like "My Baby Loves Me" and "Happy Girl" are fine - they're enjoyable, positive songs about women. But it's songs like "Blessed" where McBride really shines. She sounds satisfied, content, as she sings, "I get to hear my children laughing down the hall through the bedroom door." But then in the chorus she raises that contentedness to jubilation when she thanks God for her blessings. Near the end of the song, she brought her two daughters, Delaney, 8, and Emma, 4, out on stage and sang to them. Afterwards, Emma almost wouldn't leave - she was enjoying the spotlight too much.

"Whatever You Say" is not necessarily McBride's biggest hit, probably due to its somewhat darker nature than much of McBride's material, but it may well be her best performance to date. She alternates between hopeful, pleading and angry so well.

"Even though I want to, I don't hear I love you in whatever you say," she sings, with a tear in her voice. But then she bounces back in the chorus to belt out an ultimatum, "Whether I go, whether I stay, right now depends on whatever you say." On this night, she added yet another dip to this emotional roller coaster of a song when she added a quiet, sweet, pleading version of the chorus - imagine the same singer combining Dolly Parton's and Whitney Houston's renditions of "I Will Always Love You" into one song, and you have McBride's performance of "Whatever You Say" on this evening. After hearing that performance, it's no wonder that she's the reigning Country Music Association's Female Vocalist of the Year.

It's been about four years since McBride's last album of all-new material, but the wait ends this fall. The first single, "This One's for the Girls," is already out, and although it's not McBride's most powerful song, it definitely appeals to a broad range of women. When she sang the first verse to the 13-year-olds, a few young girls were dancing along, very into the song. By the verse about 42-year-olds, those girls were sitting back down (although still dancing, just not on their feet), but the many women in the crowd were cheering loudly. It looks like the hit parade will continue for McBride.

McBride also threw a couple of interesting covers into her set. She did a fantastic, rocking rendition of "Harper Valley P.T.A.," saying, "It's kinda sassy, kinda feisty. You know me." She also spoke about growing up in Kansas and being inspired to sing by Judy Garland in "The Wizard of Oz" and then performed "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

For her encore, she performed "Two More Bottles of Wine," a Delbert McClinton song that she cut for her 1995 "Wild Angels" CD. It may not be a regular part of her show, but she couldn't have found a more appropriate song to sing as an encore to this adoring, wine-drinking crowd.

Alberta, Canada native Aaron Lines opened the show, performing songs off his January debut, "Living Out Loud." He's best known for the sweet hit, "You Can't Hide Beautiful," but he proved that he's more than a one-hit wonder. He has a nice, smooth voice and a knack for writing wistful, nostalgic songs about the excitement of young love, like "Old Days New" and "She Called Me Kansas."

All in all, a great night at the winery. The sellout crowd went home happy - and it wasn't just the wine.

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