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Gill powers through concert, Tillis, Adkins in fine form

Great Woods, Mansfield, Mass., June 22, 1997

By Jeffrey B. Remz

MANSFIELD, MA - An afternoon onslaught from the heavens caused a power outage prior to the start of the four-act WKLB Country Festival Sunday.

But Vince Gill probably would have been enough himself to turn the power back as he amply demonstrated yet again why he is one of the finest superstars on the country scene today.

Let's put it this way. During a very generous 130-minute show before 12,800 people, there were no slack moments in Gill's set, infusing even those songs which don't quite stack up on the silver platter.

Gill was on fire from the opening "One Dance With You," a bluesy number on which Gill let loose on guitar.

That was something the crowd was to see often during the concert. And in his trademark style, Gill doesn't go for the flash of speed. His playing seems effortless, but through his playing, Gill helps the songs come to a climax. He often seems to be jamming away, letting the songs take on a life of their own.

This is not country by the numbers where you try your darndest to replicate studio versions.

Gill mixed it up between straight ahead country ("What the Cowgirls Do"), Western swing ("Take the Memory With You") and ballads ("Which Bridge to Burn" and "Look at Us") and rock (the unrecorded barnburner "Leave Your Light On Lucy").

Gill switched gears time and again, never staying in the same stylistic mode for too long. The bluesy start was followed by "High Lonesome Sound" (less bluegrass oriented than on CD) and the sad ballad "Pretty Little Adriana." And he then plowed through "South Side of Dixie," an upbeat, rollicking song.

This was not a one-man show as Gill was ably backed by a 10-piece band. Highlights included the pedal steel playing of John Hughey and the time and again sharp fiddle of Jeff Guersney and piano of Pete Wasner. A spirited Bekka Bramlett, formerly with Fleetwood Mac, also lent a hand on backing vocals. Much to his credit, Gill was more than happy to let his band have their moments in the spotlight.

The staging - recreation of small village atmosphere of the OK Border Cafe, a gas station and a sign pointing the way to the High Lonesome Motel - helped underscore the easy going atmosphere.

Gill possesses a warm stage style as well, not yakking too much and lending a warmth when he does. He poked fun at himself, for example, in introducing "Jenny Dreamed of Trains," a song about his daughter. He said she receives phone calls from males with voices deeper than his.

No power outage would have stopped the energetic overdrive provided by Gill.

Pam Tillis preceded Gill with a 55-minute set showcasing her blend of the poppier side of country and its deeper roots.

Like Gill, she proved to be energetic, bounding about the stage, clearly enjoying herself, something she said after the show.

Playing following the release of her greatest hits package, Tillis did not simply trot out the hits. She played the two new songs on the disc, the uptempo "Land of the Living," played for the first time live ever, and the closing "All the Good Ones Are Gone," a ballad about a 34-year-old woman looking for a date. Tillis showed good range on the latter.

Tillis also paid homage to the past covering her father's "Heart Over Mind " and Hank Williams Sr.'s "Honky Tonkin'." Tillis showed she was capable of putting her own mark on the songs, although it also showed that she has modernized the sound, particularly on the latter.

Of her songs, "Maybe It was Memphis," the torchy ballad, was a particular highlight. And she did not present it as a rehash of the studio version either.

The only problem with the set was that due to the nature of the beast of the concert, Tillis could not play longer.

Newcomer Trace Adkins, who has enjoyed four hits from his debut, opened with a strong half-hour set. Adkins has a superb baritone, capable of breathing much life into the songs. Although he only has one album, Adkins trotted out three new songs, including "The Rest of Mine," a lovely ballad, and the humorous "Took Her to the Moon."

Adkins showed much confidence no only in his singing, but in banter with the crowd. When he told the crowd he sang "The Rest of Mine" at his recent wedding, one woman booed. "I don't think that required any boos ma'am," he said jokingly.

Adkins showed he may be a real comer.

The only low point was Bryan White, who came on after Adkins. Simply put, he isn't country by any stretch. He offers up a bunch of lightweight songs with sugary vocals and no emotional core. The low point had to be his version of Glen Campbell's "Southern Nights," hammy and completely harmless.

Everyone else on the bill more than made up for White and showed in their hands, country can be powerful.

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