Thursday, September 20, 2018

Local Entertainment

Country Fest performers vary in energy levels, engagement

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    Brantley Gilbert sings Thursday during the opening night of Country Fest in Cadott. Gilbert's performance was complete with flames, video montages and color-changing lights.

    Staff photo by Elena Dawson
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Not all musicians are alike, and that conclusion is never more clear than after listening to back-to-back performances at an event like Cadott’s Country Fest. 

The annual festival features up-and-coming performers in addition to well-known artists, catering to a wide variety of country music fans. Thursday’s two closers were Kip Moore and Brantley Gilbert, musicians who differ greatly in their respective styles of country music, their energy levels and the way they interact with their audiences. 

Kip Moore

Kip Moore took the stage wearing a backwards baseball cap and sunglasses, emanating new-school country vibes. The topics of his songs were still tried and true within the genre, ranging from trucks to drinking to falling in love.

His first song of the night, “Fast Women,” was a smooth intro to his semi-mellow performance.

The sun had begun to set as the initial guitar strums echoed around the grounds. As if on cue, festival-goers swarmed toward the stage, wearing cowboy hats and cutoff shorts, ready for Moore’s set.

When his third song, “Beer Money,” started, many in the crowd were nodding in recognition, raising their hands into the air and, when the chorus hit, singing with a collective voice that rivaled in volume the artist’s own. 

For most of the set, Moore stood center-stage, merely tapping his foot as he strummed his guitar — either electric or acoustic depending on the song. But when “Just Another Girl” rolled around, he went guitar-free and danced around the stage, pointing at front-row audience members and singing to them. This was one of the most enthusiastic songs he performed.

Toward the end of his performance, Moore played a slower song and lost the attention of much of his audience. He followed up with a redemptive “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Truck,” which had crowd members jumping up and down and serenading each other.

In general, Moore was clearly enjoying his time on stage, but his performance was more something to hear than something to watch. It wasn’t until 9 p.m. that he took off his sunglasses, which meant the first 30 minutes of his set were lacking in the eye contact mega-fans dream of.

Throughout his concert, Moore missed plenty of opportunities to interact with the audience, only referring to his fans a few times and encouraging their energy and engagement once or twice. When he could have been walking the stage, high-fiving those in the front, he was instead standing directly in front of the microphone stand. In general, the performance could have benefited from some increased level of energy.

While Moore’s voice sounded consistently in tune and only hit one particularly gravelly patch, his set of mid-tempo songs left was only a warm-up for the final performer of the night. 

Brantley Gilbert

When Gilbert finally took the stage after a technical problem that delayed his start time, he did so with lights, flames and a video montage. 

His opener, “My Kind of Party,” was well-received and well-delivered. Throughout, he touched the hands of audience members, spanned the stage and even interacted with his band.

The audience was constantly invited to be engaged, with Gilbert asking questions like, “Where my country fans at?” and “Do we have any drinkers out there?” before starting a new song that would indubitably evoke loud whoops from the crowd.

Gilbert’s show was one that could please almost any type of country music lover. From harder, faster songs with rock-esque instrumentals to acoustic ballads to a country rap, the singer covered several bases.

Something heartwarming the artist did more than once during the show was dedicate a song to a certain person/group of people. When he announced “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do” was for his wife, he mentioned his love for her and his 7-month-old son, which made him more relatable.

The almost-always-capped artist took his hat off during a song he dedicated to all active-duty and veteran military personnel. After that announcement, the audience started a cheer of “USA, USA, USA.” In response, the singer turned the mic stand toward the chanting audience and backed away.

When he took the microphone back up, he had donned a black and white star-spangled guitar.

At one point in the show, Gilbert mentioned critics saying he was “too rock” to be country, and his music definitely is not for the faint of heart. With punchy instrumentals, fast-paced and heavy drum beats and semi-growly vocals, one can see the obvious rock influences. That’s part of what makes Gilbert stand out among his crooning peers. 

Gilbert’s performance was a multi-sense experience, as it included captivating video displays on the back wall of the stage, Gilbert’s own frequent movement and lights and flames timed to the music. All of these extras almost distracted from the fact that the singer’s voice was sometimes overpowered by the guitar and percussion, excellent though they were. Also at times, his words sounded muddled, lacking the clarity radio mixes provide. 

In the end, though, Gilbert had his audience wrapped around his finger, cheering for an encore.

Today’s main stage performers include Tim Hurley, Dwight Yokam, Brett Eldredge and Brad Paisley. Tomorrow will see Jay Allen, Luke Combs, Luke Owen and Jason Aldean. For more information, visit  

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