Travis Tritt, Bo Bice
Boone Hall Plantation
I have a conflicted relationship with mainstream country music. I hate the newer, lifeless, corporate radio pop that is now called “country,” but I relish the older, often cheesy, but usually heartfelt ballads. On Sunday night at Boone Hall Plantation, that disparity was on full display.
Opener Bo Bice, of American Idol fame, spent 45 minutes telling everyone how much he loved traditional country greats like Merle Haggard while spewing garbage that would have surely made Merle shake his head. With a background of bad ’80s power-pop, Bice pranced around, rasping the uninspired words that Nashville seems to push every new artist to sing: essentially name-dropping all the greats and proclaiming just how country he is while showing us just how country he isn’t. If you have to say it …
Travis Tritt roared onto the stage and started playing his hits, as well as several cover songs. After “Honky Tonk History” and Bad Company’s “Shooting Star,” he spoke to the crowd for a few minutes, saying, “I don’t care if you sing the wrong lyrics, out of key and out of tune — I do not care. But I can’t speak for the guy next to you.”
He kept things moving with “Whiskey Ain’t Workin’ Anymore” (a collaboration with Marty Stuart), “Between an Old Memory and Me,” and the Waylon Jennings classic “Where Corn Don’t Grow.”
If Bice exemplified what’s wrong with modern country, songs like “Where Corn Don’t Grow” are what’s missing, and as Tritt sang a grounded, real song with actual meaning, I wished Tritt’s own songs retained a little more of the power of traditional country. But with Tritt, you know what you’re getting. He’s somewhere between new and old, with moments of greatness and moments of mainstream banality. And unlike Bice, he actually plays the guitar.
Tritt showed off his chops as the band took a break, sitting down for acoustic versions of “Foolish Pride” and “I Don’t Love You Anymore” before playing an acoustic instrumental. He praised Stuart for inspiring him to the song, saying, “When you spend a lot of time with such a great musician, it’s bound to rub off on you.”
Tritt knew the crowd came to hear the hits, and he belted all of them out, from “Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)” to “Long Haired Country Boy,” “Country Club,” “T-R-O-U-B-L-E,” and, of course, “It’s a Great Day to be Alive.” When he asked the crowd to join him for several extra “Ah-hooooos,” the hundreds in attendance were happy to oblige.
For an encore, Tritt returned with several old tunes, including Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys,” where he mimicked Willie Nelson’s part hilariously.
At 48, Tritt has reached an age where only a few mainstream stars have retained their relevance, and his great voice cracked a few times on the high notes. But at least he’s still got soul, pouring himself into the performance and making sure the audience got what they came for.