Tampa, Fla. — In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I didn’t like
country music. It didn’t use to be that way, but in my late
20’s, I grew into it. I found a couple country radio stations and
before I knew it, I had songs memorized. I saw Jason Alden and Thomas
Rhett and then I started following the lesser-known guys and waited for
them to make it big.
Thankfully, country music is alive and well in Florida. This summer’s
country lineup tour is one for the ages, starting with Dierks
Bentley’s “What the Hell Tour.” He performed along with Jon
Pardi and Cole Swindell at Mid Florida Credit Union Amphitheatre in
Tampa on Friday night.
Up-and-comer Jon Pardi started the evening with songs from his newest
album, California Sunrise released in June 2016 and his first
album, Write You a Song, released in 2014. Standing tall in dark
jeans, a blue plaid short sleeve shirt, and a light cream cowboy hat,
Pardi received many cheers despite the limited crowd. He opened with
“Paycheck,” followed by “Out of Style” and “Heartache on the Dance
Like many country artists, Pardi’s song lyrics tell stories
about experiences, love, loss, and working on the farm. Pardi alternated
playing electric and acoustic guitar, accompanied by bass, drums,
and steel guitar. It’s upbeat, fun and easy listening music.
I saw plenty of couples in the VIP seating area get up and dance,
laughing and singing along to the music.
About halfway through, Pardi remarked, “I feel like I just ran a
marathon—sweaty. Sexy!” The (mostly female) audience applauded, and he
launched into “What I Can’t Put Down,” “Night Shift,” and “Cowboy
Hat.” His deep voice hit every note perfectly, even the higher
octaves. After “Up All Night,” and the hit single “Head Over Boots,”
Pardi paused. Finally, the opening notes for his top-charting “Dirt on
My Boots” began. It definitely didn’t disappoint, and I was happy to
hear the live version. This song marked the end of his show, and the
stage crew began moving sets.
As they set up for Cole Swindell, I looked out into the crowd as one of the best parts of attending country concerts is the people watching. I saw plenty of cowboy boots, plaid shirts, and hole-filled jeans. The beer was flowing, and everyone seemed to be having a good time. About 20 minutes later, the lights flashed onstage and Swindell popped up from underneath a hidden floorboard. His set started with the hit single “Hope You Get Lonely” from his self-titled 2014 album. When he started “Brought to You by Beer,” he encouraged everyone to raise his or her cans (or cups) and toast to a good night in Tampa.
Unlike other artists I’ve seen, Swindell took the time to share a bit
of his music career story with fans. He’s a songwriter at heart and
wrote popular singles for Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line and Jason
Aldean before ever writing his own music. To exemplify, he launched
into a rendition of “Get Me Some of That,” “Roller Coaster” and “This
is How We Roll.” The rest of the set was his original songs. Swindell
slowed the mood with his 2016 hit single “Middle of a Memory” and
“Remember Boys.” After “Ain’t Worth the Whiskey,” he dedicated “You
Should Be Here,” to his father, Keith, who died suddenly in 2013.
Swindell rounded out the show with “Let Me See Ya Girl” and “Closer”
by The Chainsmokers. Who knew that country could meet EDM/Pop
effectively? I loved the mash-up, and I hope to hear more in the
After a short break and changeover, Dierks Bentley took the stage and the MFCUA erupted with applause. His performance was by far the sold out crowds favorite, as it was mine.
Bentley started with “What The Hell Did I Say,” the song that gave
a name to the entire tour. He had plenty of energy, jumping and walking
back and forth on stage with a mic. The lights moved and changed
colors, and some even flashed every now and then. Then the band segued
into “5-1-5-0,” “Am I the Only One,” and a popular favorite, “Free and
Easy (Down the Road I Go)” from the “Long Trip Alone” album. He
brought Jon Pardi back on stage for a cover duet of George Strait’s
“Cowboys Like Us,” which the crowd loved. Bentley even “sang” with a
video version of Elle King for their 2016 radio hit “Different For
Toward the end of the show, Bentley made his way to a smaller stage
about 20 feet away from me, shaking hands with police and medical
first responders on his way. He played “Home” and “Riser” from the
little platform stage, then returned to the big stage for “Flatliner”
with Cole Swindell. After “Somewhere on a Beach,” and a few more
tunes, Bentley closed with “Sideways.” It occurred to me that he hadn’t
played one of his most famous songs, “Drunk on a Plane.” But I was
certain he’d play that for the encore, and I was right.
The video boards on either side of the stage tuned in to Bentley in a captain’s uniform in a plane cockpit, sunglasses dangling haphazardly on his face. The next thing I knew, the stage lit up and the front end of a plane came into view.
Dierks Bentley climbed out, stumbled around, and the melody from “Drunk on a Plane.” played. It was the best way to end an incredible show, which up to that point, totaled 4 hours.
If “What the Hell Tour” is any indication of what
Florida’s summer country series will be like, it’s sure to go above
and beyond expectations and you better hold on to those cowboy hats.