“To know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been,” said The Band Perry’s Kimberly Perry last night (4/11) at the 2012 All For The Hall benefit concert.
Which pretty succinctly sums up an excellent musical evening. It was “group night” at the annual Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum fundraiser, with duos and groups comprising the vast majority of performers. It was a multi-generational affair—hot new artists playing the same stage as beloved veterans.
But first, co-host Keith Urban and band had to warm us up. After a quick four count from the drummer, guitars strummed the opening riff to “You Gonna Fly” as the silver curtain hiding the stage dropped and we were off.
“Third time’s a charm,” said a smiling Urban as he greeted the crowd. He wasted no time before launching into “Sweet Thing,” accompanied by a cluster of waving cell phone lights from the floor. When the house lights came up, Bridgestone Arena appeared to be at capacity—a good sign for the Hall of Fame.
Keith introduced his “spiritual brother” and co-host Vince Gill during the mid-song breakdown, and the two engaged in some impressive Allman-esque dueling guitars.
“You’re gonna get to see a lot of great bands tonight,” said Vince. “Thirty-three years ago I got to be in a great band.” He elaborated by singing the Pure Prairie League classic “Amie.”
Vince also nodded at the Hall of Fame’s brand spankin’ new Bakersfield Sound exhibit by playing Buck Owens’ “Together Again,” complete with a breathtaking steel solo from Paul Franklin.
The first duo or group to take the stage was Thompson Square, fresh from a huge ACM Award win for Duo of the Year. T2 offered up “I Got You” and the No. 1 smash “Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not.”
The Grand Ole Opry’s Eddie Stubbs was on deck to assist with master of ceremonies duties between performers.
“How about having Vince and Keith as the backup band?” asked Stubbs. Yeah, you could do a lot worse.
Singer/songwriters Kenny Loggins, Gary Burr, and Georgia Middleman—collectively known as Blue Sky Riders—took the stage next, and performed the uptempo road song “I’m A Rider (Finally Home)” and “Dream.” According to Stubbs, the Riders have an album and single on the way.
“We’re Blue Sky Riders and you’ve never heard of us. Admit it,” quipped Burr.
The Pistol Annies (Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley) strutted onstage to thunderous applause. The girls swayed over the swampy intro to “Hell On Hells,” their harmonies haunting on the hypnotic blues number. “Thanks to Vince and Keith for being our backup band,” said ringleader Miranda Lambert. “That’s hot!” The Annies finished with a sassy, tough-as-nails run through “Takin’ Pills.”
Diamond Rio followed, tearing into “Unbelievable.” Rio singer Marty Roe told the audience about Keith Urban standing in for guitarist Jimmy Olander at an ACM Awards years back when Jimmy’s son was born. “Do you know how to play any Diamond Rio songs?” he had asked Urban. “Where do you want to start?” was the reply. The band closed up with its hit “Meet In The Middle,” with Vince, Keith and Olander trading flashy six string licks.
Keith introduced Little Big Town by saying he stole half of the group to sing on “You Gonna Fly.” The full LBT was present last night, starting off with the funky, mid-tempo Adam Hood song “Front Porch Thing.” Someone’s going to have a hit with that cut. Speaking of hits, LBT also played “Boondocks,” its intricate four-part vocal coda still impressive.
Four-part harmony continued with the Oak Ridge Boys, who sang the beloved hit “Elvira” right off the bat. The group then took it back to the beginning of their country radio career with “Bobby Sue.”
Attendees also got to see a video about the Hall of Fame’s partnership with Ford, the Ford Community Day and more. Featured were the Oaks, Jim “Moose” Brown, Erin Enderlin, Hunter Hayes, and Dwight Yoakam.
Lady Antebellum was the next group, and lead the crowd in singing Happy Birthday to Vince. “72 years old,” joked Charles Kelley. The superstar vocal group performed its recent hit “We Owned the Night” and Need You Now smash “American Honey.”
One of only two solo performers to play the event, the Gentle Giant of country music Don Williams joined the stage. Williams’ selections included “Imagine That,” from his upcoming Sugar Hill album And So It Goes, and his classic “Tulsa Time.”
Country Music Hall of Famers Alabama eschewed the backing band for a stripped down approach that included “Feels So Right” and “She’s A Lady Down On Love.”
“There’s nothing like the sound of those voices,” commented Urban. “And there’s nothing like sibling harmony.” That was Band Perry’s cue.
The Perry clan delivered current single “Postcard From Paris” with frontwoman-extraordinaire Kimberly showing off her soulful pipes, accented by some tasty B3 organ fills. The group wrapped up with “You Lie.”
Newest Grand Ole Opry members (at least until 10 minutes later in the show) Rascal Flatts stopped by to perform “Changed,” the title track from the group’s new album. “It’s the most handsome band I’ve ever seen in my life,” joked Gary LeVox while gesturing to Vince and Keith. The group brought the crowd to its feet with a cover of the Tom Cochrane hit “Life is a Highway.”
The breaking news moment of the night happened when Vince, the Oaks, Rio, and Flatts came together to surprise Keith Urban with an invitation to become the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry.
“I’m shocked,” said a tearful Urban. “It’s a huge honor and how beautiful to have this happen tonight of all nights.” His induction ceremony is set for April 21, so mark those calendars.
The other solo performer on the bill was the legendary Merle Haggard, who is playing at the Ryman tonight (4/11). The outlaw country star, apparently feeling pretty good after a health scare earlier in the year, received a standing ovation after “Today I Started Loving You Again,” “Working Man Blues,” and “Silver Wings.”
Keith gratefully thanked everyone one more time, before bringing the entire cast back to the stage for an ensemble performance of “I Saw Her Standing There.”