Rascal Flatts fans soak up the fun at soggy, sold-out Blossom

August 18, 2018

Rascal Flatts fans soak up the fun at soggy, sold-out Blossom

CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio – Rascal Flatts fans definitely are not what you’d call “fair weather fans.″

Nope, not when rain fell most of Friday, slacked off a bit just in time for traffic to get to Blossom Music Center for the show and then started up again about a half-hour before they took the stage.

Still, in excess of 20,000 poured – you’ll pardon the expression – onto the grounds of the picturesque amphitheater to see the Ohio boys (cousins Gary LeVox and Jay DeMarcus are from the Columbus area) and their “adopted Ohioan,″ guitarist, bandmate and Oklahoma native Joe Don Rooney.

For 90 minutes the band that first surfaced here as the opening act in the 2000 WGAR Country Jam held sway over their faithful, rocking 18 years’ worth of some of the most recognizable hits in mainstream country.

Now, here’s the question: Was it their best show? In a word, no. lead singer Gary LeVox, whose nasal tenor has become the band’s trademark sound, did not have a great night. Oh, there were a few songs where his vocal calisthenics came into play, but for much of the night, it seemed as though he’d dropped the key a bit – no more than a step or so – but noticeably lower.

Not that it mattered, though. These are Ohio guys, playing in Ohio to Ohioans, right down to LeVox’s “Buckeyes or Nothing” T-shirt. It was almost a given that they would do a turn on the “official” Ohio state song, “Hang On Sloopy″ . . . and they did, including the requisite “O-H-I-O.″ In another band, that would be pandering and frankly, be downright despicable.

In fact, it was part of the best segment of the Rascal Flatts set, a medley that began and ended with their hit “I’m Movin’ On,″ with DeMarcus on lead vocals and an upright piano, Rooney on acoustic guitar and LeVox adding commentary and the occasional lead.

Some things became immediately apparent in that segment: First off, Rooney is a far better guitarist that he usually is given credit for being. He IS the lead guitarist for Rascal Flatts – there’s not some hired gun in the background doing the riffs – and he’s outstanding at it.

Yet, it’s DeMarcus who is most amazing. Hobbled by a bad foot – he told the crowd that the nail of his big toe lost a battle with a heavy steel door – he was able to soldier on in the spirit of “the show must go on″ . . . and the help of a few painkillers.

His regular and slap bass is better than average, maybe even superior in the country world, and in past shows, I’ve seen him play drums to rival Ginger Baker. But I really believe the piano is his natural instrument. He was able to coax sounds and emotions out of the thing that were simply amazing as the three went through “Movin’ On,″ “I Won’t Let Go″ (with Rooney on lead vocals), “Take It to the Limit,″ “Any Way You Want It″ and, of course, “Hang On, Sloopy.″

Best of all, they resurrected a favorite Rascal Flatts standard from years past, a “countrified″ version of Rick Springfield’s chestnut, “Jessie’s Girl″ called “Bubba’s Girl.″ All you need to know about that one is that it includes the lines “She’s brushing both of his teeth, I just know it” and “Where can I find a cousin like that?” It’s corny and crass and funny as hell.

Rascal Flatts can and will continue to play big venues like Blossom, sell it out and do those wonderful, raucous shows with songs like “Bob That Head,” “Yours If You Want It,” “My Wish,” “Rewind” (that was a particularly moving one, ending with an image of the late Aretha Franklin on the big screen), “Fast Cars and Freedom,” “Bless the Broken Road,” “Summer Nights” and “Life Is a Highway.″

Fans will pay to see all that. But I think I would pay more to see just the three of them, with Rooney on guitar and DeMarcus on piano, running through acoustic versions of a couple of those tunes . . . and a dozen of their favorite covers. It would be a unique show, and an even better showcase of talent vs. marketing acumen.

That marketing acumen probably played a role in having Dan + Shay – duo Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney – follow newcomer Carly Pearce as their primary opening act.

Mooney’s voice is not that far different than LeVox’s – a fact that was even more evident when they joined Rascal Flatts for the Mooney-written “Hopin’ You Were Lookin’.″ As Dan + Shay ran through their 40-minute set, I honestly felt we were in for a duel between the Mooney and LeVox . . . and was sort of looking forward to it. Alas, it did not materialize.

This time.

When Rascal Flatts played that WGAR Jam back in the day, they created a whole new cadre of young fans for what became mainstream country. Dan + Shay, whose sound has more in common with Justin Timberlake than Merle Haggard probably are going to do the same, for another generation.

Then it’ll be their turn to reign in the rain.

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