WALLA WALLA - There aren't many things that draw people of all ages together these days, but a country concert is one of them. On Wednesday evening, toddlers, preteens and seniors alike could all be seen grooving to the music of Blake Shelton and special guests Joey + Rory.
Shortly after 7 p.m. wife and husband duo Joey and Rory Feek opened with their rollicking Billboard country top 40 hit "Cheater Cheater." Rory wore workman's overalls and an Elvis-in-the-military haircut, while Joey strutted around stage in snug high-waisted jeans that were well-secured by a gleaming belt buckle.
Joey and Rory performed a tight Sonny and Cher-esque musical comedy routine, prepackaged schticks in between songs and silly tunes, one about a daisy duke-wearing grandma with a "leopard skin thong." The duo played the part of a hometown couple, singing about important values such as "telling the truth and being real/and feeding my family a home-cooked meal."
Not long after it became evident that their back-up track was in fact being played through an iPod that Rory controlled on a stand set up near his microphone, he joked that, "If you want a band like ours you can get one at Best Buy." Home-cooked charm aside, Joey and Rory showed some true musical talent; Joey's voice soared on the ballad "God Help My Man if He's Foolin' Around," and the couple harmonized beautifully.
After singing a cute song encouraging the audience to buy their CD at Wal-Mart and reprising "Cheater Cheater," Joey and Rory announced that they would be signing autographs at the merchandise booth, where they were soon met by a substantial line.
By the time Blake Shelton took the stage, dusk had departed and the nearly full moon was high above the Walla Walla County Fairgrounds. Red lights and ample fog preceded Shelton, who almost immediately stated that his primary goals of the evening were to "drink some beer with y'all and play some country music." Such claims were met with enthusiastic cheers, several eager teenagers waving posters, and a spray of cell phones lighting up as concertgoers took pictures and video.
As the night went on, Shelton performed some of his popular singles, such as "Some Beach" (which was written by Rory Feeks of Joey and Rory) and the Michael Bubl√© cover "Home." Shelton also increasingly encouraged the crowd to embrace their "country" side, saying things like, "I wish you could see yourselves from where I'm standing because you talk about a pile of rednecks" and relating to the people enjoying the concert from the beer garden. The experience was greatly enhanced by the presence of cowboy hats, jean skirts and a lingering scent of manure.
Indeed, the main appeal of Shelton seemed to be his ability to sympathize with the concerns of everyday people. Twenty-six-year-old Kaytieire Fine, whose concert ticket was a birthday gift from her husband, Justin, said she can relate country songs to her everyday life and that country music reminds her of important values such as "love, family and being proud of our country."
Fine later mentioned another reason to love country music. "The other thing I love about country is that the country stars honor the people who die for this country," she said.
Other reasons to like Shelton? "There's passion," said 43-year-old Sheila Moracev, "plus he's hot."
Concertgoers who snuck out before the encore missed out one of the best parts of the night. After returning to the stage with another hit song, Shelton did a bit with a roadie, challenging him to sing the easiest song. Sporting a backwards baseball-cap, Mark the Roadie put on a very energetic performance of The Steve Miller Band's tune "The Joker" which morphed into a medley that incorporated mid-90s nostalgia music by Shaggy and Sublime.
Finally, Shelton took back the microphone and performed the second-easiest song, which apparently is "Centerfold" by The J. Geils Band. With rousing support from the audience, Shelton closed by covering "Ol Red" and expressing his gratitude to the people of Walla Walla.