By Nancy J. Parisi Special for current events
Taste of Country returned to Sahlen Field on Friday night after a two-year hiatus, once again transforming the ballpark into an exuberant party space for 20,000 fans and a stylish showcase for five musical acts. The sold-out event, produced by Country 106.5 WYRK, began for some in the early afternoon with door-to-door tailgating in nearby parking lots.
The headliner was mega-star Tim McGraw, with Billy Currington, Walker Hayes, Thompson Square and WYRK Rising Stars OsbornNash (local Liz Osborn and Bob Campbell-Nash) rounding out the line-up. The national anthem was sung by local duo Fuzzy and Amanda – from Fuzzy & the Rustbelts – who were WYRK’s 2020 Rising Stars. An Air Force jet flyover then flew overhead, and a moment of silence was observed for the recent tragic events in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas.
“We’re back at the ballpark,” said DJ WYRK Rob Banks, “and it feels so good.” He told those in attendance (the room would be at capacity when the Walker Hayes set was in full swing) that the hashtag #toctidyup was in effect, a contest for hookers to take pictures of tidy parking lots for a chance to win tickets for ToC 2023.
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OsbornNash took to the stage with originals and covers, the unapologetic country tradition of paying homage to musical ancestors. Little Big Town’s “Little White Church” mixed with “Day Break” from her own boobs (the duo have plastic kazoo giveaways with the song title printed on them). They worked the barricade later for selfies and autographs during Currington’s set, signing Lockport’s Kim Coles cowgirl hat that was nearly covered — his own wearable hall of fame.
Of playing ToC, Osborn said, “It was surreal and it all happened really fast.”
Also near the scene, standing in the bed of a Toyota Tundra dressed in red, white and blue, were Kayla Wagner and Fred Kintzel. The couple won a WYRK contest and watched the show from the elevated vantage point. Residing in Elma, they will be married in East Aurora on July 23 (announced in the middle of the concert) – sometimes images of them enjoying the night were projected on the Jumbotron.
Married couple Keifer and Shawna Thompson, aka Thompson Square, took to the stage as dark gray clouds hid overhead before the sun prevailed, Shawna asking the crowd: ” Do we have any singers here tonight?”, ahead of Mellencamp’s classic “Hurts So Good.” Keifer said, “It’s great to see all these Americans in one place, it’s been a long time” before their “Trans Am” riot. “, in the contemplative “Up In Smoke” then the new version “Country In My Soul”. They ended with a vocal on “Some People Call Me the Space Cowboy” by the Steve Miller Band and their excellent “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not”.
Long, lean Hayes emerged wearing a Bisons jersey, announcing it was “time to party” – preaching to converts. Highlights of the set were “Country Stuff”, “You Broke Up with Me”, and “AA”, with its chorus, “I’m just tryna keep my daughters off the pole, And my sons out of jail.” He performed the moving and autobiographical ‘Craig’, recounting how he had found salvation and ended with his 2021 hit ‘Fancy Like’ with his family members joining him on stage to do the accompanying bouncing dance. .
Currington and the band played hard, performing “Pretty Good at Drinkin’ Beer,” “Do I Make You Wanna” and “That’s How Country Boys Roll” amid covers of Eddie’s 1950s rockabilly hit “Summertime Blues.” Cochran and “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers. .” A showcase for keys and slide guitar, “Must Be Doin’ Somethin’ Right,” met the closest “We Are Tonight,” with Currington shouting, “Thank you, I had a great time.”
Tim McGraw, referred to with respect by fellow ToC artists throughout the night, took the stage after a musical opener after Led Zeppelin’s song “Rock and Roll” played in its entirety.
“It’s good to be back,” McGraw said.
After “How Bad Do You Want It”, he said, “I’m Tim, best known as Faith’s husband.”
The 17-song set included a stage visit from former Bills QB Jim Kelly (after “Truck Yeah”), who launched Marv Levy’s famous quote, “Where would you rather be than here, right now. ?” McGraw waved a fan-handed Bills flag before “I Like It, I Love It” and closed with “Live Like You Were Dying.”
McGraw’s trio of encore songs featured the ending “Humble and Kind”, dedicated to the city of Buffalo.