You knew it had to be a special concert if Martina McBride was the opening act

By Nancy Kruh
July 19, 2017 11:20 PM
Credit: Nancy Kruh

You knew it had to be a special concert if Martina McBride was the opening act.

The platinum-selling artist lit the way last Wednesday evening for a mostly female lineup of stars at this “only in Nashville” kind of event.

Songs you won’t hear on any record? Check.

Artists who usually perform for thousands now singing in an intimate nightclub setting? Check.

Stripped-down acoustic versions of million-selling hits? Check.

Credit: Nancy Kruh

McBride, a surprise bonus to the announced lineup, kicked off the almost three-hour show, and Hall of Famer Reba McEntire capped the evening, channeling her inner nightclub chanteuse on a stage a tenth the size she usually prowls. In between, Lee Ann Womack and Brandy Clark – the other billed artists – entertained the lucky few hundred who’d snagged tickets. Other surprises included Hunter Hayes, William Michael Morgan and newcomer Andrea Pearson, who delivered one- or two-song sets.

The common denominator for all the performers was Shane Tarleton, Warner Music’s creative director, who organized the event to benefit the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, a national caregiving organization. Tarleton called in his cards to help honor his beloved grandmother, who succumbed to the disease.

“When a friend asks you to come do something, you come do it,” McEntire, 62, tearfully told the crowd. “And when a friend says, ‘This is for my granny, we’re honoring her,’ you run to do it.”

Credit: Kyle Dean Reinford

Much of the evening’s thrill was simply hearing some of country’s most admired voices unadorned by studio production sounds. Womack, 50, summoned the spirits with a moaning rendition of the Lefty Frizzell standard “Long Black Veil,” drawing a standing ovation. She also previewed a self-penned cut off her upcoming album – due in October – with a novel hook: “Either I’m a fool for asking, or you belong in Hollywood.”

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Among her six songs, Clark, 41, also delivered an unreleased creation, “You’re Drunk,” which got sidelined from her latest album but still lacks none of her signature wordsmithery (“you’re drunk – as a skunk – looking for a ‘get you over that heartbreak’ hump”).

Credit: Kyle Dean Reinford

In her three-song set, McBride, 50, treated the crowd with “one of my favorite things I’ve ever recorded,” a song called “When You Are Old” from her debut album in 1992.

“I don’t think I’ve sung this song live on stage since 1995,” she warned the crowd, “so hopefully it won’t suck.” (No surprise: It didn’t.)

Credit: Nancy Kruh

McBride’s song choice, of course, alluded to the evening’s beneficiary. Hayes, 25, did the same with “Rescue,” which he said he chose, not because it’s his latest release, but because it’s a song “about people who are there to lift you up and give you strength when you don’t know you need it the most.”

Credit: Kyle Dean Reinford

Morgan, 24, was even more pointed with “I Know Who He Is,” a song about Alzheimer’s co-written by Eric Church and Casey Beathard (Tucker’s dad). Pearson, a seasoned session vocalist about to release her own music, tearfully performed the self-penned “Cadillac Man,” about her late father, a victim of Alzheimer’s.

Credit: Nancy Kruh

McEntire wielded her mighty vocal power through eight songs, drawing from her classics, as well as her recent gospel double album.

Of course, any Reba fan knows when you hear “Fancy,” you figure the show is over – except on this special evening. This time, McEntire sent her audience off on a spiritual high with a rousing, redemptive “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” turning the Nashville nightclub into a tent revival.