It was a big night in Vivint Arena. Not only was Country Music legend, Alan Jackson performing, but it was the first time the arena would be hosting a full capacity, sold-out concert in almost two years. The way everything went, you wouldn’t have guessed it had been that long. Concessions, security, and ushers alike were in top form. It was a great feeling, but still a little odd to see so many people together.
It’s no surprise that Alan Jackson would be the one to bring capacity crowds back to Vivint Arena. Utah loves Country Music, and they really love Alan Jackson. There was a warm and friendly vibe within the arena. I think people were ready to have a good time and enjoy their favorite music with a big crowd for the first time in what feels like ages.
The evening began with Cory Farley, an up-and-comer originally from Iowa. The first thing I noticed was just how happy and grateful Farley was to be on that stage performing. It all felt so new for him. Not in a performance sense. He definitely knew what he was doing. It was his first time in Utah and he still seemed in awe to be performing on a huge arena stage. I think this genuine excitement endeared him to the Salt Lake audience as they were really supportive for his entire set.
He mixed in some of his own original music with some classic 90s country hits like “Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus and “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” and “A Little Less Talk, Lot More Action” by Toby Keith. The highlight for me was his cover of Charlie Daniels’ “Devil Went Down to Georgia”. He joked that he was too poor to hire a fiddle player and instead all of the fiddle solos were played by his 19 year old guitarist. It was a really impressive version of this song.
He covered another Toby Keith hit, “Courtesy of the Red White and Blue” to close his set. He had everyone stand up and put their hand over their heart as his guitarist played the National Anthem. Farley unfurled a flag and the entire arena stood at attention. It was a really patriotic can inspiring moment in the show.
If I was going to make one critique about Farley it would be he needs to tone it down on the Toby Keith covers. Country Music already has a Toby Keith. He needs them to make room for Cory Farley. He performed those covers really well. That isn’t the issue. In fact, he really sounded like Toby Keith on “Courtesy of the Red White and Blue”. That is the issue. People will go crazy and sing along to the song they love. But you want them to do that for one of your songs. My two cents would be to move on from so many covers and stamp your name in the industry. Because Farley has the charm, the voice, and the charisma to go a long way. I just don’t want him to be a Toby Keith tribute act one day.
Alan Jackson took the stage to a roaring ovation. He seemed to mosey a little slowly to his spot. But I hadn’t seen hi mosey before so I didn’t know if that was unusual or if he was just that smooth. And if you know anything about Alan Jackson, you know how smooth he is. He isn’t overly expressive, he never runs around the stage. He keeps it cool and lets the music speak for itself. I thought he looked great. His mustache still rivaling Tom Selleck’s for mustache supremacy. He seemed poised to give us all a great night of his best work.
He started things off with “Gone Country”. What a way to start. People were instantly dancing. The front of the arena floor was general admission with seats beginning at about the center of the arena. The general admission section was fun to watch. They had the freedom to move from around and really get social. This song has enough solo breaks for Jackson to move away from the microphone and walk to the front of the stage. He would grab stacks of rolled up t-shirts and throw them out into the crowd. The show was off to a great start.
Jackson shared that Utah has always been good to him over the years. It seems like everywhere ever has been good to him. Alan Jackson has scored 35 #1 hits! That’s more songs than he can even play in a concert. So he has to decide which of his #1 hits he’s going to keep out of the setlist each night. That’s a mind-blowing thing to contemplate. As I tried to make sense of this in my head Jackson broke into one of those # 1’s, “Livin’ on Love”. The chorus rang through the arena.
I finally noticed that Jackson was having some type of health issue. He had a prop that he could lean up against when he stood to the microphone. I don’t bring this up to turn this into a gossip column or anything, I mostly bring it up because I was impressed with how little it distracted from Jackson’s performance. It was hardly noticeable, and I found myself forgetting it was even there. It just impressed me that whatever he had going on, a leg, a back, a hip issue, he found a solution to get back on that stage and entertain the thousands of fans in attendance.
Alan Jackson mentioned that he and the band hadn’t played in a minute and that they were all trying to get back into the swing of things. I thought everything seemed as if he’d been in mid-tour form.
A nice segment in the show was when Jackson sat down on a bar stool with a lot of his band half circled around him. He played some condensed versions of old and new songs, but the highlight was when he played “You’ll Always Be My Baby” a song he wrote for his daughter’s “Daddy Daughter Dance” at their weddings.
“Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning) brought a huge wave of emotion for many fans in the audience. If you’re not familiar with the song it revolves around the events of September 11, 2001. The song has a powerful message and definitely impacted many people in the crowd. As I looked around I could see twinkling eyes from formed tears. I could see stream tracks from people who had really lost it. It was a show-stopping moment for Jackson.
Now things weren’t always as serious as 9/11 and wedding dances. Things really loosened up when the crowd heard the first notes of “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”. People were on their feet dancing and raising their beer cans high into the air. In the back of the general admission, there were a number of fans who were country swing dancing. They turned the floor of Vivint Arena to the Westerner on Redwood Road.
The night was lifted to its highest peak when that swampy guitar riff ripped through the arena. It was time for “Chattahoochee”. This song is fun, a huge hit, and is usually one of the big highlights of an Alan Jackson show. But tonight, there was more to be celebrated. Jackson had pointed out three gentlemen earlier in the night who had dressed up like Jackson in his “Chattahoochee” video. They had Body Glove live jackets, sunglasses, and hats that very closely resembled the 90s look Jackson sported in that video.
He mentioned that he would be sure to put the camera on them when the time was right. Well when the time was right, not only did he have the camera on them, he brought them on stage. The crowd went wild, the guys went nuts. It was impossible not to be happy for them. They were mere feet from the man himself, singing his words right back to him, looking like him from the 90s and having thousands of fans cheering you on. It was amazing!
It was virtually impossible for the night to get better after that. That’s not to say that the show didn’t finish out strong, because it totally did. Finishing the night with “Where I come From” showing images of Jackson’s neck of the woods then transitioning to images of Utah, Salt Lake City, and the area. The crowd would cheer when their team or school appeared on the screen. A large group was allowed on the stage and they danced and mugged for their friends.
The concert ended, but Alan Jackson was not done. He signed hats, shirts, you name it. I thought he was very generous. He eventually made his exit and as the lights came up, all I could see were smiles. People had such a great time. I swear by it. If you’re a country fan or not, I dare you to go to a country concert and come home not having a good time. It’s impossible.