March 28, 2002
Classic Center-Athens, GA
"Put Some Drive In Your Country" kicked off the swaggering but relaxed Travis Tritt show at (can you believe it?) 7:30 pm. Cowboy hats were waving in the air and the hooting and hollering continued into "I'm Gonna Be Somebody" and The Eagles' "Take It Easy." The first thing that impressed me (aside from those cow patterned leather pants) was the crystal clear sound quality. It was absolutely pristine! Early in the night, Tritt announced how happy he was to be back in his home state as he led the airtight band into a poignant song about leaving one's home. "Where Corn Don't Grow" was a massive hit a few years back, but like all great country music, its message is timeless. Later, a hilarious intro speech about his struggling artist days was punctuated by the statement, "I still can't look a Vienna sausage in the face." When the crowd laughed, he responded, "It's tough to laugh at a Vienna sausage when you know you've got to eat it." "Living On Borrowed Time" was the last song before the intimate acoustic set.
Seeing a top-notch artist of any genre stripped down to just his voice and instrument is inspiring, but "Anymore" was even more effective without the sugary adornment found on the hit recording. The highlight of this set and the entire show came via a brand new yet to be recorded song called "Country Ain't Country No More." The purity of the song was mixed with genuine sentiment and touches of humor that the Waylons, Willies and Kristoffersons have mastered. "Nowadays people trade heifers online," sang Tritt with a glint in his eye. After a few extra strums of the guitar that actually made it look as if he was contemplating whether to sing the lines or not, he spat "He flips CMT on and he wonders what for, 'cause country ain't country no more" to the thunderous approval of the crowd. This was without a doubt, the best new country song I've heard in years. For the finale to the solo set, he stayed in drop D tuning for a run through of Charlie Daniel's "Long Haired Country Boy" (with slightly updated lyrics). Before heading back to his own list of hits, he and the band took on Steve Earle' s "Copperhead Road." While it's impossible to be as gritty and tough as Mr. Earle, Travis did an admirable job on the Southern rocker. Then came crowd favorites "Here's A Quarter, Call Someone Who Cares" and "The Whiskey Ain't Working." It was then that I noticed the way the singer conjured different country greats from song to song. "Quarter" brought to mind George Jones and "Whiskey" could've been a Merle Haggard tune. Other times, he sounded like Waylon Jennings, Hank, Jr. or even Skynyrd's Ronnie Van Zant. It wasn't the cloning that most modern rock stars are guilty of, though. It was just that his own passion mingled with his influences to create (or re-live) classics.
"It's A Great Day To Be Alive" was a more recent soft touch number and it lacked the bite of the cool "Modern Day Bonnie And Clyde" which is just a good old-fashioned story song. None of those newer ones lit a fire under the crowd like his breakthrough song "Country Club" did. Up in the balcony of The Classic Center, a rebel flag was draped and displayed by a proud audience member as Tritt pointed and smiled. The set ended with Elvis Presley's "T-R-O-U-B-L-E" as the crowd danced wildly. When Travis reappeared onstage in a black hat, he looked frighteningly like a Van Zant. Fittingly, he played an instrumental version of "Dixie" that led into "Sweet Home Alabama." Once again, a couple of the lines were changed. This time it was "Tell me, Mr. Clinton. Does your conscience bother you? Now tell the truth." Not surprisingly, this less than liberal audience roared back. Before ending the night with the full on Southern tinged rock of "Homesick," He dedicated his version of Waylon's "I've Always Been Crazy" to the memory of the man he called a "friend and mentor." Seeing Tritt in person proves that he learned his lessons well. While Nashville attempts to smooth all of the appealing edges of country, it's good to see someone capable of embracing the truly great legacy of that music while also creating new and vital work. (Chris McKay/concertshots.com)
Here are some shots with the band: