The Grammy winner and newly inducted Country Music Hall of Famer is an ace songwriter, lightning quick guitar picker and haunting vocalist. A cutting wit and strong devotion to humanitarian efforts don't hurt, either. After performing true renditions of "Rock of Your Love," and "Some Things Never Get Old," he slowed the tempo of the rocking "Next Big Thing," giving it a jazzy, soulful feel. "I just ate dinner; I'm slow," Gill quipped.
"What You Give Away," was particularly stirring and heartfelt. The song sounded even more restrained and thoughtful with only Gill's voice and guitar.
The zenith of the night was Gill's classic "I Still Believe in You." The crowd's thoughtful murmuring quickly faded way, the dead silence highlighting Gill's subtle guitar and high, mournful vocals. After more than 20 years in the industry, Gill still possesses one of the most stunningly pure tenor voices in music.
Gill also played a new song, "Forever Changed" (including the lyrics "why can't you leave the child alone/because of you/she's forever changed"). Gill was inspired to write the song after seeing stories of child abuse on the evening news.
Gill ended the nearly two-hour show by getting the crowd clapping along with a rocking version of his classic "Liza Jane," with opener Karyn Rochelle handling harmony. With both writers possessing such incredible voices and smart songs, it makes you wonder what kind of tunes these two could cook up together.
Rochelle, a popular songwriter who is just finishing her first record (produced by Mark Miller of Sawyer Brown) and scored chart success with Reba McEntire and Kellie Pickler, opened. With a voice that contains the breathiness of Jewel and the sassy strength of Pickler herself (Rochelle wrote "Red High Heels"), this talented double-threat performed a mix of hit songs and newer compositions.
She began with her love of traditional country, dedicating the sobering "Church on Sunday Now," to her mother, who was in the audience. Rochelle proved she has deftness with poetic lyrics and a powerhouse vocal with a couple of songs recorded by Trisha Yearwood, the wistful sing-along "Cowboys Are My Weakness" and Yearwood's hit ballad, "Georgia Rain." Rochelle's vocals were a close match for Pickler's on her song "I Wonder," which brought her biggest applause of the night.
"Hearing someone like you gives me hope," exclaimed Gill, who sat onstage nearby, listening to each song with obvious admiration for Rochelle's talent.
(Photo of Karyn Rochelle by Jessica Phillips)