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John Anderson: one of the last great country music stylists

Little Nashville Opry, Nashville, Ind., September 6, 2008

Reviewed by C. Eric Banister

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John Anderson's band made their way to the stage and began to play the opening strains of Chunk O' Coal. As Anderson walked on to the stage with a wave, the crowd responded with a standing ovation before he could even sing a note. It was obvious many in the crowd had been attending his shows here since the early 1980s.

Having a catalog of hits that string from the late '70s to the mid-'90s, the task of pulling together a set list has to be a light one, and Anderson ran through hits such as When It Comes To You, Money In The Bank, Straight Tequila Night and Black Sheep.

Rather than rest on the laurels of his hits, Anderson also dug into his catalog to play An Occasional Eagle from 1983's "All The People Are Talkin'," as well as 3 instrumental selections to show off the band: Small Farm In Kentucky, which showed off Anderson's banjo playing ability, The Last Date, and crowd favorite The Orange Blossom Special.

Anderson's voice showed little sign of wear or age as he sounded as passionate and emotive as ever. There was very little between songs banter with the audience aside from the occasional "thank you" or brief song introduction, which left more time for songs.

As the show came to a close, Anderson ran through a medley of several of his early hits including Lyin' Blue Eyes, 1959 and Chicken Truck climaxing with the song most closely associated with his career, Swingin'. As the crowd came to their feet during the last notes of the song, which included an extended solo section for the musicians, Anderson eschewed the typical artist ego-stroke of a staged encore and concluded the show with two songs he said meant a great deal to him, Wish I Could Have Been There and Seminole Wind.

As the music faded the house lights came up and Anderson stood at the edge of the stage shaking hands with fans as they filed out the door, showing why he is considered a class act after a show exhibiting why he is one of the last great country music stylists.

The Little Nashville Opry is a medium-sized venue tucked in the country near the small Indiana town of Nashville. The audiences that attend shows there are there to see the performers, not there for a party like many arena or amphitheater attendees (as a matter of fact, they don't serve alcohol anywhere near the grounds). The majority of artists that play the Opry have been playing there for many years of even a few decades.

With that in mind, it was a bit of a surprise for the crowd to find out that Ashton Shepherd would be serving as the unannounced opening act for the night. Shepherd and band ran through seven songs from her debut album and threw in the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's Fishin' In The Dark. The crowd was behind her from the beginning, and she seemed genuinely surprised by the response.