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Gill, Morgan, Lawrence, Diffie come out for ill musician

Cannery Ballroom, Nashville, February 5, 2009

Reviewed by Jessica Phillips

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Just over 200 people packed into the club to hear the likes of Vince Gill and Lorrie Morgan in a special concert to support Chris Kent, a well-respected bassist who currently plays for Morgan and is going through Multiple Myeloma (MM). Organized by Morgan's steel guitar player, Joshua Motohashi, the evening featured a concert and benefit auction.

First up was the Statler Brother's Jimmy Fortune, who sang with The Statlers for 21 years before the group retired, and wrote one of the group's greatest hits, Elizabeth. He sang I Ain't Never Felt This Good and Elizabeth. "People ask if I wrote Elizabeth , and I say, 'Yes, but she never wrote back'," he quips.

Joe Diffie, backed by Morgan's players (the honorary house band for the evening), ran through his hits Third Rock from the Sun, John Deere Green and Pickup Man. "I wish I had written this one," he lamented, before sailing into Ships That Don't Come In. Before auctioning off a green button down shirt that fetched $125, Diffie relayed a story about a trip to a local clothing store. Upon finding a particular shirt that he liked, he noticed there had no price tags on it. He had the cashier ring it up anyway, a move that cost him $3,000. "In Nashville, if the clothes don't have a price tag on them, you can't afford them," he joked.

The concert suddenly turned to karaoke hour when newcomer Shelley Williams took the stage, with her renditions of Dolly Parton's 9 to 5 and Piece of My Heart. With dark jeans and blonde hair, she resembled an even younger Deanna Carter and had presence and personality to spare. Unfortunately, there are plenty of, well, karaoke singers out there with more appealing voices.

Tracy Lawrence brought the crowd's attention back with a new song, You Cant Hide Redneck, followed by his classics Alibis and Time Marches Own. The crowd applauded enthusiastically for the lilting, Paint Me a Birmingham before he rounded out his set with his recent Find Out Who Your Friends Are (sans Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney, unfortunately).

Kent was then brought onstage and thanked everyone who came to the event. He triumphantly announced that he is currently in remission. "And in Jesus' name, I will stay well," he said confidently.

Morgan came onstage, looking like a classic country queen in her beige tank and jacket, bejeweled microphone and red guitar with sparkled swirls painted on the front. She started with Walkaway and commanded the crowd's attention effortlessly. With real star of the evening Kent on bass guitar, her band flowed effortlessly together, obviously enjoying each other's company.

A new artist on James Stroud's Stroudavarous Records, Morgan rolled into California Quake, a song off her soon-to-be released album. The smoldering love song could easily have been recorded by Faith Hill.

She brought out special guest, 20-something year old Jesse Keith Whitley, the son of Morgan and late husband Keith Whitley. The younger Whitley started off with a cover of his father's famous Miami. Jesse has a good voice, but it doesn't come close to the quality and ruggedness of the elder Whitley's. Jesse offered Where Would I Be from his forthcoming album. The kid has a confident vocal, but it was pitchy, and the songs were a bit out of range for him. He got some great musical genes, but he needs to develop his own style and make it work for him.

"Headliner" for the evening was none other than Nashville Predators hockey fan Vince Gill, who strolled onstage in a Preds jersey and proceeded to announce the score. "If only this had started an hour later, I would know the final score," he joked.

After jamming on One More Last Chance he tried to liven up the crowd even more by asking, "Are y'all still awake?" "That depends...are you still singing?" responded one fan.

Introducing his next song as "a nasty song abut girls where I'm from," he brought out the crowd favorite, What the Cowgirls Do followed by the beautiful piano-laden When I Call Your Name .

"I did a 'New Country' showcase here at the Cannery Ballroom back in 1983. Now they need to do an 'Old Ancient-ass Country' showcase. I'd host that," he joked before ending his set with an extended, masterful version of Liza Jane , complete with noodling guitar solos and an instrumental duet with Kent.