ll country music concert goers know there will be a tailgate party in the parking lot before showtime. This is a time to eat, drink, socialize and drink some more. With the first Tailgate Fest, though, Toby Keith and a long list of (mostly) country performers brought the stage (literally) to the parking lot. This huge stage in The Forum's adjacent parking lot looked out of place standing right next to a building expressly constructed to present musical performances; one that remained unused.
Keith closed the night with a set not all that unlike his usual shows, with their mixture of partying and patriotism. You may want to think of him as the hedonist's Lee Greenwood. He neither moves nor sings smoothly, but his anthems to drinking ("Red Solo Cup") and America ("American Soldier") have helped transform him into one of country music's biggest stars.
Randy Houser preceded Keith with a performance that showcased his strong singing voice. He's really a great blues singer inside a country star's body. When Houser offers to explain country music with "How Country Feels," there's no better tour guide. Houser was, without question, the best natural vocalist on this bill.
The fact that Nelly brought Florida Georgia Line onstage to perform their hit "Cruise," didn't make him any less ill-fitting for a country music festival. It never ceases to amaze just how many country music fans know all the words to all his raps. It was fun, though, to see the employees of this urban venue perk up once he took the stage. He fit with the city, more than with the bill.
By primarily sticking with the hits, Joe Nichols presented a satisfying set. "The Impossible" never fails to be a movingly inspiring ballad, while "Brokenheartsville" is too good of a song to ever leave off one's set list. The best part came when Nichols thanked Alan Jackson for taking him on tour early in his career. He sang his thanks, too, with a faithful cover of "Don't Rock the Jukebox."
Eric Paslay appeared to be the happiest performer at Tailgate Fest, sporting a big smile throughout. Yet, he still turned in the festival's saddest song with "She Don't Love You." He was just too good to be given his early afternoon slot.
Jana Kramer was the lone female in the lineup, but failed to make much of an impact. She did, however, earn cuteness points for bringing her daughter Jolie onstage.
Parmalee kicked things off with a rock-country style of that Old Dominion does far better and with more success.
As new festivals go, this one ran relatively smoothly. Attendees could go back and forth between their tailgate parties and the concert area as much as they liked. There was even a big screen facing the parking area for those that didn't want to leave their staked-out parking spots. Kudos also to the stage crew that used a revolving stage to keep time between acts to a minimum. Whether to be ironic or by necessity, there was fake grass in the pit area. No amount of grass - even the artificial variety - could make one forget he or she was in an urban venue parking lot. Nevertheless, much of the music was good, which made it all worthwhile.