A Very 2020 Review of Scotty McCreery’s Ryman Auditorium Concert
Scotty McCreery picked up where he left off in March when he stepped foot on the Ryman Auditorium stage on Friday night (Sept. 4). He'd played his final pre-pandemic show at country music's Mother Church early in the year, on a winter night that would prove to be the venue's final "normal" concert for quite awhile.
I picked up where I left off, too: at home, on my couch. Five-and-a-half months ago I bailed on McCreery's Ryman show because the coronavirus pandemic was beginning to look very real. This time, I was able to link up and watch the show from my couch, with my wife and three sons (ages 8, 6 and 3) nearby. It was an at times fraught experience, but one an introvert could get used to.
"Buzzin'" opened McCreery's set and everything looked normal. His full band rocked behind him as he worked through the seven-year-old track, smiling and remarking how it's "good to see clapping hands" again as his guitarist transitioned from verse to chorus or bridge. It was good to hear clapping hands again.
My 3-year-old, fresh from a bath, crawled up against me with his blanket as the two oldest boys jumped and thrashed across my living room rug at a tempo best described as inappropriate. This was a cool night for them, as we pushed back bedtime. There was something special in the air, literally. The smell of freshly microwaved popcorn — the kind with extra butter — replaced beer as the scent de jour. I did what you do at concerts. I took a selfie.
By "Feelin' It," it was clear the onstage product was just a little different than what we'd usually see. Limited fans in attendance (about 125 at the Ryman) made for limited energy, but it's hard to blame McCreery. It's what happens when a baseball player smacks a slow-speed pitch instead of a 98MPH fastball. He's asked to provide all of the energy — it's not easy for any artist.
The one-time American Idol winner is more of a timeless stand-and-singer than he is country-rocker. McCreery, 26, uses a classic eye line favored by Alan Jackson, Reba McEntire and George Strait instead of the more pop-friendly, smile-and-wave at the front row glances. He's forever looking up at the balcony, and this creates a far-away romance as he sings love songs like "This Is It" and his new song "You Time," performed for the first time flawlessly. He doesn't so much sweat as he does glisten, and his fans — scattered across the venue — did the same.
Visually, the livestreamed performance (powered by Mandolin) was flawless, as well, and the audio was as good as your speakers would allow. The kids had burned out the battery of my auxiliary speaker earlier in the day, so I was relegated to my computer speakers for much of the night. That's just one audio issue I encountered. The other was my chatty 8-year-old who felt this was the time to talk about his recent adventures on Minecraft. If I wasn't so familiar with McCreery's catalog I may have recalled him singing about zombie pigmen, the Nether and red stone instead of love, marriage, adolescence and loved ones lost.
As the 3-year-old faded away like so many over-served friends at concerts from my youth, the oldest started to take a real interest in the show. I explained how a steel guitar worked and how it differed in style and sound from a simple slide. We listened quietly for that familiar country cry and explored the solos. "There it is, Dad!" he'd shout when the camera cut to a string profile of the instrument. That all these layers were tangible are a testament to Team McCreery and the Ryman Auditorium.
Later I explained how McCreery is from Raleigh, N.C., where we lived and where my oldest was born in 2012. In so many ways, the singer's professional rise mirrors my own, but that's a conversation for later. Right now he's just started a tender acoustic set highlighted by Travis Tritt's "Anymore."
This was the sweet spot of the show. Artists may be livestreaming from large venues in hopes of being able to social distance as many fans as possible, but they're still intimate concerts at this point, and when McCreery leaned into that, he really shined. With just an acoustic guitar he took us through a mix of covers and originals. It was downhill sledding from there — for him, at least.
One hour in, my decision to push bedtime proved to be short-sighted. As my 3-year-old fought bedtime stories and my 6-year-old picked right then to express frustration about some Lego-related slight from earlier in the day, my oldest son kept prattling on about video games.
Instead of "Woooo!!!" it's, "Waaaaahhhhhh!!!"
Maybe it's not too much different from a typical show, but it was at this moment I recognized I'd fully embraced being the "Down in front!" guy. Twenty five-year-old Billy Dukes would scowl and threaten to kick my — actually, who am I fooling? I've always been the guy at the top of the steps when the encore begins.
I couldn't help but wonder if this isn't the future of live music, but not for the obvious reasons. Fans will eventually return to the stands, but why can't every concert — or at least a few per tour — be available for livestreaming? Like sports, you'd black out a region if the show isn't sold out, and you create a new audience and revenue stream from people who can't travel there. It's hard to get a babysitter, enough sleep to stay up past midnight and pay $12 for beer. Sometimes too hard.
For $25 (McCreery's show only cost fans $10), would I watch all of my favorite artists live on my 65-inch LG? I may never leave home again!
McCreery's biggest hit, "Five More Minutes" came near the end, and it was at this moment I felt I was truly bonding with my oldest son. He'd smiled through it all and was now quietly leaning against me as I sipped an off-brand seltzer water from a can koozie the Cadillac Three gifted me several months ago. Somberly we listened to McCreery tell stories from his boyhood, adolescence and finally the day he watched his grandfather pass. The static fell to our living room floor and we inhaled a silent hush that so rarely comes through a television set.
I put an arm around him and as McCreery looked down in reflection, I looked down at my boy. And he looked up at me.
"Tomorrow, in Minecraft ..."