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Review: Greenbrier concert series kicks off in big way

FAIRLEA, W.Va. -- The Greenbrier Concert Series came in under par on the Fourth of July with what was probably the biggest concert event of the summer -- at least the single biggest in West Virginia.

It wasn't exactly a hole in one, however. It wasn't perfect and part of that had to do with the opening act, Lionel Richie.

Pairing the former pop sensation with country superstar Toby Keith might have made sense earlier in the spring after Richie released "Tuskegee," a collection of reworked country versions of his best known hits as duets with country stars like Shania Twain and Tim McGraw.

The record was warmly received, though his show Wednesday was about as country as a bottle of mineral water.

Richie stayed pretty close to the radio-hit originals, which was fine for a lot of people. Music from the '80s always plays well in West Virginia, and plenty of people in cowboy hats and boots sang along to "Hello" and "Dancing on the Ceiling," but there were plenty also staring at their shoes.

The 63-year-old pop and R&B singer turned in a decent performance. He sounded good, but most people came to see Toby Keith. They came for a big time country show, and they arrived in droves.

At a very rough estimate, the crowd might have been pushing somewhere around 10,000 or 15,000 people with Richie. It appeared to have doubled by the time Keith finished his first song.

Despite the size of the crowd, it was fairly orderly and friendly. Driving to the fairgrounds, getting in and out was, as expected, slow going, but not especially treacherous. There were a few drunks at the show, but with 12-ounce beers going for six bucks a can, getting and remaining drunk over a four-hour period would have gotten expensive.

Everyone seemed to be having a good time, though there was an odd moment of hostility between Richie and Keith's performances. Greenbrier owner Jim Justice came out to say thanks for all the support in making the PGA Tour and the concert series possible.

He also again responded to criticism he and the Greenbrier had received in the aftermath of the recent storm outages. Seemingly contradicting statements by AEP, Justice appeared to acknowledge that the Greenbrier might have received preferential treatment in having their power restored because of the PGA Tour but that he didn't have anything to do with that directly.

He also seemed to believe it was a good thing and that The Greenbrier having power for the PGA Tour probably sped the return of power to the surrounding area. He encouraged everyone to help those in need.

Not everybody agreed with what he had to say.

An angry woman shouted futilely at the stage from deep in the crowd about still not having power at her house. She tried to encourage others to chant with her, but she was stumbling drunk and most of the people around her said they had power.

They weren't here to be mad. They just wanted to see the show, and Keith was spectacular. He delivered a real rock star kind of country show with great sound, humor and pyrotechnics.

He also seemed glad to be there.

Pulling from his latest record, "Clancy's Tavern," as well as the hits from his 20-year-career, Keith delivered hit after hit after hit. As with Richie, people danced and sang along. They just did it a lot louder with Keith.

And a little warning: If you ever go to a Toby Keith concert and get a space near the stage, you better know the lyrics. At one point during the show, Keith tossed the microphone to someone and coaxed him into singing the chorus to "Should Have Been a Cowboy."

Given that the man's face was projected on two big screens and he was being watched by potentially tens of thousands of people, he did OK -- even if the odds of him being asked to duet with Keith again were probably pretty slim.

For the Fourth of July at the West Virginia State Fairgrounds and as the entertainment for the biggest sports event in the state, there really couldn't have been a more appropriate performer for the Greenbrier Classic to have. Keith wears his patriotism on his sleeve and has an entire catalog of songs that pay tribute to being an American and what it means to him.

It would be easy to be jaded about Keith, to see him as an opportunist playing on the strong feelings of rural people for financial gain or a jingoistic oaf who slings red, white and blue around because those are the only colors he understands. But Keith isn't dumb, and he's not simple. He's sincere, and there's a lot of heart in his songs. On the Fourth of July in Greenbrier County, you couldn't ask for more than that.

Well, there were fireworks, too.

The Greenbrier Classic Concert Series continues Friday night with Rod Stewart and The Fray and Saturday night with Bon Jovi. For information, visit www.greenbrierclassic.com or call 855-453-4858.

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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