by MIKE CHAIKEN
You put a country star in a concert hall in the middle of a casino, you shouldn’t be surprised if there were a lot of rhinestones, glitter, and Las Vegas-style cheesiness on stage.
And if you take a country star who crossed over to pop success during the big shoulder pads and big hair days of the 1980s, you would expect a dose of nostalgia and no steel guitar or fiddle.
Finally, if you take a country star who made it big in television, you’d expect a lot of medleys that briefly touch upon the hits and a lot of reminders that they were a multi-media success.
So, Reba McEntire’s performance at the Grand Theater at Foxwoods was not what one would expect.
Yes, there was a reminder about her stint on the sitcom, “Reba” and her role in the horror film “Tremors,” she didn’t belabor the points. And there were a couple of medleys (but they were seamless and seemed more an artistic choice rather than an effort to squeeze in as much music they can so they can get on the tour bus).
But mostly, McEntire presented a night of good, classic-style country music and gospel music. It was more early Loretta Lynn than Elvis in Vegas, more Grand Ol’ Opry than the 2018 Grammys.
McEntire reminded the audience with her fabulous performance that the best country music puts the focus on a story, rather than a clever catch phrase. Her songwriters told little short stories in verse and chorus, and McEntire’s voice provided the superb medium to make these tales come to life.
In songs like “Whoever’s in New England” and “Somebody,” McEntire evoked a context and characters through her voice. Both songs made me a little misty-eyed as I followed the travails of the protagonists.
I must confess, my knowledge of McEntire’s catalogue is entirely lacking. Except for the brief moment of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” in an early medley and her version of the powerful “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” I didn’t recognize anything I heard.
But at no point in the evening was I bored because the music was unknown to me. After hearing her performances, I wanted to hear more Reba McEntire’s catalogue.
That’s the sign of a strong concert.
The power of McEntire was that her performance made me interested in the song, her voice drew me in. And she was ably abetted by a wonderful band.
McEntire also helped her cause at the Grand Theater June 30 with the way she connected to the audience. A couple of times, she took the time to talk about her family and her career. And her approach was so intimate it felt as if each of us in the audience was engaged with her in one-on-one conversation over coffee.
Country music labels have put their cash and energy into artists that are new. And there’s nothing wrong with bringing in fresh talent.
But there’s something to say about listening to country artists who have lived, who have honed their craft, and acknowledged and represent the genre’s heritage.
Reba McEntire is a veteran act who clearly loves country music and loves performing.
And the packed house at the Grand Theater clearly appreciated where McEntire has been and where she’s still going.
I give Reba McEntire’s June 30 concert at the Grand Theater at Foxwoods four out of four stars.