Last Thursday I was one of 25,000 country music fans that made their way into the Saratoga Performing Arts Center to see Morgan Wallen’s sold-out concert. The show was so impressive that I made the two-hour drive to see the show the next night in Syracuse at St. Joseph’s Health Amphitheater at Lakeview. Another capacity crowd awaited Wallen’s arrival on The Amp stage.
Wallen has been nothing short of a juggernaut since his arrival in Nashville. He signed with Big Loud Records in 2016. In January of last year, he released his sophomore record, Dangerous: The Double Album, a sprawling thirty-track collection that is all killer and no filler.
When the sun set over the lake, the house lights went down, and “Broadway Girls,” Wallen’s collaboration with Lil Durk blasted through the speakers. Drummer Mark “Taco” Annino took his place on the drum throne high above the stage. A quick, thundering drum solo set the tone for the rest of the show. In the haze of stage lights and fog, the rest of the band emerged. They jumped right in with one of Wallen’s first hits, “Up Down.” He barely paused between songs, keeping the show moving. The stage production was high-end, with cryo jets, pyrotechnics, and video walls. Ramps ran up each side of the stage, giving the musicians ample room to roam. Halfway into the show, stagehands rolled an upright piano to center stage. All of the high-tech production went away. A lone spotlight shone down on Wallen as he sat at the piano and delivered a showstopping version of his recent hit “Sand In My Boots.”
The band returned to the stage and vamped for several minutes as Wallen and guitarist Dominic Frost made their way to the back of the pavilion. On a small riser, the duo brought the show to the masses on the lawn. A stellar cover of Jason Isbell’s classic “Cover Me Up” had thousands of cell phone lights swaying in the July night. He followed with “Thought You Should Know,” a heartfelt song he wrote for his mother. They closed out their mini-set with a song Wallen co-wrote with singer-songwriter Ernest. The song “Flower Shops” is reminiscent of the George Jones classic “A Good Year For The Roses.”
As Wallen and Frost made their way back to the main stage, opening act Hardy appeared on stage, kicking off a raucous version of Hardy’s “He Went To Jared.” Wallen joined Hardy on stage and they rocked out on the track before shotgunning beers and launching the empties into the crowd. He closed his main set with his first single, 2016’s “The Way I Talk.”
The fans screamed for more and Wallen did not disappoint. He returned for a three-song encore. He tore through “Heartless” before dialing it back for “Wasted on You.” It was no surprise that the last song of the night was one of his biggest hits, “Whiskey Glasses.”
Singer-Songwriter Lainey Wilson opened the night with a high-energy set. She opened her set a capella with her band. Gathered around a single microphone they delivered a tight rendition of the Janis Joplin classic “Mercedes Benz.” Songs like her most recent single “Heart Like a Truck” and “Dirty Looks” are made to sing along. A sweet cover of the 4 Non-Blondes hit “What’s Up” greatly pleased the folks in attendance. Unfortunately, the majority of the crowd was either still in the parking lot or in traffic for her set. They missed a great one. She closed with her first number-one, “Things A Man Oughta Know.” She won’t be an opening act for long.
Hardy took the direct support slot and came out swinging. His music is a blend of country with a bit of hard rock and metal for good measure. He has had several hits as a performer and many more as a songwriter. He brought Lainey Wilson out to perform the Lauren Alaina part in their song “One Beer.” Hardy played one of the songs that he wrote for Blake Shelton, “God’s Country.” You can tell that this is HIS song, I don’t think I can listen to the Shelton version after hearing Hardy tear into it. He closed his too-short set with the rambunctious “Unapologetically Country As Hell.”
Wallen has made some mistakes early in his career and has owned them. He has worked to become a better man and the turnout at both shows indicates that redemption is possible. What. A. Show.
The lawn was packed from front to back. It was an incredible sight to behold. I haven’t seen a turnout like this at The Amp since last year’s Foo Fighters concert. Live Nation and local law enforcement did a stellar job with the logistics on this one. I expected to be stuck in traffic on the way in and the way out. I was pleasantly surprised. I had zero issues with traffic, parking, or ticketing. Everything ran smoothly. I was able to pull into a parking spot at 5:15 PM, just 15 minutes before the gates opened. Security was tight, but not heavy-handed. They kept the aisles clear but let the fans enjoy themselves. I was truly impressed by how well things were handled.