Alan Jackson brought his bluegrass flair and country fan base to New York’s Carnegie Hall Monday night (October 28) for a substantial, crowd-pleasing two-hour set that was full of emotion, and contained a few surprises as well.
Telling the story behind many of the songs off his latest release, The Bluegrass Album, Jackson also reflected on his many visits to New York City. “I’ve played the Beacon Theater, Radio City, Madison Square Garden, CBGBs,” he said. “It’s amazing for an ol’ boy from Georgia who never traveled anywhere ’til I was 25.”
As he introduced his eight-piece backing band, which included mandolin, fiddle, upright bass, banjo, acoustic guitar, Dobro, and backing singers, Jackson let the audience know they were in for a treat. “I hope you all like good music and good picking.”
While his die-hard fans were present, Jackson didn’t stray from the bluegrass theme of the night, despite their continuous screams for past country hits of his such as “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” “Remember When” and “Someday.” He did, however, play the poignant “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” a 9/11 tribute, which earned him a rousing standing ovation.
The night also included an ode to George Jones. In prefacing “Blue Side of Heaven,” Jackson talked of how he got word that the country legend was sick and near his last day. Visiting him in the hospital, while it was evident Jones was fading fast, his personality was still big as life, as was his singing.
“I’ve always been drawn to the sad songs. They’ve always come easier,” Jackson explained. “Sad songs just fall out. George . . . in the hospital his body was giving out, but he still sang like George. Laying there, he knew he was dying.” (Jones passed away this past April 26.)
Jackson sent the song “Blue Side of Heaven” to George’s wife, Nancy Jones, after his passing. Accompanied by soaring fiddle, Dobro and slide guitar, Jackson’s emotional vocals filled the performance with his own personal sadness and brought the song to life.
Lee Ann Womacklightened the mood next during a surprise appearance, with Jackson singing her praises before she walked onstage for a duet. Calling her “one of my favorite country singers,” Jackson added that he’s been a fan “since she sang that first note on that first album.” The two sang a striking cover of Don Williams’ “Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good,” which showcased Womack’s memorable vocals.
Throughout his two-hour set, Jackson peppered his performance with stories of his family and where he grew up, as well as select cover songs. These included John Anderson’s “Wild and Blue,” a song he says he’s always loved, and set closer “Blue Moon of Kentucky” by bluegrass founder Bill Monroe, both of which appear on his album.
Jackson also brought out nephew Adam Wright, who wrote “Ain’t Got Trouble Now” and coproduced The Bluegrass Album, to sing lead vocals as he sat on his stool and let him take the spotlight. This is in fact something he did throughout the evening: Every time a band member had a solo, Jackson would step back and point to the soloist, urging the audience to take notice.
Highlights of the night included impressive slide guitar on “Tie Me Down,” a song Jackson dedicated to a friend who always had a different girl on his arm every time he saw him, and the beautiful ballad “Mary,” which Jackson said his wife questioned upon first listen.
“I woke up one day and wrote a real pretty love song, and played it for my wife Denise, and she’s like, ‘Who’s Mary?’”
Jackson told her that “Denise” didn’t fit well in the song. He then explained that “Jesus’ mom was named Mary, so I thought she’d be OK with that.”
Excited his bluegrass album finally saw the light of day (“I’ve been trying to cut this album for 15 years,” he said at one point), Jackson admitted that he was nervous to take the stage that evening. But, from the continuous applause and standing ovations throughout his set, the packed Carnegie Hall surely eased his nerves and embraced his bluegrass.
Alan Jackson’s The Bluegrass Album is available now.
– Annie Reuter, Radio.com