Trends rise and recede in country music, but there has never been a time in the genre's history when a twanging baritone singer was unwelcome.
That's what helped Scotty McCreery become a TV "American Idol" in 2011, and what propelled early success. And when he re-emerged after some down years, it was that smooth vocal instrument at the center of a new batch of hits.
McCreery, in front of about 2,800 at Elmwood Park for the first show of the Budweiser Summer Series on Friday, had his tones working right on hits from eight years in the national spotlight.
Early on, McCreery asked the crowd to send up prayers for opening act Drake White, who had experienced an apparent seizure during his performance and had to be led off the stage. As an emergency crew carted him to the ambulance that would take him to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, White waved toward audience members who had gathered by the flashing red lights.
"He's a great guy," McCreery said.
Posts at White's Facebook and Twitter accounts read: "Hey friends — sorry we had to cut it short tonight. I'm getting checked out by some of Roanoke's finest docs and will keep you posted. Thanks for your prayers and continued support. Love ya! DW"
McCreery, 25, a Raleigh, North Carolina-area native, name-checked his home state's mountains and shorelines in multiple songs during an 80-minute set. The opening song, "Buzzin,'" referenced young friends sneaking off behind the dunes.
"Some like to sip, some like to chug / Some like to dip, some light one up / Everybody doin' what they gotta do / I got you," he sang.
Introducing his recent No. 1 Billboard country radio hit, "This Is It," he told the crowd he has been married for 14 months. He proposed to her atop his home state's Grandfather Mountain.
"This is a moment we won't forget / On top of the world here together," he sang.
"Barefootin,'" a grooving number, is so Carolina that it won song of the year at the 2018 Carolina Beach Music Awards. "Boys From Back Home" referenced hanging out in the parking lot at Cook Out, a North Carolina chain that in recent years has expanded into Southwest Virginia.
Aside from "Buzzin,'" those numbers were from McCreery's 2018 album, "Seasons Change." In all, he and his ridiculously professional sounding five-piece band played 10 songs from that disc, all of which he co-wrote, re-establishing himself as a radio hit maker. The set list included his latest single, "In Between," which, he told the audience, "you can hear on Star Country." Canny patter, sir.
McCreery pulled out early-career hits, as well, including "See You Tonight" and "The Trouble With Girls." On the latter, he sang that "nobody loves trouble as much as me," a line that elicited plenty of female screams.
His set also included some well-known covers — John Mellencamp's "Hurt So Good," George Strait's "Check Yes Or No" and Garth Brooks' "If Tomorrow Never Comes." Each of those tunes ran the risk of being a post-concert earworm, instead of one of McCreery's own. Fortunately, McCreery has a strong set-closer, "Five More Minutes," which in March 2018 became his first No. 1 hit on country radio. Still, it's dangerous to play a Brooks smash so close to the end of your set.
All of them, of course, came courtesy of the Carolina boy's healthy baritone.
White was more a tenor, a soul-twang shouter, a rock 'n' roller, and he was coming through with plenty of energy on "Elvis," a song about getting through tough times. "Rome wasn't built in no day, and Elvis wasn't born the king," he sang.
"It Feels Good" was a swampy romp that led into snippets of James Brown's "I Feel Good" and Ike & Tina Turner's "Proud Mary" — all of that in the fat part of backing band The Big Fire's strike zone. "Girl In Pieces" combined reggae and vintage soul, with White's vocal right in the pocket.
Here's hoping the Alabama man is well soon and back to doing something at which he is obviously gifted.
First-on-the-bill Maggie Baugh has a mountain of talent, too, playing hot fiddle on songs including a cover of Charlie Daniels' "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" and working the audience fearlessly, even wading into the crowd while she sawed a solo on another cover, "Wagon Wheel." The 19-year-old Florida native donned a Fender Telecaster to play rhythm and a solo on her own song, the rocking "Fire Me Up."
The Budweiser Summer Series will conclude on September 26, when rock band Foreigner comes to town.