Yoakam Country

By Jean-Marie Ebel

Dwight Yoakam brought his unique style of country home to Kentucky's Rupp Arena on June 18, with Tim McGraw opening the show. Clad in his trademark tight, ripped Levis, cowboy boots and Signature Stetson hat, Yoakam moved quickly from song to song in an over-two-hour, nonstop perfrmance.

Spanning a career ranging from his 1986 debut album, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., to his most recent release, This Time, Yoakam delivered a hard-driving performance, his voice capturing every subtlety with precision and clarity. Drawing heavily from his latest album, he reflected the emotional nuances of every song, from the scornful "Ain't That Lonely Yet," to the reflective "A Thousand Miles From Nowhere." The crowd responded wildly to the hard-edged "Fast As You" and the raunchy, rocking, "Wild Ride." Strutting and teasing, Yoakam took obvious delight in giving them what they wanted.

"Guitars, Cadillacs" and "Honky Tonk Man," two songs from the early part of Yoakam 's career that helped forge his honky-tonk style, were particularly impressive and revealed how his music has continued to evolve through the years. A spirited rendition of Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds" brought the night to a close.

Once rejected by the tradition-minded Nashville establishment, the Pikeville, Ky., native continues to explore country's raw rural past at a time when its roots have all but been forgotten. Although he rarely spoke to the crowd, his genuine love for his music shone through as his voice moved from tenderness to pain, cool detachment to reckless abandon.

The authenticity of Yoakam's self-proclaimed "hillbilly music" drew a sharp contrast to the commercial appeal of Tim McGraw, who couldn't resist milking his novelty hit "Indian Outlaw." The overly sentimental "Don't Take the Girl" was typical of McGraw's cliched performance. Nonetheless, the crowd responded enthusiastically and cheered along.