Alan Jackson & Jamie O'Neal: Classic Country Meets Hippy Country

By Michael W. Stout

There is a small, elite club of modern traditional country artists following in the footsteps of such country heroes as George Jones, Merle Haggard and Hank Williams, Sr. Newnan, Georgia native Alan Jackson is one of these proud artists, country to the bone, from the top of his white Stetson cowboy hat to the sole of his boots, all six foot, four inches of him. Fans around the globe have heartily embraced Alan's classic country music with a modern twist that celebrates love, heartbreak, life, death, family, home, soaking in the summer sun on the lake or cruising down a two-lane road in your pickup truck.

Alan Jackson sauntered onto the stage in Freedom Hall before nearly 15,000 eager fans, strapped on his guitar and began a 95-minute journey through his career, which includes twenty-eight chart-topping singles from eleven platinum albums, which have sold a total of over 36 million copies. His current tour should rightfully be called the "Greatest Hits Tour," as 14 of the 23 songs performed were #1 records, including "Gone Country," "Don't Rock The Jukebox," "Wanted," "Little Bitty" and "Livin' On Love," a celebration of the love that was shared between his parents. Six of the remaining songs, including "Little Man," "www.memory" and "When Somebody Loves You," have landed in the top 10 on the country charts.

Alan proved his music is genuine, heartfelt and down-home when he performed his current single, which is the title track of his brand new album. "Drive (For Daddy Gene)" is an up-tempo testament of Alan's love for his late father, Eugene Jackson, and their shared love for boats and trucks. Alan's video backdrop accompanying his performance of "Where I Come From," which consisted entirely of Louisville landmarks and traditions, was very well received.

The most poignant and highly anticipated number of the evening was Alan's most recent #1 hit, his self-penned anthem remembering the tragic events of September 11. Without any fanfare or theatrics, Alan simply sat on a stool strumming his guitar, silhouetted by a single white spotlight, as the entire arena joined in to sing the moving "Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)," which Alan debuted on the Country Music Association Awards program last November. Moments like this prove that Alan Jackson is a consummate country singer and a class act.

Opening for Jackson was newcomer Jamie O'Neal, who reminisced about living on Six Mile Lane here in Louisville. O'Neal has had a very successful year since the release of her debut album, Shiver, in late 2000. She pleased the crowd with her debut #1 single, "There Is No Arizona," and her follow-up chart-topper, "When I Think About Angels." In addition, she offered fun and impressive renditions of Aretha Franklin's "Natural Woman" and Dusty Springfield's "Son Of A Preacher Man." Decked out in a silver and black sequin jacket, black bellbottoms split to the knee, a rhinestone hip-hugging belt, and chunky black knee-high boots, Jamie looked like Porter Wagoner and Janis Joplin's love child - a country hippy. Like it or not, this defines today's "modern" country music.