Toby Keith, "Shock `N Y'all" Tour

By Michael W. Stout

Nashville's Music Row executives responsible for voting and subsequently ignoring Oklahoman Toby Keith when the time comes for the envelope to be opened on award show after award show have obviously never experienced the "Big Dog" live. When the "Shock `N Y'all" Tour rolled into the Derby City last month, Keith exuded good-ole-boy charm, football jock cockiness and undeniable patriotism, belting out a string of lively tunes in his sometimes growling, barroom voice. Entering the stage through a thick cloud of smoke on a custom-built Ford F150 truck with a bed which proceeded to convert into a chrome stage, Freedom Hall's near sell-out crowd knew it was in for a treat and that the party of the year had officially started.

Although he sometimes puts on pompous, playful airs, Toby Keith has become a giant among country music fans who appreciate an upright citizen who likes to have a good time and occasionally walk on the wild side. His fan-base has grown tremendously over the last decade, due in part to the fact the he is the type of guy that everyone can relate to: a fun-loving drinking buddy, a husband and father next door and a hard-working, flag-waving American. Although it seems he is shunned by the industry and he has few trophies to prove his success (similar to pal and duet partner Willie Nelson), Keith has record and ticket sales receipts and #1 certifications to prove that he is at the top of his country game.

During his near two-hour set, Keith dipped into every era of his career, from his debut "Should've Been a Cowboy" to his recent chart-topper "I Love This Bar." Unlike the majority of artists who try to strike a happy balance between up-tempo numbers and ballads, Keith slowed down only once to sing his smash "My List" in between rockin', foot-stompin', high-energy numbers. He successfully transformed Freedom Hall into a smoke-filled dive with songs like "Beer For My Horses," "You Ain't Much Fun (Since I Quit Drinkin')" and "I'm Just Talking `Bout Tonight," and he kicked the attitude into overdrive with "I Wanna Talk About Me," "Getcha Some," "Who's Your Daddy?," and his career-turning song "How Do You Like Me Now?" Fans were also treated to a couple "bus songs" written and sung in the wee hours of the morning while traveling life's highways, "The Taliban Song" and "I'll Never Smoke Weed with Willie Again." And what better way to end an evening chock full of fun than with a rousing salute to America, Old Glory and our military men and women with "An American Soldier" and "Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue (The Angry American)," complete with a heart-wrenching display of a 101st Airborne Flag presented by a fan, the American flag, the military symbols, patriotic confetti and pyrotechnics. Toby Keith is an all-around good guy that knows how to throw a kickin' party.

Blake Shelton, who is no stranger to performing in Louisville, has established an impressively growing fan-base himself. During his 30-minute opening set, he worked the crowd into a near frenzy with "Playboys of the Southwestern World" and "Ole Red," while tugging at the ole heartstrings with his smash debut "Austin" and "The Baby." Although he leans toward raw, redneck country, he has the chops to wow a crowd with his near flawless renditions of the late Conway Twitty's classics "Slow Hand" and "Tight Fittin' Jeans." Although Shelton has created a winning formula with his radio-friendly tunes, two thumbs up to a relatively new artist dipping into the traditions of country music.

Toby Keith guitarist and frequent co-writer Scotty Emerick kicked the evening off with a mediocre, three-song set, including his rendition of "I Can't Take You Anywhere" (a cut the two co-wrote and Keith previously recorded). Simply accompanied by his guitar, Emerick has potential but lacks stage presence. He has honed his songwriting and picking, but needs to kick his vocals and persona up a notch or two. Hopefully he'll cut loose once he has formed a band and completed his debut record.