At precisely five minutes to set time, an official Rascal Flatts countdown clock appeared on two screens at either side of the Darien Lake Performing Arts Center stage. Previously, song requests and pitches for moving up to the front of the stage streamed live and large on the screens. It was social media sharing at its best.
The superstar country-western trio Rascal Flatts – affable singer Gary LeVox, guitarist Joe Don Rooney and pianist/guitarist Jay DeMarcus – opened with their best-known cover hit, “Life Is a Highway.” With the refrain “Life is a highway, I want to ride it all night long” the band gave some twang to a classic about American determination.
“Can we hear a little banjo?” LeVox asked everyone in attendance, and it was on to “Banjo,” led by Rooney. The up-tempo love song, which gave way at one moment to some “Dixie’s Land” riffs, was another intense sing-along just two songs in.
It was DeMarcus’ time to shine, leading off with a smattering of Guns N’ Roses guitar as thumping “Here’s to You” got cooking. There was a whiff of disco electronica in the air as Rascal Flatts and backup band blended into “This Everyday Love,” one of the band’s earliest releases. At song’s end LeVox was handed a beer box cowboy hat and wore it for the rest of the song before handing it back, gently.
The very earliest Rascal Flatts song, “Prayin’ for Daylight,” which unofficially received the most pre-show tweeted requests, opened with a lovely, mournful solo fiddle. LeVox asked, “Anyone heard this song before?” There was a collective scream of recognition and the love-lost ballad showcased the trio’s perfect harmonies.
“Mayberry,” a sweet song about small-town visits after big-world fame, was a high point of the set. LeVox brought opener Cassadee Pope onstage for two heartstring-tuggers: “Easy” and “I Won’t Let Go.”
“Does she not have a gift?” asked LeVox, to hollers of affirmation. At song’s end LeVox went in for a bear hug and joked that he’d broken her lanky frame. He had the tour photographer do some documenting. “I wanna get a picture of you so if your lawyer calls me I can say ‘She was still moving after the song, her back wasn’t broken.’”
“Fast Cars and Freedom” ended the set before Rascal Flatts’ extended encore of two songs. Fiddle again set the stage, this time for a contemplative and mid-tempo “My Wish.” It was a bittersweet closing with “Summer Nights” – the last song of the final concert of the Darien Lake season.
The Band Perry, like Rascal Flatts a deft trio of harmonizing voices, appeared onstage to a fierce ovation. A black scrim fell to reveal the dramatically backlit siblings Kimberly, Reid and Neil. They opened with “Done” before yet more powerfully played “You Lie” with the great line “You lie like a penny in the parking lot at the grocery store.”
“This is the first taste of fall,” Kimberly said. “It’s a great night for country music, what do you think?” There was no question the crowd was ready for more from the charismatic trio and band. She went on to tell of their daily sibling rivalry, and that their show would include no twerking.
TBP, as they’re also known, covered a portion of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” a mezzo-soprano benchmark passed with aplomb. They moved on to their sassy anthem for individuality, “I’m a Keeper,” before a cover of Queen’s “Fat-Bottomed Girls” that Freddie Mercury would have approved. “Hey, New York, you made a bad boy out of me,” Neil sang, tweaking the lyrics a bit.
Pope, the first female vocalist to win “The Voice” in the show’s third season, a fact the singer proudly shared, warmed up the Rascal Flatts “Live and Loud Tour” stage.
In bouncing white fringe top and black leather jacket and skirt, Pope straddled the small divide of pop and new country.
Opening with the wistful “I Wish I Could Break Your Heart,” the singer-songwriter and guitarist was off to a confident, striding start.
Hook-rich and jangly “Champagne,” the singer announced, will be on her October release “Frame by Frame.” It was a short, flawless gig and Pope bound off the stage after saying “Thank you to anyone who voted for me on ‘The Voice.’ It changed my life forever.”