DARIEN – Standing center stage, Tom Gossin gazed across the Darien Lake Performing Arts Center expanse and said, “The last time I was here was 18 years ago, out there watching a concert. It feels great to be up here.”
The early evening crowd – what little there was of it – cheered in agreement with the Gloriana vocalist who, with brother and bandmate Mike Gossin, grew up a few hours away in Utica. And the applause continued, growing slowly but steadily through the night and finally resembling a party by the time the headliner, Rascal Flatts, took the stage.
But it took some nifty musical handiwork to get there, and that came courtesy of the second act, rocker-turned-country artist Sheryl Crow.
Blame it on nothing more than the night of the week and the spot on the calendar (post-Labor Day), but the openers had to labor a little to get the late-arriving crowd revved for the Rascals.
When they did, though, the show picked up life.
Gloriana opened the evening with an enthusiastic five-song, 20-minute set that included the band’s most successful song, “(Kissed You) Good Night,” and the appropriately named “Ain’t Running Out of Summer Yet.”If you’re unfamiliar with Gloriana, familiarize yourself – even if country isn’t your thing.
The brothers have a cool, almost edgy punk-rock vibe, Tom with his fedora and vest, Mike with a bandana and tattoo-sleeved arms. The group’s vocals are sweet, with Tom Gossin and frontwoman Rachel Reinert often alternating verses.
Popular for only a few years and squarely in the millennial age bracket, Gloriana should be around for a while. It was a little disappointing that more fans weren’t around to hear them.
Sheryl Crow faced a similarly sparse audience when she stepped onstage with her six-piece band.
Consider: Two songs in, when Crow held the microphone to the crowd for the chorus of “All I Wanna Do,” you could barely make out people singing the classic lyrics, “I’ve got a feeling I’m not the only one.”
But it got better. Crow, remember, has a long list of omnipresent rock hits that precede her Nashville shift of recent years. (And that said, the 52-year-old’s catalog of guitar-driven music translates neatly to the country stage.)
In fringed jeans and a white T-shirt, Crow broke out hits from “Everyday Is a Winding Road” to “If It Makes You Happy,” mixing them with her newer country releases.
During “Best of Times,” Crow intoned a lengthy, hearty and almost haunting harmonica solo that flexed the same musical muscle displayed by her string players.
That injected energy into the crowd, which followed up with a full-throated sing-along of the next song, “Strong Enough.”
By the time Crow was cruising to the conclusion of her 10-song, nearly hourlong set, it was easy to soak up the energy as the fans joined in for “Soak Up the Sun.”
Not that Rascal Flatts needs a star-charged lead-in act – the band stands on its own just fine – but they couldn’t ask for a stronger opener than Crow.
By the time singer Gary LeVox, bassist Jay DeMarcus and guitarist Joe Don Rooney stepped onstage, the evening fully resembled a midsummer night’s country concert party. The band kicked off the show standing atop a platform above the video screen, lyrics to the opening number “Payback” flashing beneath their feet.
With five musicians serving as their backups, Rascal Flatts pounded through a string of hits.
LeVox used his hand during the band’s current top hit, “Rewind,” to orchestrate the crowd’s response like a conductor, and that led into what seemed to be the full audience forming a chorus for the ballad “What Hurts the Most.”
The same happened for “Bless the Broken Road,” and so it went. All three Rascals are fine musicians, but LeVox makes the band. With his untucked button-down and blond crew cut framing a round face, he cuts a football-coach look and an everyman demeanor.
Then he sings.
LeVox’s high-chested, smooth vocals beg to be echoed, which is the power of Rascal Flatts.
It was evident when Crow joined the band to sing “Picture” and “My Wish.” And it was as in-your-face as a Harley roaring down a country road in the band’s remake of Tom Cochrane’s “Life Is a Highway.” If Gloriana zapped the workday crowd to attention and Crow lighted them up, it was LeVox’s voice that kept the evening fully charged