As Trace Adkins wrapped up his show in Niagara Falls, he was boarding his tour bus for a 14-hour ride to his Saturday night gig in the Canadian province of New Brunswick.
“This is what we do for a living,” Adkins told the crowd inside the Seneca Niagara Events Center. “Ride around.”
The thing is, the longer road was the one Adkins took to this show – and not in terms of miles traveled.
The 52-year-old Adkins, whose bio includes a string of country hits and a handful of personal misfortunes, is emerging from an especially challenging few months that included the loss of his father, a divorce from his third wife and a return to rehab following a relapse in his struggle with alcoholism.
Presumably, most of the fans in Niagara Falls were at least casually aware of Adkins’ struggles. Which is why when he emerged from the center-stage doorway for a timely 8 p.m. start (there was no opening act), the cheers with which he was greeted weren’t of the raucous variety. (Those would come later, when Adkins gyrated his hips while singing some of his more sexual songs, such as “One Hot Mama,” which features the lyrics “let’s turn this room into a sauna.”)
The opening cheers were warm, as if the crowd was welcoming a friend who has been gone awhile and has come home again. Which is appropriate for Adkins, who spent the first part of 2014 out of the spotlight before returning to the stage earlier this month. The show in Niagara Falls was Adkins’ fourth in a tour that stretches into late September.
Clad in dark jeans and a fitted light blue T-shirt that clung to his muscled torso, with a black cowboy hat covering his long blond hair, Adkins looked stronger and fitter than he has in years.
With his six-piece backup band, the Sarepta Gentleman’s Club, Adkins marched through a series of hits from his 20-year catalog. Crowd favorites included the powerful “Chrome,” the lighthearted “Marry for Money” and the flirty (well, most of his songs are flirty) “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk.”
He blended in a couple of covers, including Rod Stewart’s “How Long,” and shared three as-yet-unreleased songs developed during his time away. “It All Adds Up to Us” celebrates all the little things that make up a relationship (for example: “Lipstick stains on a Starbucks cup”). “Take It From Me” is Adkins’ advice to a guy who is blind to a crumbling relationship. “Maintenance Man” tells the story of, well, keeping a woman happy.
Adkins seems especially good at that. He teases the audience with his every step, sway and smile. But his paternal side comes out too. The father of five daughters, Adkins noticed a family with four little girls – they’re 9-year-old quadruplets – each dressed in sequined dresses emblazoned with hearts. He blew them kisses, had them stand up for the crowd and introduced them as “my new little girlfriends.”
“But, dad,” he added, looking at the girls’ father, “in 10 years, don’t let them wear those dresses anywhere.”
Adkins then serenaded them with his 2008 song “You’re Gonna Miss This,” about a daughter growing up.
Afterward, the sappiness turned to sexual with the aforementioned “Hot Mama” as the graffiti brick wall that served as the stage backdrop was aglow in red lights.
It was classic Adkins: touching and sexy, fun and honest. And though Adkins didn’t directly speak of the recent tumult in his life, he acknowledged it with understated candor.
“It’s good to be back in Niagara Falls,” Adkins said, then added, “It’s good to be back anywhere.”