Photo Credit: Capitol Records Nashville
The free concert drew fans from as far away as Michigan, according to their homemade signs. In 2010, Darius Rucker and Luke Bryan hosted roughly 10,000 fans, and estimates are nearly double that for this year. This is Jackson's first appearance at the event after forming a joint venture with EMI/Capitol Records Nashville this spring.
As Jackson's fans know, his list of hits is so long, he can play for more than an hour without touching them all, and he did so Wednesday by weaving in all the big ones with some that are more sentimental to the veteran singer-songwriter. He played "Don't Rock the Jukebox," "Chattahoochee" and "It's Five O' Clock Somewhere" to a chorus of shouts and singalongs but also offered "Remember When," "Drive (for Daddy Gene)" and "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)," among the more subdued tunes.
The wonderful part about Jackson's sentimentality is that it's honest in a way that doesn't include a shred of cheesiness. Despite a cool demeanor onstage, though, he seemed to get a little choked up during "Small Town Southern Man," the 2007 hit about the simple joy of a long life filled with love and hard work.
But this was a street party, and Jackson focused on upbeat tunes and had the crowd dancing in no time.
Arriving to a video montage of all 34 of his No. 1 singles -- video has always been an important part of Jackson's career -- the tall Georgian stepped out in his trademark white cowboy hat and launched straight into "Gone Country." Saying it's "always fun to play at home here in Nashville, especially right here where it all starts on Music Row," Jackson reminisced about cutting his first record "just up the street" and revealed it was not exactly a success.
"We sent it to radio, and it died a horrible, painful death," he said with a sheepish grin. But as if to restore the audience's faith in big dreams, Jackson noted his next song took off and he "hasn't worked a day since." That song, as he told the crowd, was "Here in the Real World."
Later in the show, he described "Livin' on Love" as "one of my favorite songs I ever wrote," claimed that it's alright to be "Little Bitty" and got a hug from his daughter Ali onstage.
He also treated fans to some of his newer material, including"Good Time," "Long Way to Go" and a portion of "As She's Walking Away," his hit collaboration with the Zac Brown Band. Since Brown wasn't on hand, a member of Jackson's excellent band, the Strayhorns, filled in for him.
The show closed just after 11 p.m. with "Where I Come From" and another video montage of the sights in and around Nashville, proving that most of the concertgoers were, in fact, locals, and a large portion of them were Tennessee Volunteers fans, too. (The Vanderbilt crowd apparently didn't make it out.)
Earlier in the night, Eric Church provided a rowdy set of tunes from his recent No. 1 album, Chief, as well as hits like "Guys Like Me" and "Love Your Love the Most."
Newcomer Paslay opened the show featuring "Barefoot Blue Jean Night," the recent No. 1 for Jake Owen that Paslay co-wrote, while Pardi, another fresh face, capped the evening with a performance during an after-party at the Tin Roof, a nearby bar.