Craven Country Jamboree
by Jeff DeDekker/Leader-Post

CRAVEN — Expectations were high for Alan Jackson on Saturday night and the country music legend didn’t disappoint a boisterous crowd at the Craven Country Jamboree.

Jackson had only 90 minutes to squeeze as much of his illustrious career as possible into his set but the 53-year-old did a remarkable job interspersing his classic hits with contemporary hits and a few tunes off his latest album, Thirty Miles West.

Jackson is a legitimate country music superstar with 35 No. 1 singles to his credit yet nothing in his demeanour on stage indicates he’s anything more than a passionate singer/songwriter. Rather than take to the stage to a bombastic introduction, Jackson took a quick moment 10 minutes into the set to make a simple announcement: “Hi, I’m Alan Jackson and my band is the Strayhorns.”

Jackson, who has earned a reputation of being relatively quiet on stage, was actually quite talkative Saturday night which helped make an impressive show even more interesting.

Opening with Gone Country, Good Times and I Don’t Even Know Your Names, Jackson explained exactly what the evening would entail: “We’re here to play y’all some country music, songs about life, love, heartache, drinking and having fun.”

Following up with Living On Love and Summertime Blues, the set wasn’t only about the hits as Jackson shared three songs from his new album — So You Don’t Have To Love Me Any More, Long Way To Go and Dixie Highway.

The new material provided proof that Jackson is still at the top of his game and the standard-bearer, along with George Strait, of traditional country music.

When introducing So You Don’t Have To Love Me Anymore, Jackson talked about his personal preferences when it comes to music: “I’ve always been a fan of sad songs, the heartache songs. I love writing them. I love singing them.”

The set continued to move forward with the likes of Small Town Southern Man, Who’s Cheatin’ Who, Little Bitty, Drive (For Daddy Gene) and Don’t Rock The Jukebox.

The crowd even got a quick glimpse into Jackson’s sense of humour when he introduced Here In The Real World, which was his first hit back in 1989.

“This next one is my first song, no, it’s actually my first hit,” he explained with a laugh. “I had one song out before this, it didn’t do any good. I’m not going to do that one.”

After finishing the tune, Jackson apologized for not venturing out on the runway that extended out from the stage. He told that crowd that he didn’t want to waste the space so he invited fans up to dance.

He quickly came to regret the invitation because in seconds the runway was overflowing with fans, many who were heading directly to the ramp that connected the runway to stage.

“Whoa, that’s close enough right there,” said Jackson. It was quite possible Jackson saw his life pass before his eyes, crushed in a stampede of his own making.

It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere, Chattahoochee and Where I Come From finished the set with Jackson and the Strayhorns returning for a two-song encore.

When it was all said and done, Jackson squeezed 21 songs into 90 minutes. Although it’s quite likely a few fan favorites were missed — I’d Love You All Over Again, Someday, Dallas and Wanted are just a few that spring to mind — Jackson easily matched the expectations of the Jamboree faithful.

Simply put, it was a wonderful night of country music.

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