Tim McGraw isn’t much for words — unless he’s singing them.
“I know how long evenings can go,” he told a crowd of about 7,500 people in Paulson Stadium Friday night. “We’re not going to bull(expletive) you. We’re just going to play music.”
Backed by his long-time band, the Dancehall Doctors and a volcano of lights set dancing by a fog machine just off-stage, McGraw didn’t talk much to the crowd. He just played hit after hit.
McGraw’s a bare-bones country act. Sure, he had the requisite spotlights, but he didn’t have giant video screens like Brad Paisley did three years ago at Paulson. He and the Doctors brought straight country that just about everyone in attendance knew all the words to.
At one point, McGraw even went into Southern preacher mode, exhorting the overwhelmingly young, white, cowboy-boot-wearing and alcohol-soaked crowd into “amens” and “hallelujahs” before launching into another number.
“Can you feel the spirit of country music?” he asked.
Walking up and down a long catwalk in front of the stage, McGraw spent nearly every song working the crowd. He shook hands, smiled for pictures, and even cracked up laughing a little bit during a gently auto-tuned version of his Elton John cover “Tiny Dancer.”
The audience even sang along when his band led them in singing “Happy Birthday” to McGraw, who turns 43 today. A few stray raindrops hinted at disaster, especially since umbrellas weren’t allowed in the stadium, but as of press time the clouds held off and just gave a much-needed cool breeze at the stadium.
In 17 years of recording, McGraw’s amassed a strong stable of hits, and he hammered them home in Paulson — from “Down on the Farm” to “I Like It, I Love It,” “Where the Green Grass Grows” and more. He took the stage about 9:15 p.m.
GSU officials weren’t able to give attendance figures or how much it cost to bring McGraw to Statesboro before press time, but some tickets were still being sold just before the concert started at 8 p.m. The concert raised about $50,000 from sponsors for scholarship programs at GSU.
Like most live music in Statesboro, McGraw’s opening act Jonathan Singleton and The Grove didn’t draw much attention from the audience with their original songs. When they started playing covers, though, people perked up and sang along.
There’s a twist, though — Singleton was playing his own songs, hits he’s written for Billy Currington, Gary Allan, David Nail and Josh Turner.
“People say we’re crazy for not cutting them,” Singleton joked.
On his own, Singleton and the band have had top 100 hits with “Livin’ in Paradise” and “Look Who’s Back in Love.” The group didn’t match the sheer star power of Paisley’s opening combo of Taylor Swift, Jack Ingram and Kellie Pickler, but Singleton and his group of Nashville bar playing veterans put on a strong set.
A young, Tennessee version of Michael McDonald, Singleton caught everyone’s attention with the tear-jerker “It’s Probably Just Time.”
Before the show, the parking lot slowly filled up like football season had come early. There were tailgaters, sponsors and the requisite local radio stations blasting music and giving away t-shirts.
Kate Reeves was tailgating with friends. She had driven from St. Simons Island for the show, and said she planned to tailgate until gates opened. “I’m really excited — we’re all excited. It’s going to be so much fun!” she said.
Further on down the tailgating line, Jennifer Oliver of Ellabell arrived at 4 p.m. for the show to enjoy McGraw’s performance with friends.
“He’s sexy,” she said. “He’s a sexy man.”
One person in attendance was looking for sexy women. Chris Maier started partying with friends early at a nearby pool. “I love Tim McGraw’s music, I love the women that Tim McGraw attracts — that’s what we love,” he said.
GSU student Laura Beasley said there were several necessary ingredients to the multi-hour tailgate she had with friends.
“You’ve got to have country music, our fabulous Mexican dip… and definitely a good time for all involved,” she said. “I like Tim McGraw because he’s a good old country singer, he’s been around a long time, he’s got tons of good songs you can always sing along to.”