OLD DOMINION SETS THE BAR HIGH FOR OPENING ACTS
Landing the opening slot on Kenny Chesney’s The Big Revival Tour is a pretty big coup. Old Dominion earned that billing on 19 stadium dates this summer. Having just seen them headline a show, I have no doubt how they did it. If Kenny saw what I just did, he’d have signed them before they left the stage. Few bands can play to a crowd that barely knows their music and draw them into it with sheer energy, style, and musicianship. By the end of this show, it felt like a big revival. These five guys – Matthew Ramsey, Brad Tursi, Trevor Rosen, Geoff Sprung, and Whit Sellers – combine a powerhouse of vocal and instrumental talent, electric stage presence, and chart topping songwriting. They are a band that takes everything we love about old school rock bands, mixes it with the sounds of the decades since, and pours it all out of a modern blender. What Alabama was to country in the 80s, Old Dominion will be it’s 21st century counterpart. It’s not mountain music, but if you’re ready to rock, they’re ready to pick up the torch and roll. I predict that fans will be on them like “Dirt on a Road.”
Casually taking the stage, as if they’re no big deal, they give you little indication of what they’re capable of. Matthew is a charismatic frontman who can engage you with his smile, good looks, and playful personality before he’s even sung one note. They opened with “Shut Me Up,” and once you’ve heard Matthew sing, that’s the last thing you’ll want to do. Throughout the night, he would prove what a tremendous vocal talent he is. His range is extraordinary, and the passion he sings with is magnetic. You can’t help but feel what he’s feeling. Add to that, he is no slouch on electric guitar. Moving into “Dirt on a Road,” the band showcased what tight harmonies they have. Their voices perfectly compliment one another, and when they come together, few can match the power or the sound they have. The phrase, “music to my ears,” probably came from listening to these guys.
Two songs in and the fun was just starting. “Beer Can in a Truck Bed” is a lot smarter than it sounds, and there is no cliché in the way Old Dominion delivers it. The fun they have on stage is contagious, and this one felt like they’d bought the audience a round. Following this they sang a couple of new ones, one of which is supposed to make the next album. It had a bluesy feel to it that added another dimension to what they can do. You get the feeling from watching these guys play that those instruments can and will play anything. They are expressions of mood, passion, and raw talent that shines brighter with each song. As the set unfolded, the individual talents of each of these guys would be revealed.
Having no shortage of songwriting talent in this band, the next section of their set is a combination of Tin Pan South meets Battle of the Bands. Trevor Rosen is likely responsible for more than a few songs on your favorite playlist. We were treated to his singing his first number one song, “Better Dig Two,” recorded by The Band Perry. Trevor has a great voice, and the arrangement was slightly different but equal in power to what The Band Perry delivers. Whit Sellers knows how to force a big sound out of a kick drum when the time is right on this one. Awesome! Brad Tursi had a hand in writing Tyler Farr’s latest hit, “A Guy Walks Into A Bar.” Turns out, not only is he an incredible guitar player, he sings too. When he was singing this one, I forgot it wasn’t Tyler singing. Brad delivered this flawlessly with the obvious feeling it was written with. Next on their songwriting hit parade was Dierks Bentley’s latest, “Say You Do,” written by Matthew and Trevor. With Matthew singing the lead here, it was another rendition that made me forget I wasn’t at a Dierks show. Old Dominion does a spectacular job of bringing a full-bodied band sound to songs that usually focus on a solo singer. It seemed to put an exclamation point on some great songs.
If you’re going to use part of a Springsteen song to lead into something, what follows better be damn good. I think the Boss would approve here. “Nowhere Fast” is as much about capturing a feeling as it is a lyrical journey. Bruce had his memories and Old Dominion has theirs. Beautiful song! We weren’t told the title of the next song in the set, but suffice it to say it was about a guy who can’t get YOU. Matthew told a compelling story of frustration through lilted lyrics that rose to a crescendo, ending the tale of boy does not get girl. “Snapback” was introduced to us as a possible cut on their new album, unless they write something better or we don’t like it. I could literally feel the crowd being pulled into the song and warming to it immediately. The overwhelming verdict was ‘put it on the record!’
When Matthew asked the crowd if they’d ever heard of a guy named Sam Hunt, it got a huge response he wasn’t surprised by. What was a surprise was learning he’d co-written one of Sam’s hits, “Ex To See.” This is a song that relies heavily on its groove and the band’s arrangement was spot on. When nearly all the songs you’re covering are ones you’ve written for someone else, they don’t sound like covers. To quote a Lady Antebellum lyric, “we sang, like we wrote every word to the whole damn thing.” Their smash hit single, “Break Up With Him,” was an audience favorite, but I don’t envy the guys in the room when Matthew sings this. If there’s even a hint of trouble in paradise, this will convince a girl to end it. They finished the regular set with “Wrong Turns,” off their debut EP, and another hit they’ve written, “Wake Up Lovin’ You,” for Craig Morgan. It was a full on, powerful instrumental ending during which Matthew introduced the members of the band and stamped their name on the stage saying, “WE’RE OLD DOMINION!”
As if their set hadn’t already impressed the audience, their encore sealed the deal. When the intro to the song started, I knew what it sounded like but was shocked by their choice. They didn’t write this one, nor were any of these guys alive when it was a hit. The song won a Grammy in 1972 for Best R&B Song, and the writer and singer, Bill Withers, was just inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last week. Old Dominion’s version of this shows exactly why they are as diverse and surprising as any band to come out of Nashville, EVER. They didn’t just kill this song, they slayed it as if it were a fire breathing dragon. Matthew sang it like he was trying to squeeze every last R&B note out of it. He left no doubts about his vocal talent after this one. Just as the vocal left everyone speechless, the band’s finish was an instrumental schooling. Brad Tursi impressed me all night with his guitar playing, but took it to another level at the end of this one. I can’t even adequately describe what he did, but it was a sound you wanted to grab hold of and beg it never to stop. He pulled the whole band into it with him, and the force they generated was a knockout punch to end the night. Cast aside any thoughts that these guys are in a lightweight division. This was a heavyweight title fight and they just delivered a TKO.
Old Dominion is the band country music has been waiting for. They have the songwriting chops and the talent to tell their own stories. They bring a rock band style to the market in that they write all their own songs and formed out of a group of close friends who know each other well. There is no weak link in this unit. The skill of each individual compliments the rest. Vocally, Matthew Ramsey is a powerhouse. Not only because he can belt out a song, but because he can be equally soulful and groovy with complete authenticity. Trevor Rosen and Brad Tursi are also more than capable of lead vocal duties. Add to that the band’s background vocal options, and it’s a harmonious juggernaut. Their talent as musicians is at the top of the scale, and they’re able to showcase that in their arrangements and interaction with each other on stage. The energy they play with is electrifying. If you aren’t having fun at one of their shows, call 911. Their live show is a marquee event of an Ali declaration, “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” Their relevance is equal parts old school and 21st century lyrics. “Midnight selfie on a balcony” isn’t a lyric from an 80s song. It’s creatively Old Dominion, from a song country radio will be clamoring for. They are the new sound of music that’s turned a corner. It’s inclusive, playful, and respectful of what’s come before it. Opening for Kenny Chesney will put Old Dominion in the hottest spotlight of the summer. There is no doubt they’re ready for No Shoes Nation. Get out of the parking lot and get to your seats for these guys!
Download Old Dominion’s debut EP through iTunes: HERE
Listen to “Dirt on a Road.”
Download the single, “Dirt on a Road,” through iTunes: HERE
Visit Old Dominion’s website for tour info: http://olddominionband.com/tour
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