May 6, 2014
Spinning a story in song—a tradition as old as country music itself—served as the theme for the fifth annual We’re All for the Hall concert, a benefit for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum that presented three hours of one-of-a-kind musical surprises for a sold-out crowd.
Billed as “Songtellers,” the evening focused on narrative songwriting, often using the details of individual lives to address universal themes, such as love, heartbreak, deceit, families, drinking, generosity, standing up for yourself and surviving life with determination and gusto.
As always, Keith Urban and Vince Gill hosted a memorable evening filled with country stars. “We never know what we’re going to do,” Urban said at the outset, emphasizing the improvisational nature of the evening. “We never have on any of the past years, and we’ve always had the best time.”
Urban has put together all five We’re All for the Hall concerts in Nashville, hand-picking and personally inviting each artist who appears. The guests who answered his call this year, all volunteering their time, ranged from Country Music Hall of Fame members Gill, Reba McEntire and soon-to-be-inducted Ronnie Milsap to veterans Mary Chapin Carpenter, Deana Carter and Lee Ann Womack to several of today’s hottest stars, including Brantley Gilbert, Kacey Musgraves and Carrie Underwood.
“Five years ago, I was sitting up there,” said newcomer Brett Eldredge, as he pointed toward a section of raised seats to the right of the stage, where he saw the first We’re All for the Hall concert in 2009. “I was thinking how cool it would be to play this show someday. And here I am.”
The evening’s theme encouraged performers and songwriters to talk about the inspiration behind the songs. The motivation for the hits included heartbreak, headaches, lost love, first dates, cars, breaking the law, spiritual conflict, TV shows, forgetting a potential paramour’s last name, pigs who swim and, more than once, Dolly Parton.
The variety of story songs swept across decades. They included:
*a 1957 hit about a teenager realizing he and his date had fallen asleep and missed getting home by curfew (“Wake Up Little Susie,” the Everly Brothers classic, performed by Keith Urban and Vince Gill)
*a 1974 ballad about the end of a longtime partnership that is drastically changing (“I Will Always Love You,” the Dolly Parton classic, belted out by Carrie Underwood)
*a 1996 hit about a woman reflecting on a life-changing teen summer romance (“Strawberry Wine,” performed by Deana Carter)
*a 2013 catchy sing-along about a rollicking romantic moment (“Wagon Wheel,” credited to Bob Dylan and Old Crow Medicine Show’s Ketch Secor, and performed by Darius Rucker, who made it a #1 on the country charts).
Many of the artists chose to present some of their most famous songs, with Eldredge singing his recent Top 10 hit “Beat of the Music,” David Nail with his recent #1 “Whatever She’s Got,” Carpenter with her 1993 hit “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her,” Milsap with his 1980 #1 “Smoky Mountain Rain,” McEntire with her 2001 hit “I’m a Survivor,” Underwood with 2008’s rowdy “Last Name” and Womack with her 1998 hit “A Little Past Little Rock.”
A few performers used the occasion to tout current chart hits or upcoming releases. For example, Urban rocked through “Cop Car” and Gilbert rapped through “Bottoms Up”—both current Top 10 hits; Gilbert also offered an acoustic version of “Grown Ass Man,” a song from his upcoming third album; and Kip Moore premiered his brand new single, “Dirt Road” and the yet-to-be-released “Baby’s Gone.”
As always, there were plenty of surprises and special covers. David Nail and Womack teamed up on Glen Campbell’s “Galveston”; Gill offered up Buck Owens’ “Together Again,” a standout cut from his recent Bakersfield album with steel guitarist Paul Franklin; and Musgraves acknowledged her Dolly influence with a cover of “Here You Come Again.”
Gill and Urban backed nearly all of the performers—except on the handful of acoustic numbers. Most acknowledged what a treat it was to play with what will likely be the most famous twin-guitar backing they’ll ever experience. The star guitarists were joined by Urban’s outstanding touring band, with top steel guitarist Paul Franklin as a special guest throughout the night.
Near the end of the evening, Urban announced that the concert had raised, so far, $600,000 for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
“The real reason this is successful is because all of you bought a ticket and came here,” said Vince Gill, in introducing his 2007 recording “What You Give Away,” about how being a charitable person repays each of us in multiple ways. “That’s where all the money we’re going to raise comes from. So thank you for making a great contribution to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum tonight.”
KEITH URBAN and VINCE GILL
“Wake Up Little Susie”
LEE ANN WOMACK
“The Way That I’m Livin’”
“A Little Past Little Rock”
“Beat of the Music”
“Mean to Me”
“You & Tequila”
“Whatever She’s Got”
“Galveston” (with Lee Ann Womack)
“What You Give Away”
“Somewhere in My Car”
“Here You Come Again”
“Merry Go Round”
MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER
“He Thinks He’ll Keep Her”
“Why Shouldn’t We”
“Smoky Mountain Rain”
“Stranger in My House”
“The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”
“I’m a Survivor”
“Grown Ass Man”
“I Will Always Love You”
“Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It”