Tuesday, November 22, 2011

K102 Class of 2011 — Mystic Lake Casino Hotel 11.13.11

From heartland rock, bluegrass from the hills of Arkansas, Bieber-pop with an edge, generic 90s pop rock, American Idol ® brand country to grungy country-rock rap, the K102 Class of 2011 showcased the wide spectrum of musical styles that fall under the category of country music these days. Minneapolis’ KEEY-K102’s annual fan-appreciation concert features the top new country radio artists, and this year Frankie Ballard, Eden’s Edge, Hunter Hayes, Thompson Square, Scotty McCreery and Brantley Gilbert took the stage to perform for the 2,100 listeners that filled the Mystic Showroom at Mystic Lake Casino Hotel on Sunday November 13th.

This year’s show was undeniably diverse, providing a good mix of styles for fans of all varieties of music that country radio endorses. Likely one of the largest shows K102 has ever put on, this year’s “Class of” not only featured the reigning American Idol, but the CMA-nominated Best New Artist and Duo of the Year Thompson Square, the icon of a huge underground following of country-rock fans and the artist behind the current #1 song in the country (Brantley Gilbert), and two opening acts of one of the biggest tours of the year (Taylor Swift’s Speak Now tour), Hunter Hayes and Frankie Ballard.

Read below for the full scoop on each member of 2011’s Class.

"The Heartbreaker" — Frankie Ballard
Frankie Ballard is easily one of our favorite new artists on mainstream country radio. If you read our blog, you already know this. Although he should have been the headliner in our opinion, it was a blessing in disguise that he played at the beginning of the show when every seat was filled. We couldn’t wait for that roomful of country fans to hear what we’ve heard from Frankie Ballard at four different shows across Minnesota over the course of the past year. He played the second longest set of the night which was a mix of his own music and a few new awesome covers that we’ve never seen them play before, like “Pink Houses” and “Black Betty.” Paying no mind to the fact that it was just after 6pm on a Sunday night, Frankie hopped off the stage and worked the crowd (i.e. chicks) during “Pink Houses,” setting the bar high for the rest of the night, which no one else quite matched.

He also introduced an even newer artist (possibly a future member of the Class of 2012 or 2013?), Thomas Rhett Akins, who was recently signed to Valory Music Co. Thomas Rhett is the son of country songwriter Rhett Akins, who is one third of the Nashville mega hit-writing trio The Peach Pickers. Coincidentally, Rhett and the other Pickers Dallas Davidson and Ben Hayslip had a hand in the majority (five) of the tracks on Frankie’s debut album. After spending the past year traveling the country (including tour dates with Taylor Swift and Bob Seger), we hear Frankie’s spending some time in the studio and will have a new single coming out at the start of 2012. We can’t wait.

Set list:
This Is How I Feel About You / Grandpa’s Farm / Get On Down the Road / Pink Houses (John Mellencamp) / Place To Lay Your Head / Tell Me You Get Lonely / A Buncha Girls / Black Betty (Ram Jam’s arrangement)

You’ve heard on the radio: “Tell Me You Get Lonely” and “A Buncha Girls”
Album: Frankie Ballard
If you like _____, you’ll like Frankie Ballard: Travis Tritt, Bob Seger, Tom Petty, John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen, Keith Urban, Dierks Bentley
Must watch: “Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde” [YouTube]
Twitter: @frankieballard
Website: FrankieBallard.com
More posts about this artist: Frankie Ballard

"The Gospel Choir" — Eden’s Edge
Our first impression of Eden’s Edge from a club show at Toby Keith’s in August wasn’t the best [post], but this performance changed our minds. Either the past few months as a part of Reba’s All the Women I Am tour has helped them to dramatically improve their stage presence and showmanship, or they just had an off night when we saw them last. It may have helped that they left out the Miley Cyrus cover this time, too. Among the entire Class of 2011 roster, Eden’s Edge stood out as the most well-rounded performance, supported by twangy country and bluegrass-stylings and strong three-part harmonies. No one can deny that lead vocalist Hannah Blaylock’s voice is lovely, but also demanding of attention. Bandmates Cherrill Green and Dean Berner’s harmonies and instrumentation on mandolin, dobro, and lap steel guitar is always a welcome addition to an arrangement. If you’re looking for a mainstream country vocal trio to support, choose Eden’s Edge over Gloriana. That’s an easy one.

Set list:
Mandolin? / Swinging Door / Amen / Crying? / Skinny Dipping / Christ Alone

You’ve heard on the radio: “Amen”
Album: Eden’s Edge 5-song EP
If you like _____, you’ll like Eden’s Edge: Lady Antebellum, Nickelcreek 
Must watch: “Whiskey Lullaby” (with Brad Paisley) [YouTube
Twitter: @edensedge
Website: EdensEdge.com
More posts about this artist: Eden’s Edge

"The Child Prodigy" - Hunter Hayes

If we told you there were some err.. “enhancements” done to make Hunter sound better than he actually is, would you believe us? As much of a problem that poses for people that respect real music, we’re not concerned that people will stop listening to him for that reason. Unfortunately, we dare to guess that no one is a fan of Hunter Hayes for his music alone, specifically with the young girls who took notice of him as the opening act of the last American leg of Taylor Swift’s Speak Now world tour. As much as his Mickey Mouse Club image and pop country overtones bother us, he has an undeniable musical talent that made the heads of industry big wigs (and fans) swivel.

Set list:
Love Makes Me / Be Mine / Everybody’s Got Somebody But Me / Wanted / Play / Storm Warning

You’ve heard on the radio: “Storm Warning”
Album: Hunter Hayes
If you like _____, you’ll like Hunter Hayes: Rascal Flatts, Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift
Must watch: “Storm Warning” (live at K102) [YouTube]
Twitter: @hunterhayes
Website: HunterHayes.com
More posts about this artist: Hunter Hayes

"The Homecoming King & Queen" — Thompson Square

They’re popular, but we’re not exactly sure why. Backed by their #1 single “Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not”, Thompson Square is onto their second release from their self-titled album, the weak “I Got You.” However, not much has changed with their show since we saw them three times earlier this year. They are a very likable couple with equally strong vocals, consistent delivery and catchy pop-country songs, but there’s nothing unique enough about them to hold your attention. Unfortunately their act is predictable, their look dated, and their material sounds as if they dug it out of the clearance bin at Cheapo Discs.

Set list:
I Got You / Let’s Fight / Getaway Car / Won’t Back Down (Tom Petty) / One of Those Days / Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not

You’ve heard on the radio: “Let’s Fight,” “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not” and “I Got You”
Album: Thompson Square
If you like _____, you’ll like Thompson Square: Sugarland, Donnie and Marie Osmond
Must watch: “Jackson” [YouTube]
Twitter: @thompsonsquare
Website: ThompsonSquare.com
More posts about this artist: Thompson Square

"Karaoke King" - Scotty McCreery

The screams of infatuated women (young, and not so young) with handmade signs declaring “Scotty is a Hotty” could have shattered glass when Scott McCreery was introduced. The newest American Idol is rather shy and not quite comfortable on stage yet which will come with experience, something he’s sure to get a lot of as the opener for Brad Paisley’s spring 2012 “Camobunga” Tour (No, we don’t get the name of that tour either). His song selection which included “I Love You This Big,” “Water Tower Town” and “Old King James” was all over the place and made for an unoriginal, dull and lifeless performance. What the showcase did sucessfully display was his deep, baritone vocals that helped him win Idol to begin with. Hopefully with time he will be able to develop the art of song selection (and maybe writing), so he has a post-Idol career that resembles that of Carrie Underwood, and not Danny Gokey.

Set list:
Water Tower Town / I Love You This Big / The Old King James / Clear As Day / Write My Number (On Your Hand) / Dirty Dishes / The Trouble With Girls / Walk In The Country (The Ranch)

You’ve heard on the radio: “I Love You This Big” and “Trouble With Girls”
Album: Clear As Day
If you like _____, you’ll like Scotty McCreery: Clay Aiken, Rodney Atkins, Josh Turner, Parker Schnabel (Gold Rush)
Must watch: "Walk In The Country" [YouTube]
Twitter: @scottymccreery
Website: Scottymccreery-official.com
More posts about this artist: Scotty McCreery

"Kid Country" — Brantley Gilbert

The night’s headliner, Brantley Gilbert, is all noise and no substance. It could not be more obvious that he wants to be the country version of Kid Rock, rounding out his grungy image with a side of rap. Fans can call him anything they want, just don’t call him an Outlaw. His walk-out intro to Kid’s “Cowboy” went on for an awkward length of time, and the rest of his set just failed to impress from there. His background as a songwriter bleeds through in his performance, with a need to improve his stage presence and poor quality vocals. In the few times he did speak to the slowly dissipating crowd, his mumbled heavily accented words were difficult to understand. We’d recommend he just go back to songwriting, but we don’t need anymore of that either. Hard to believe, but this guy has the #1 single in the country at time of publish, with “Country Must Be Country Wide.” Now that he’s at the top, where can he take it from here? Lesson to learn here: louder does not mean better.

Set list:
My Kinda Party / Hell On Wheels / Country Must Be Country Wide / Dirt Road Anthem / You Don’t Know Her Like I Do / Bending The Rules and Breaking The Law / Take It Outside / Hell On An Angel / My Kinda Crazy / Kick It In The Sticks / ?

You’ve heard on the radio: “Country Must Be Country Wide”
Album: Halfway to Heaven
If you like _____, you’ll like Brantley Gilbert: Jason Aldean, Colt Ford, Kid Rock
Twitter: @brantleygilbert
Website: Brantleygilbert.com
More posts about this artist: Brantley Gilbert

Over the course of one (five-hour long) evening, the audience was transported from a honkytonk, to a mountaintop chapel, to a Junior High School formal, to a roller rink, to a karaoke bar, finally ending up at a rock club. To put it all into perspective, we’d both rather have stayed at the honkytonk all night.

Aly and Beth

More | Photos [Indy Sky] — Interviews/Photos [K102] — Review [Star Tribune]