Eastern Michigan University’s Convocation Center would have looked more at home Saturday night if it were surrounded by rows of corn and wheat fields instead of standing vigil on the border of EMU’s campus. Four-wheel drive trucks, girls clad in short skirts and cowboy boots and more guys in flannel since Nirvana was touring descended upon it in droves for the Justin Moore concert.
Moore, one of country music’s fastest-rising artists, can be controversial and his political views and song lyrics may offend some listeners. But he seems to have a special connection with his fans, who feel like Moore is “real country, not commercial country.”
EMU sophomore Kyle Gouwens was at the concert and was looking forward to the show as he walked through the Convocation Center’s turnstiles.
“He speaks to down home country people,” Gouwens said. “I’m from the country and I can identify with what his songs are about. This is my first Justin Moore concert, and I’m looking forward to a lot of Justin Moore and a lot of Randy Houser.”
Josh Thompson opened the evening and a booming bass that vibrated through the concrete greeted fans as they looked for their seats. Thompson’s set was short, but it was well done and well received.
Thompson is a new artist on the Show Dog-Universal Music label, and his loud, vibrant style blurs the lines of southern rock and country music. A distinct Lynyrd Skynrd influence could be heard from his set as he and his band rocked the arena.
Following Thompson on stage was Mississippi native, Randy Houser. Houser has earned multiple nominations for American Country Music and Country Music Association awards. He is best known for his single “Going Out with My Boots On,” which reached No. 2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.
EMU graduate and former varsity swimmer Vanessa Weidner drove in from Ohio to see Moore and Houser.
“I love Randy Houser,” Weidner said. “I’m more of a Randy Houser fan than Moore. ‘Runnin’ Outta Moonlight’ is my jam.”
Houser did not disappoint, opening his set with a collection of several of his more popular songs blending together and winding into “Going Out with My Boots On.” He kept his set moving, featuring songs with biting guitar riffs and strong drumbeats that kept the arena on its feet. Houser ended his set with “Runnin’ Outta Moonlight” and “Whistlin’ Dixie” and left the arena to a standing ovation.
Detroit resident John Fitzgerald, who drove in for the show with a couple of friends, was in awe.
“That’s the greatest show I’ve seen,” Fitzgerald said. “Justin Moore is going to have to impress me to top that.”
With the opening acts concluded, fans settled into their seats during the stage change as anticipation for Moore grew.
Unexpectedly, the crowd was rewarded with country singer/rapper Jordan Rager, who was featured on NBC’s smash hit television show “The Voice.” Rager gave the crowd something to listen to as roadies worked on preparing Moore’s stage. Though no one seemed to recognize him, by the end of his set he had the crowd nodding along to his beat.
When Rager left the stage, the arena darkened to pitch blackness for a moment, which was pierced by blinding green lights and an ensuing laser show that may have been more at home at a Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert. Through the machine-generated fog, Justin Moore appeared as his band began to play the country music he is known for, instead of the synthesized music that preceded his appearance. The crowd jumped to their feet and the show was on.
Moore opened with “Off the Beaten Path” and rolled right into “Beer Time,” as he captured the crowd, who began to feed off his every whim. Moore slowed the pace down with his country ballad “Til my Last Day,” and the crowd kept beat with him by stamping their feet and clapping their hands in time.
Moore’s songs were broken up by occasional U.S.A. chants, and he would stop to interact with his fans, acknowledging everyone in the cheap seats, saying: “When I went to concerts, that was the only place I could afford to sit. When I was sitting up there, I wished the guy up here would talk to me.”
Moore’s style definitely has more of a classic country feel to it than most music produced by Nashville today. Some of his songs; like “Guns” and “I Could Kick Your Ass,” kick down the politically incorrect border instead of merely crossing it. But these are the songs that seem to endear him to his fan base. By the end of the evening, he had captured the crowd’s heart as he played music that was written with their set of ideals in mind.
Though not for everyone, Justin Moore bravely shuns commercialism by embracing the counter-culture, and his fans adore him for it. Whatever you feel for his music or his message, you cannot deny his passion or talent for the music he produces, which is embraced as a life maxim by his fan base.
Love him or hate him, Moore’s music is here to stay, even as his tour buses rolled away from Ypsilanti
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