Alan Jackson rocks more than a jukebox in Utah
Review • Jackson, in an obligatory cowboy hat and plaid shirt, plays a big show.
Published: August 15, 2013 07:28PM
Updated: August 12, 2013 07:47AM
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Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Sarah Darling performs at the USANA amphitheater, Saturday, August 10, 2013.

West Valley City • In an era where most country stars sound like rock singers with a twang, it’s nice to get back to the basics.

Perhaps that was why Alan Jackson’s concert Saturday night at the Usana Amphitheater was so satisfying.

Jackson’s not a flashy performer. The 54-year-old is content to stand near the middle of the stage backed by his crack eight-piece band, called the Strayhorns, and a simple but effective video screen and simply perform songs that tell stories.

It’s a credit to his talent that the highlights of a hit-laden 21-song set were not his rocking, honky-tonk dance-along tunes but, instead, two emotionally resonant ballads.

The first, the 9/11 ballad “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning) was performed simply and without fanfare. It’s a wonderful, moving song about how we all react to tragedy in our way. It was just Jackson, his band and a shot of the performer live on the screen until the last stanzas played. Then, a shot of the firemen at the World Trade Center hammered home the point.

The second, “Remember When,” might have hit an emotional chord with me because I just lost my mother. The black and white video clips showing young to old and Jackson’s understated performance hit many of the large crowd in the heart.

This isn’t to say the more upbeat songs weren’t fun.

“Where I Come From,” didn’t feature Jackson’s Georgia and Tennessee roots but, instead, showed video highlights from around Salt Lake City, a nice touch that added a certain resonance to a familiar tune.

And Jackson has had so many hits over the years that nearly every one of his songs has a familiar ring to it. Hits such as “Don’t Rock the Jukebox,” “Gone Country,” “Small Town Southern Man,” “Whose Cheating Who” and “Summertime Blues” are the kind of tunes that make folks want to stand up and dance, something most of the crowd seemed to enjoy doing.

This was a diverse audience. One couple celebrated its 50th wedding anniversary. Sarah Darling, 30, whose fine acoustic set opened the show, wished her mom happy birthday. Mom could be seen near the front filming her daughter singing beautiful ballads. By the time Darling sang the island-themed “Little Umbrellas,” I’m pretty sure it was her justifiably proud mom filming daughter and audience from the side of the stage.

It was that kind of a night.

Jackson and the Strayhorns turned the large amphitheater into a living room or a tiny honky-tonk bar. It just felt comfortable and relaxing hearing a drinking song such as “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” or an up-tempo classic like “Chattahoochee”.

Jackson is more smooth than flashy. He makes singing look so easy and so natural it’s easy to get sucked into the songs. And, in an era where flash often gets more attention than substance, it was nice to be able to hear and enjoy the words to each song.

wharton@sltrib.com

Twitter @tribtomwharton

Alan Jackson at Usana Amphitheater

When • Saturday

Bottom line • With substance over style, Jackson’s ballads were bigger show stoppers than his dance tunes.