Concert review: Alabama makes a little country music magic at Amsoil
It's gotta be difficult for a band to make country music magic after performing thousands of shows together for almost 50 years.
But Alabama made one of those heartwarming moments happen at Amsoil Arena in Duluth Wednesday night.
Three songs into the show, lead singer Randy Owen stopped the music and signed a poster for an Ontario couple celebrating 40 years of marriage, The couple was escorted on stage and chatted with Owen.
"We're going to let y'all dance over here," he said. "'I'm going to sing you this song ... as much of it as I can remember."
The band proceed to do a touching and spontaneous rendition of the ballad "There's No Way" as the couple slow danced in the spotlight and wiped tears from their eyes.
The song was a highlight of the almost two-hour, 18-song set turned in by Owen, his cousin, bass player Teddy Gentry and a crack six-piece backing band during its first Twin Ports show in 14 years. It was a show that almost didn't happen: Alabama was forced to cancel a Sept. 30 performance after Owen contracted a throat virus.
"That's the sickest I've been in 30 or 40 years; thank you for waiting," he told the audience. "They said it's the worst case of bronchitis they'd ever seen."
The good news is, everything seems to be fine now.
Owen's voice sounded as smooth as an ore boat gliding through the ship canal as he led the band (and the audience) through an endless succession of 1980s hits. "If You're Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)," opened the show, followed by "Tennessee River" and "High Cotton," all No. 1 chart toppers.
Gentry took over vocals on a sweet cover of the Joe Cocker hit "You Are So Beautiful," and the band roared through a follow-up rocker about the evils of high tech gadgets like it was channeling Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Dressed in loose-fitting black clothes and wearing a scarf and sneakers, Owen joked about everyone in his family buying "Duluth Trading Post" clothes. He also said he was happy to report back to his grandkids that it was snowing in Minnesota.
"Back home, they're out picking cotton right now," he said.
More No. 1 hits followed, including "Love in the First Degree" and "The Closer You Get," two songs that define the sweet, modern pop-country Alabama sound. Screaming guitars — perhaps a little too loud — kicked off the predictable encore "Mountain Music," as the audience roared its approval and a man in the front row waved a crutch over his head.
Owen and Gentry ended the night tossing t-shirts and ball caps into the crowd and taking a bow together.
On a sad note, band co-founder and multi-instrumentalist Jeff Cook, another cousin, did not perform, as he continues to battle Parkinson's disease. A microphone stood empty at the front of the stage in recognition.
Duluth-based acoustic duo Whiskey Trail opened the show with some nice originals and cover songs ranging from John Denver to Little Big Town. Parked on bar stools at the front of the stage, Heidi Pack and Jake Birdseye harmonized with confidence in front of their first-ever arena audience.
Mark Nicklawske is a Duluth freelance writer and entertainment reviewer for the News Tribune.