Off the Rails Country Music Fest
With Blake Shelton, Eric Church, Sam Hunt and more
Toyota Stadium, Frisco
Saturday and Sunday, April 23 and 24, 2016
Half of a successful music festival is the venue. The music lineup is what gets people there, but it’s the venue that keeps its reputation strong and bringing people back year after year. On Saturday and Sunday nights, Off the Rails Country Music Festival brought in Blake Shelton, Eric Church, Sam Hunt and some other A-list country music stars, but unfortunately they got the venue wrong — and it spoiled the whole weekend.
The two-day festival was hosted at Toyota Stadium, the Frisco home to the FC Dallas soccer team. Toyota Stadium is a venue made for soccer games, not music festivals. Lines for beer were about an hour long. The screens that projected the musicians were tiny. Stadium lights were not turned on, so walking to a concession stand for a hot dog became a risky journey.
Luckily the musicians did their best to make up for it. Saturday night, Ashley Monroe, Eli Young Band, Chris Young and headliner Blake Shelton each performed. Shelton has had 21 number one-singles in his career, 16 of which were consecutive. He’s on top of the country music industry right now and that was apparent as fans crowded the stage to sing every word. He doesn’t try to dress it up with a cute title and have flashing lights and drum solos. Instead, Shelton knows what his fans want. They want to hear all 21 of those number-one singles and occasionally hear a joke from their favorite The Voice coach.
But if you've seen one Shelton concert, you've seen them all. His jokes and banter in between songs are the same from his concert we reviewed nearly two years ago. But, hey, if something isn’t broken, why fix it? Speaking of which, there were some reminders of his last marriage to country artist Miranda Lambert sprinkled throughout the show. He even sang “Hillbilly Bone” with opener Chris Young, who was rumored to have an affair with Lambert during her marriage to Shelton. There didn’t seem to be any bad blood, however, as Shelton and Young embraced in a hug and sang.
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Shelton was also joined on stage by opener Ashley Monroe, with whom he performed their song “Lonely Tonight.” Monroe is in the country girl group Pistol Annies with Lambert, but like Young, Shelton embraced her and even shouted to the crowd, “I love this girl!” after their song was over.
Also making an appearance was country legend Randy Travis, who appeared with Shelton on stage when he sang his encore “God Gave Me You.” Travis didn’t sing with him, but watched on as Shelton closed out his set.
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Sunday night was far less crowded, which shouldn't be surprising because it was a concert on a Sunday night. Having the festival on Saturday and Sunday, rather than Friday and Saturday, was a hard one to figure, but it wasn't the only head-scratching part of the night. To add to it, Sam Hunt performed Sunday night, even though his main audience is arguably 17-year-old girls in halter tops who love the bad country boy who sings a little and raps a little. With his main audience unable to be there because of school the next day, it seemed like a major own-goal on the festival's part.
Hunt opened for Eric Church, which made for a strange pairing. Church has always been vocal about other country artists and it seems like Hunt and his skinny jeans wouldn't please Church. Whether Hunt is country enough or not, he was everything you expected him to be, rapping a little while singing and even throwing in some pop covers, including Rihanna's "We Found Love." He was also borderline cheesy while introducing his song "Single for the Summer."
"This song is about when I first moved to Nashville. A lot of people get caught up in alcohol or drugs, but I got caught up in a girl," he said.
If headliner Shelton performed a laid-back set Saturday night, Church ramped it up Sunday night with smoke, his signature aviator sunglasses and leather jacket, and special effects on the video screen. There's no one else like Church in the genre right now and that was apparent during this festival. He sang his hit songs like "Springsteen," "Talladega" and "Mr. Misunderstood."
There was also homegrown talent sprinkled throughout the festival with the Eli Young Band, the Casey Donahew Band and Waterloo Revival. The talent was there and a second Off The Rails festival, should it happen, could well be great. Just not at Toyota Stadium.