1 Night. 1 Place. 1 Time: A Heroes & Friends Tribute to Randy Travis took place on Wednesday night (Feb. 8) in front of a packed house at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena and it featured more than 40 performers, including Garth Brooks, Wynonna, Jeff Foxworthy, Alison Krauss, Ben Haggard, Neal McCoy, Phil Vassar, Travis Tritt, Alabama, Kenny Rogers, Rodney Atkins, Chris Janson, Jamey Johnson, Montgomery Gentry, Michael Ray, Ricky Skaggs, Michael W. Smith, The Randy Travis Band, Tanya Tucker, Kane Brown, James Dupre, Scotty McCreery, Joe Nichols, Collin Raye, The Bellamy Brothers, Ricky Traywick and Chris Young, Chuck Wicks, Mark Chesnutt, Daryle Singletary, Paul Overstreet, Shane Owens, William Michael Morgan, Josh Turner, Rudy Gatlin, John Conlee, Daily & Vincent, Jan Howard, Jeannie Seely, Riders in the Sky and Charles Esten.
In addition to the great performances—and there were a bunch—Randy capped the three-hour show by leading the all-star cast in a rendition of “Amazing Grace” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”
I’ve narrowed down those 40-plus performances to the Top 5. If you disagree, and I’m sure you will, feel free to tweet your Top 5 list to @TheJimCasey or @NashCntryDaily—but only if you attended the show. No fan-club fodder needed.
5. Phil Vassar
Phil Vassar was mesmerizing as he tickled the ivory and crooned “More Life.” If you’ve ever seen Phil in concert, the wild man has the tendency to be—look squirrel—but for four minutes he was focused on one mission: honoring Randy with this redemptive tune. And he was truly captivating. I would have tipped my hat to him, if I was wearing one.
“On the Other Hand”
Randy’s tribute concert was lacking one thing: female performers. Of the 40 artists who took the stage, only a handful were women, including Alison Krauss (who was amazing singing “Deeper Than the Holler”), Tanya Tucker and Jeannie Seely. Vocally, Wynonna was on another level as she belted out “On the Other Hand.” It’s a level few performers have ever been on, but Wynonna at age 52 is still better than any other female vocalist on the planet (Ok, maybe she’s tied with Trisha Yearwood).
3. Travis Tritt
“Better Class of Losers”
Full disclosure: I’m an unabashed Travis Tritt super-fan. Regardless, no one onstage that night had more energy than TT. He was genuinely excited to be there. He was giddy. I don’t think there’s a better adjective to describe him (or I would have used it). Travis’ rendition of “Better Class of Losers” had the crowd on its feet immediately and he got a louder ovation than anyone else (sans maybe Garth Brooks and Kenny Rogers), but Travis’ performance outshined the G-Man and The Gambler, which is no small feat.
2. Chris Janson
“Look Heart, No Hands”
As a performer, winning over a crowd with one song in less than five minutes is a daunting task, especially against the firepower onstage that night, but Chris Janson WON the crowd like Maximus in Gladiator: he gave them something they’ve never seen before. Chris, who is normally a whirling dervish of energy onstage, was almost stoic as he sang “Look Heart, No Hands”—until he busted out his harmonica and went to town on a solo. Dude has skills. Mad skills. He deserves a new boat from the show’s promoter.
1. Randy Travis
Technically, Randy sang at the CMA Awards in November when he capped “Forever and Ever, Amen” with the “Amen,” and he did that again on Wednesday night as Garth Brooks sang the tune. But on Feb. 8, Randy truly sang for the first time—that I know about—since suffering his stroke in 2013. Randy closed the show by leading the all-star troupe in a rendition of “Amazing Grace” as everyone joined him onstage. It truly was amazing. Randy may not ever get back to where he was pre-stroke, but where he is now is amazing . . . and grace has a lot to do with it.
photo by Jason Simanek