The Southern Style Tour stops at Van Andel Arena

Story by Brooke Johnston, The Saint Reporter
Photo courtesy of Van Andel Arena 

Don’t be deceived by the title of Darius Rucker’s Southern Style Tour. As he told a packed Van Andel Arena on Thursday, November 19, Southern style “isn’t about where you’re from, it’s about who you are.”

Rucker has always been able to convey a high level of personalization to his fans through his music, but his transition from pop to country has given him a wider breadth in how intimate he can be with his fanbase. By the end of the night, I knew that he loved and missed his kids, that he used music to cope with the death of a loved one, and that he “thanks God for all he missed” because it led him, “here to this.”

Regardless of whether you are a fan of the genre, you have to admit that that country music is intimate, it’s raw, and it’s personal. When performed well, country music portrays the courage we all wish we had, whether that be the courage to call up an ex-lover, the courage to stand up for our beliefs, and/or the courage to be unapologetically authentic in who we present ourselves to be. Rucker’s concert, from first to last set, encompassed all of these moments of courage.

As the opening act, A Thousand Horses performed their original song “Landslide.”The rock-boogie-country group captured in only a few songs an eclectic array of what it means to be country-proud. Lead Singer Michael Hobb’s raspy voice was dripping with an undertone of rock n’ roll, but the sentiment that “I don’t need you to tell me who to be” is as country as it gets. A Thousand Horses also showcased their sensitive side, performing “(This Ain’t No) Drunk Dial,” a song that many millennials can relate to.

I know that I am not the only one that has occasionally circled the block a few times to listen to a song in its entirety. There is a sense of companionship to songs like “(This Ain’t No) Drunk Dial” in which Hobb belts out in a sea of blue stage lighting, “Our song came on the radio, [and] I could hear you singing along, so I took the long way home so that I could listen to it all.”

Lyrics like those speak of depths in the human soul, and display a moment that most would keep hidden privately. The band is portraying the grieving process that we as humans have towards the people and memories that make up our intricate pasts. In this specific song, those lyrics convey to the person on the other end of the phone line that they are missed and loved, “Don’t hang up, I called on purpose… I’m hurting” and “There’s a way to make this whole thing right” again. A Thousand Horses did what Darius Rucker is phenomenal at: they put into music the unedited version of what it feels like to be human, joy and pain included.

I had never seen a Redneck Romeo in a turtleneck before David Nail’s performance, in which his guitarist ditched the standard Levi’s and T-shirt for a skinny jeans and turtleneck combo. The second opening act for Darius Rucker is known for his ability to croon emotionally charged and relatable songs. Nail was literally drenched in sweat by his third song.

Unfortunately, his effort failed to translate into an energized audience. He is extremely talented, but his talents are placed in the soulfully honest and heart wrenching songs that country music is known for. When he attempted to amp up his performances with a faster pace, he didn’t have the stage presence to fully commit.

When Nail stuck with his more mellow songs, his deep voice brought you to a place of emotional awareness. Nail revisited his 2013 hit, “Let it Rain,” in which he presents an extremely human view of the mindset of a man who accepts the full brunt of cheating on the one he loves. Lyrics like “let it hurt even more than I deserve” portray a unique aspect of country music; the ability to portray full accountability for negative actions.

Nail is not dissing monogamy, he’s not lashing out at his ex for throwing his things out their window, nor is he making excuses that shift the blame of the incident. Rather, Nail captures that “the guilt you feel is the last thing you feel on your mouth”, and he accepts the pain that he has caused and personally feels as a product of his own actions. What other genre does that? After a few touching songs, one of which was dedicated to his pregnant wife at home, David Nail introduced the man everyone had come to see.

Emerging in a sea of flames, Darius Rucker delivered the high energy opening song “Lighter Up.”  With strong crescendos and some dance moves (that he later admits some call Dad-Moves), Rucker had the crowd on their feet dancing within seconds of starting his set. In true Rucker style, by the time the second song ended, he seemed like a good honky tonk buddy that is always “Good for a Good Time.”

Darius Rucker showcased his pop roots, casually mentioning to the crowd that, “A great song is a great song, regardless of the genre… sometimes you have to make an exception.” Exceptions were definitely made, for soon after that Rucker’s tan leather boots were moving to his cover of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity.” That’s right, Mr. Rucker was covering Blackstreet and Dr. Dre, and quite frankly it was the best thing I have seen all week.

The man knows how to put on a great show. He performed the crowd favorite “Let Her Cry” from his Hootie & The Blowfish days, in which a sea of fans sang along with him. When Rucker now sings that, “it’s crazy to think that one little thing could’ve changed all of it.”

It is quite literal in terms of his musical career. The band Hootie & The Blowfish formed after bandmate Mark Bryan heard Rucker singing in the showers of their college dorm. Think about the timing and luck that that specific encounter requires. It’s mind blowing, just like the emotional depth that Rucker put forth on November 19.

Darius Rucker performed in true southern style; with emphasis on the treasures that you cannot buy. Family, self-Growth, and happiness propelled his performance. He had talented openers, but there is no doubt that he was the best part of the night. When you find heartbreak, when you’re looking to go out on the town, or even when you just need to jam to an upbeat song, Rucker will be there for you in the form of musical therapy. He’s been there for you, and he’ll continue to be there for you, in true Southern Style.

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