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Talking to Martina McBride recently, I came away not quite knowing how to describe her demeanor. There was a certain aloofness to the conversation we had - not an unfriendliness, but a sense that she wasn�t extremely interested in talking about herself.
Saturday night at the SeaGate Centre, things became clearer. She�s a superstar not all that interested in being a celebrity. In fact, before she sang "For These Times," a cut off her new album, she decried the emphasis that Americans put on celebrity and other things that maybe aren�t all that important.
In fact, her main focus in life is to be a mother, but she also understands she�s been blessed with an unbelievable vocal talent that can influence the world in which her children are growing up.
Not all of her music is sugary, feel-good fluff. There�s a message to many of her songs, and she hammers those messages home with the best voice in Nashville. "Concrete Angels" brought many in the nearly sold-out crowd to tears as she powerfully told the tale of a child who ultimately dies at the hands of an abusive parent. "Love�s the Only House" extols the virtues of extending a loving hand to those around us. In "For These Times," she implores us to "give me a heart full of tender mercy and arms I will open wide." And, of course, she finished off her set of life-affirming messages with "This One�s for the Girls," a challenge to girls of all ages to believe in who they are and be proud of that person.
After that sequence of songs, it was easy to picture Martina sitting down with her three daughters and explaining that the world is sometimes a tough place, but you can make it a little nicer in how you treat people. Music can be inspirational, and there�s no one better at inspiring than McBride.
After years in Nashville, McBride�s concerts have evolved as so many other artists� shows have - they get bigger, and brighter, and more technologically oriented. After rising to the top of a platform in front of a darkened stage as she opened her show with her recent hit "Anyway, " a curtain dropped exposing a big stage set, with six metal columns, a battery of lights, and a team of musicians.
She followed that with "When God-fearing Women Get the Blues," and at that point, the lights were almost headache inducing. What makes McBride so incredible is her vocal instrument, not the dazzle of a stage show.
But all in all, concertgoers couldn�t have asked for more entertainment for their money. The night started off with a four-song set from Rodney Atkins, one of the fastest-rising stars in Nashville. He�s produced back-to-back No. 1 singles in "If You�re Going through Hell" and "Watching You," and his current single, "These Are My People" is soaring up the charts. Like McBride, Atkins is completely family oriented. One of the highlights of the night was when his 5-year-old son Elijah came onto the stage after Atkins finished singing "Watching You." When he lifted his son into his arms, the crowd rose to its feet for an extended ovation.
Little Big Town followed with an impressive 45-minute set, including their big hits "Good as Gone," "Bring It on Home," current single "A Little More You," and "Boondocks." Unfortunately the beginning of the set was marred with difficulties with Kimberly Roads� microphone, but Karen Fairchild, Jimi Westbrook, and Phillip Sweet picked her up.
LBT, as their fans affectionately call them, gave up their anonymity when "Boondocks" became one of the biggest hits of 2006, but they probably still are underappreciated for their vocal talents. Their tight harmonies are unmatched, and their two-man, two-woman format makes them unique within the industry. By the time they finished their set with "Boondocks," most of the crowd was on its feet.
But the night was mostly about McBride, who won points with the crowd by pointing out that she hasn�t been to Toledo in a while and promised that it won�t be as long for her return trip. At one point, after an extended ovation, she got a little emotional and had to take a short break until the crowd quieted down.
McBride has piled up an impressive array of No.-1 hits of her own, but one of the most poignant moments of the night was when she paid tribute to Loretta Lynn when a version of "You Ain�t Woman Enough (to Take My Man)." She followed that up with a cover of Kris Kristofferson�s "Help Me Make It through the Night." All in all it was a classy touch from a classy woman.
Martina McBride is now 40 years old, but she proved last night that she still knows how to entertain a crowd - young and old.