Rascal Flatts Rejuvenated During 2019 Taste of Country Festival Headlining Set
Rascal Flatts are clearly having fun again. Saturday night's (June 8) headlining set at the 2019 Taste of Country Music Festival is an extension of their Summer Playlist Tour, a tour that promises to find the trio working with energy and enthusiasm not found in years.
Perhaps it's the new set list, or maybe re-tooling many of their most beloved hits has given Jay DeMarcus, Joe Don Rooney and (especially) Gary LeVox an antidote for tedium. The lead singer bounced from side to side like a human version of a Pong ball (any old-school Atari fans out there?). He engaged fans and his band by leaning on them throughout the night, and they gave the love right back to him. Vocally, he hunted down every high note throughout their 90-minute set, never seeming gassed or in need of help from the audience as so often happens with songs so dynamic in range and tempo. It was a vintage performance for the 48-year-old.
Fans got a sense early that this was an upgraded version of Rascal Flatts, a group that have publicly shared some of their frustrations about not being able to hit some of the touchstones of commercial success (award nominations, No. 1 songs) they once did. Album cycles seemed to be taking their toll, but when they released "Back to Life" last fall they made it clear they were off that train, instead focused on a singles-based formula for new originals and covers. "These Days" and "I Like the Sound of That" opened the outdoor set at the base of Hunter Mountain, and fans gave it right back to them.
The hallmark of the Summer Playlist Tour is the computer animation that takes over three or four times a night. It's the equivalent of a bot selecting the next song for the trio to play, and overused, it'd threaten to slow the show down. The graphic gives LeVox and company a chance to catch their breath and gets the crowd to lean into what's next. The stage was still dark when the crowd went wild in anticipation of "Bless the Broken Road" and later "What Hurts the Most." There may be more advanced elements to the gimmick when they take stages cross-country this summer and fall, but this simple animation was appreciated on Saturday.
Even if fans knew which songs were coming, they may not have recognized them. "Prayin' for Daylight," the trio's first hit from nearly 20 years ago, was modernized. "Mayberry" and later "Life Is a Highway" were introduced with compelling, funky drum intros. In fact, two drummers battled during the Tom Cochrane cover before Rooney sliced through them with that famous guitar riff. "Fast Cars and Freedom" was another that's been born again, and the Peter Frampton-esque talkbox effect on "Me and My Gang," while always present, got the video recognition it deserved. "Banjo" has always been a fan-favorite during live shows. On this night it was an anthem.
Visually, Rascal Flatts stopped only to welcome the crowd, transition to a new era of their catalog and pay tribute to the military. "Back to Life" opened with a video from a soldier who'd deployed to Afghanistan on several occasions. An older album cut called "He Ain't the Leaving Kind" proved to be an opportunity for four local members of the military to march on stage for an ovation that surely bounced beyond the green mountaintop valley.
Songs from the group's Lyric Street Records catalog dominated the 20-plus song set, but Rascal Flatts brought plenty of contemporary and classic covers. Maroon 5 ("This Love"), Foreigner ("Feels Like the First Time") and Huey Lewis and the News ("Do You Believe In Love") were a few, but the encore closed with a medley of songs important to them, many of which they took on for the new Jukebox EP.
Watch Jimmie Allen Perform "Make Me Want To":
See the Highlights From the 2019 Taste of Country Music Festival