With basketball and hockey schedules in full swing now, traveling performers have to take what's left when it comes to finding times and arenas. And Sunday night at the Huntsman Center doesn't really sound like a prime time and place.

Still, it didn't stop a sellout, rowdy crowd Sunday from enjoying a neat "hat trick" of award-winning singers.To begin with, if George Strait is the Bruce Springsteen of country music ("The Boss" and "The Foreman"), then you'd have to say Alabama is county music's version of the Rolling Stones. And on Sunday, 'Bama was its familiar high-energy, high-octane self.

Rumors of the band's demise are just that, rumors.

Explaining Alabama's staying power is not easy. Aren't these four guys really just a bar band skating on the husky voice of lead singer Randy Owen? Aren't they a "bandwagon band," a group that can't be trusted because the members jump on every bandwagon around - whether its working-class pride, environmental preservation or patriotic sentimentality?

Isn't Alabama really out of its depth?

If so, there was no indication from the crowd or the crooners themselves Sunday. An opening medley of hits, including "The Closer You Get," "Roll on Highway" and "Pass It On Down," created - to borrow a term from the sports desk - total pandemonium.

And the fervor didn't drop off one iota throughout the entire set.

Alabama was named country music band of the '80s for a reason: They are the great communicators of the genre. And Sunday, whether throwing laser spotlights and fog around the arena, or just throwing out their sweet harmonies and lyrics, the group proved it has earned its recognition.

As for Clint Black, he's apparently everything he's cracked up to be. Something of a cross between George and Garth Brooks, Black appeared in black hat and guitar Sunday and charmed his way through a half-hour set.

He'd sing a bit ("The Lights Are On," "Better Man," "Walking Away"), then he'd banter away in his Texas brogue. Where Strait tends to play himself as a mystery - a strong-silent type - Black comes on more like Steve Wariner - personable, clever and young.

Black not only rates as one of the finest male voices in the music (along with Randy Travis, Strait, George Jones), but he has a talent for songwriting the others don't share.

He should still be with us in the year 2000.

Lorrie Morgan?

A budding superstar. Dressed in a black velour pantsuit that set off her sassy blond hair, Morgan had the stage presence and a savvy that should eventually put her on a par with Reba McEntire. When on stage she took command of the arena in a way I haven't seen since K.T. Oslin was in town.

At one point she brought her 3-year-old boy on stage with her and sang a song to him.

Was she pandering to the crowd? Trading on easy sentiment?

If so, she certainly knows her audience, because the move went down like a dinner.

Watch for Morgan to rise to the top and stay.