It was two-for-the-price-of-one night at the University of Utah's Huntsman Center on Friday. Don Williams, the "gentle giant" of country music, joined with Reba McEntire, the Oklahoma girl with a voice more supple than a steel guitar, for what turned out to be a first-rate show.
McEntire was billed as the headliner, but the styles of the two singers are so different it was really two separate events.Williams opened.
In America we have "country music" and "western music," but we need a third category: Texas music.
Texas music would be easygoing Texans singing easy-loping songs about life, love and the pursuit of perspective. Fiddles would be optional, hats would not. The only real requirement would be a certain world-weary quality that is genuine to the boot soles.
Singers would include Nanci Griffith, Ed Bruce, Kris Kristofferson . . .
And, of course, Don Williams.
Don Williams sings lullabies for adults; he sings from the heart, because his heart's been around.
Arthritis and other concerns keep him off the road quite a bit, but he's always enjoyed his Salt Lake receptions, and Friday was no exception.
After opening with the classic "Good Ole Boys Like Me," he ticked off an easy-listening list of hits including "Amanda," "I Believe in You," "Tulsa Time" and an audience sing-along on "You're My Best Friend." When he spoke, the big voice sounded like a river in a cave. He offered a comment here and there about his band and about Salt Lake City, but the communication was really in the music.
If Williams received a loud vote of appreciation from the fans, however, Reba McEntire came out to a chorus of pure adulation.
She is the country hit queen of the 1990s, and her stage show added to the glimmer. Very stagey - to the point where all the costume changes and choreography prompt the comment, "You just can't out-Bette Midler, Bette Midler."
A fog machine and high-tech lighting added to the effects.
But inside all the glitz was McEntire's marvelous voice - perhaps the finest country voice on tour today. The pain in both her voice and her material could easily earn her the title of Our Lady of Romantic Anxiety.
Still, the woman can both belt and croon. Powerful renditions of "Somebody Should Leave" and "Respect" were proof enough.
The middle of the show was filled with a medley of a half-dozen songs - including "New Fool at an Old Game" and "How Blue Can You Make Me." The encore clincher was an a capella version of Patsy Cline's "Sweet Dreams."
Mark Collie was the warm-up for the night. A fine songwriter with a fine voice, he's a young man with a fine future.
Listen for his name.
Better yet, listen for his songs.