Spokane’s downtown came alive after the passing of a fresh September rain that drenched the city’s streets. Sunday’s setting sun erupted a pink hue through fissures of disenchanting nimbus clouds that reflected on the somber surface of puddles as hundreds of country music fans filed into the First Interstate Center for the Arts.
As the audience walked down the aisle-lined orchestra seats, the clamoring of excitement echoed from the floor to the balcony. Conversations about headliner Dwight Yoakam were buzzing, and fans from around the region of all ages spoke about the songs that have embraced their auditory senses, creating memories for all.
With a quick flip of a switch, the stage laid in complete darkness as opener Rob Leines and his band took the stage to create a trio of Southern-influenced country with a pop rock and roll flare. Being a man of the road, a rambler, Leines’ pride is portrayed in his lyrics of fellow blue-collar workers, endless touring and, of course, the frosty adult-hop soda.
Leines is a true honkytonk lifer dressed in two tones of denim, a Copenhagen-ringed back pocket and a rhythm section that created the symbiotic sound that welcomed the Telecaster solos from the frontman. If this opener was a forecast of what was in store, I welcomed it with open ears and a tapping foot.
Intermission, with the house playing country classics and modern hits, seemed to build a palatable suspense for all in attendance. With the stage, floor and house lights dropping into darkness simultaneously as a spotlight from the heavens engulfed one of country’s legendary honkytonk hillbillies, a voice boomed, “Spokane, welcome Dwight Yoakam.”
The stage lights snapped on to shimmer the rhinestone-jacketed band members taking to their tools of the evening. Yoakam was adorned in his lightly rhinestoned denim uniform and famous gray Stetson, slightly tipped forward to shade his eyes in true Yoakam fashion.
Guitar strums of the cover of the Carter Family’s “Keep on the Sunny Side” erupted hollers, clapping and whistles that boomed from the seats on the floor. There was no time wasted between songs, with one leading into the next. A barrage of cover songs came quick, hitting classics by Elvis Presley, Buck Owens, Ray Wylie Hubbard and the legendary Merle Haggard.
Before covering Haggard’s ‘Okie From Muskogee,” Yoakam told a tale of a conversation with his friend Willie Nelson. A song about honoring their friend in a cover album by Nelson. Let’s just say Yoakam painted an accurate picture of his interaction with Nelson on his tour bus – it was a smoke-filled memory that was received with laughing and clapping.
Yoakam’s ability to create a simple story into a comedic interlude showed his prowess as a true entertainer, and his discography covers my adolescences into adulthood. The twang of his guitar spun a tornado of chart-toppers: “Blame the Vain,” “Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose,” “Honky Tonk Man” and person favorite “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere.”
From his debut album, Yoakam, who stars in Clint Eastwood’s new film “Cry Macho,” created a dancing frenzy as the seated crowd stood up and grooved to “Guitars, Cadillacs.” The flashback of smoky bars and dimly lit honkytonks is where my mind two-stepped through from the set-closer “Fast as You.”
Then it was a quick dropout of lights to be brought back on for the encore of Yoakam’s smash hit cover of Mark James’ “Suspicious Minds.” The crowd flowed out into the cool evening air in front of First Interstate Center with conversations of praise and “that was so awesome” because Yoakam did not disappoint on this night.
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