LAS VEGAS — Jake Owen kept country fans out well past midnight here as
the headliner of Saturday’s (April 6) free concert lineup at the Fremont Street Experience. Presented by the Academy of Country
Music, the downtown event entertained thousands of fans a few miles away from the Strip, where the ACM Awards will be taking
place Sunday night.
Owen led a four-of-a-kind lineup of country stars whose career could potentially be without limits.
Four years ago, Owen held down a middle
performance slot at the event. Back then, he had just “Don’t Think I Can’t Love You” and a few moderate hits to save for the
end of his set. Now he’s able to shuffle the deck with “The One That Got Away,” “Alone With You” and “Eight Second Ride.”
All of those tunes drew cheers of recognition, although the breezy “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” is probably his signature song
Along with older hits such as “Starting With Me” and “Yee Haw,” Owen offered a handful of new songs from
an album he’s working on. I couldn’t make out the titles but the message was clear: Sunny weather and pretty girls are a winning
combination. With a melody similar to “Wagon Wheel,” one of the choruses went something like: “I like it a lot/A whole lot.”
And he’s starting to infuse the new material with unmistakable twang and hints of reggae and rap. Without hearing the music,
that sounds like a really weird combo, but I wouldn’t bet against it.
Meanwhile, it’s fair to say Houser and Kramer
beat the odds to make a career in country music.
Houser lost some momentum after a change of record labels, but he
projects a newfound confidence thanks to his first No. 1 single, “How Country Feels.” Although he’s had other hits, he tends
to stretch his set by saying things like, “Let’s sing that chorus one more time!” and asking how many country fans are in
However, all is forgiven through powerful songs such as “Like a Cowboy” and early hits like “Anything
Goes.” In addition, he dusted off a little number he co-wrote called “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk.” His new single, “Runnin’ Outta
Moonlight,” should keep his career moving ahead.
As for Kramer, she’s working with a hit and a-half. “Why Ya Wanna”
reached the Top 5 — and “Whiskey” is working its way up the chart. Last year, as an artist whose album wasn’t even out, she
injected her set with bravado and girl power. This year, she seemed more comfortable onstage and earned cheers for mentioning
her engagement to fellow country star Brantley Gilbert. They’ll compete for the ACM’s best new artist tonight, with Florida
Georgia Line being the third contender.
Kramer said she’s working on new music, too, and offered a preview of a song
presumably titled “Don’t Touch My Radio.” (She called that her one big rule.) You can hear a Shania Twain influence in its
melody and arrangement. She also covered Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’.”
If there’s a joker in the bunch, it’s probably
Chris Janson. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that there’s an electrical cord running from the amplifier straight into his
ankle. Prancing all across the stage, he wasted no time getting the crowd revved up on songs like “White Trash,” “Redneck
Revival” and “Back in My Drinking Days.”
Like Houser, he’s on his second record deal, and this one seems to be working
all right. His catchy new single “Better I Don’t” is currently climbing the country chart. It’s not too early to consider
the odds that he’ll be on the ACM ballot next year.