Blake Shelton staged a surprise concert at Nashville's long-running line-dance outpost the Wildhorse Saloon on Friday afternoon, rolling out an impressive hourlong set during CMA Music Festival that touched on hits from throughout his career.
Opening with "Neon Light," off 2014's Bringing Back the Sunshine, the star of NBC's The Voice dropped all kinds of TV-honed charm on his audience, frequently plugging the Smithworks vodka brand that presented the show, razzing fans and professing his love for country music. Such across-the-footlights charisma is Shelton's gift, along with a voice that remains one of the most underrated – and underused – in the genre.
Sure, Shelton has an impressive string of hits, but mid-tempos like "Doin' What She Likes" and "A Guy With a Girl" all seem to run together, especially in a live setting. Compared to the bounce of "Some Beach" and the brooding of "Ole Red," loping songs like "She's Got a Way With Words" and "Sangria" feel indistinguishable, less unique entries in a catalog and more like ways to fill space in a setlist. It can be frustrating, especially for fans hip to Shelton's prowess – his vocals and way with a lyric are on par with some of his own heroes, like Earl Thomas Conley.
That aside, Shelton delivered an only-at-CMA-Fest experience for the lucky crowd, a chance to view a bona fide superstar of the format in a relatively intimate venue – at least when compared to the cavernous Nissan Stadium where he'll perform later tonight.
"All About Tonight" was a boozy honky-tonker, "Hillbilly Bone" glowed from Shelton's swagger and "Neon Light" proved that the Oklahoma native's later work still resembles the classic country he so often praises.
Best of all, the pop-up concert served to remind why Shelton deserves to be such a respected figure in the genre. He has one great album ahead of him – he just needs the discipline to find it.