"It's just a show of true testimony that – everybody being here and all the love in this place tonight – that nobody's scared to come out," Kid Rock said a few songs into his headlining set at the third annual Kid Rock Fish Fry on Saturday, referencing last weekend's violent events in Las Vegas. "We're all gonna have a great time together. You should applaud yourselves for that, for sure."
It was the second day of the singer's festival at the Carl Black Chevy Woods Amphitheater at Fontanel on the outskirts of Nashville, and despite fears raised by the October 1st shooting at Route 91 Harvest festival that left 58 dead and hundreds wounded, little seemed out of the ordinary. Aside from a couple dozen or so yellow-shirted staff members scanning attendees with metal-detecting wands at the entrance, security didn't appear to be a bigger or more visible presence than you'd find at the typical outdoor country-music event. Polarizing responses to the events in Vegas may have cast a pall over the country world in the days leading up to the Fish Fry, but folks were there to party, and party they did.
Attendees from Indiana, Georgia, Kentucky, Middle Tennessee and beyond tailgated in the general parking lot, while fans inside played corn hole and ring-toss. Some sported "Kid Rock for U.S. Senate" shirts and hats, gathering around cinder-block fire pits or daring to take a spin on the Ferris wheel in spite of intermittent rain showers. Some wore rain ponchos; others went shirtless. There were long lines at the merch and beer tents, but no line at the register-to-vote tent.
"You can't let them guys win, especially this crowd," said fiddler Tim Watson of would-be domestic terrorists during his afternoon set at the festival's second stage. "I know what this crowd can do. This crowd would make hamburger meat of [the shooter] in about a minute." After leading the crowd in a group flip-off, he and his band dropped into a cover of Tom Petty's "Mary Jane's Last Dance," later playing a well-received rendition of Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA."
Not every performer was vocal about last weekend's events, however. Raunchy, tongue-in-cheek satirist Wheeler Walker Jr. filled his early-evening main-stage set with obscenity-laden originals like "Pussy King" and his anthem to Southern women, "Puss in Boots." "I don't censor what I say," said Walker, explaining why he and his band aren't often invited to play festivals. "The only fucker who will have me is Kid Rock." Later, Southern-rocking country party girl Gretchen Wilson led a crowd-hyping set with songs like "Here for the Party" and "Redneck Woman" –not to mention ripping covers of Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" and Heart's "Barracuda," along with a cameo from a T-shirt gun.
But once he hit the stage, it didn't take long for Rock to get overtly political, proving that even if the singer's aforementioned "Kid Rock for U.S. Senate" merch is a joke or a publicity stunt, it's one he's sticking to. He led his performance with a profanity-laden five-minute tirade – a meandering poem, if you want to call it that – from behind a faux-presidential podium. He ran through a litany of his opinions, a political platform whose central planks included locking up deadbeat dads, telling transgender individuals "whatever you have between your legs should determine the bathroom that you use," and saying "stay the hell away" to "Nazis, bigots and now again the KKK."
The rest of Rock's set was punctuated by more expected fare: fireworks and fireballs, hits like "Cowboy" and "American Bad Ass," pole dancers on a raised platform, a little bit of what he called "that Justin Bieber bullshit" (that is, choreographed dancing) and photos of celebrities and country stars he's hung out with. There were several costume changes, as well as covers of Rod Stewart's "Maggie May," the Allman Brothers Band's "Midnight Rider" and Tom Petty's "I Need to Know." Rock proved his musical dexterity by trading off between instruments, scratching a little on the turntables before taking a guitar solo. During one stretch of downtime between songs, chants of "U.S.A!" rose up from the crowd before dying down unceremoniously.
Rock closed his main set with a thank-you to folks for spending their hard-earned money to come see the show, before rolling a video segment about honoring both fallen soldiers and the American flag itself. Fans who filed out just before the singer's encore were left with Rock's parting words, which played over images of the Stars and Stripes: "We're proving that the only party that really matters is the one we're having here tonight."