With a loose theme of "Songtellers," there should have been a lot more storytelling at Tuesday night's We're All 4 the Hall concert in Nashville. But the majority of the artists at Keith Urban's fifth annual all-star picking party to benefit the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum decided to let the music do the talking. Backed by Urban, Vince Gill (Urban's partner in his Hall of Fame preservation mission) and Keith's touring band, country royalty like Reba McEntire and Ronnie Milsap, and future Hall hopefuls Carrie Underwood and Kacey Musgraves each performed two songs. Here are 10 things — including a red-hot pair of pants — that caught our eye. By Joseph Hudak and Beville Dunkerley
For those who still hold on to the inane notion that Kacey Musgraves is understated, even detached, in her demeanor, the Grammy winner's stage presence at All 4 the Hall would clear that up right quick. At once self-deprecating and humble in her banter, Musgraves shared with the crowd that she had fallen backstage — "I feel like a total dumbass" — and then wrestled with an uncooperative microphone stand, shaking her head at the comedy of errors. There were no such hiccups in her performance of Dolly Parton's 1977 hit "Here You Come Again," however, a rendition that further charmed the audience and left everyone feeling as if they've known Musgraves since she was just a Texas toddler.
No one has come close to filling the void left by Lee Ann Womack's absence from country radio these past five years. So it was hardly a disappointment that none of us knew the words to the first song on her set, as the radiant singer explained it was written for an album out this fall. (Finally!) Staying true to tradition, as the Texas native most always does,"The Way I'm Livin'" sounded like an old Merle Haggard song, just with an angel delivering the devilish lyrics. "You know I'd change if I could, but being bad, it feels so good," she sang. We've missed you, Lee Ann.
Keith followed "Somewhere in My Car" with "Cop Car," proving he could make pretty much anyone fall for him at 60 miles an hour. The night's host went all Guitar Hero on the former song, accelerating the crowd's energy level. But he took it down a notch and up the stairs for "Cop Car," playing solo acoustic from an aisle in the very back of the arena. His new, stripped-down arrangement on the tune was a great love letter to those in the nose-bleeds.
Carrie Underwood was being gracious when she remarked that she hoped she did justice to Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You," prior to her somewhat kept-in-check performance of the soaring anthem. But there were no such niceties when she followed it up with her own "Last Name." Full of the confidence and swag of which some rap stars can only dream, Underwood roared through her tale of an anonymous hookup like an animal fresh out of the jungle. Which, with her red, skin-tight floral pants, she just may have been.
This installment of All 4 the Hall had the distinction of featuring a soon-to-be-inducted member of the Country Music Hall of Fame: Soulful piano man Ronnie Milsap was among this year's class when the inductees were announced in April. The singer, blind since birth, illustrated why he was awarded that honor with a barn-burning rendition of the love-gone-wrong anthem "Stranger in My House." At 71, Milsap has lost little of his voice, which also elevated his performance of "Smoky Mountain Rain." While not as vibrant as "Stranger," the song drew one of the night's loudest cheers when Milsap sang about thumbing his way from L.A. back to Knoxville. Tennessee, that is.
Welcome back, ladies. Though the All 4 the Hall concert featured such PYTs as Carrie Underwood and Kacey Musgraves, it was a quartet of country queens who received some of the warmest – and, from the guys, most vocal – responses. Deana Carter, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Reba McEntire and Lee Ann Womack, all of them keeping relatively low profiles of late, returned with a bang, reminding everyone in Nashville's Bridgestone Arena that they still know how to work a stage. Carter, in particular, was mesmerizing, offering two shots of boozy goodness with performances of Kenny Chesney's "You and Tequila," which she co-wrote, and her first Number One hit, "Strawberry Wine."
If only those Male Vocalist of the Year awards were truly about the vocals, but we digress … David Nail hit all the high notes on his chart-topping "Whatever She's Got," but it was the next song on his set that reminded fans why they were there. The soulful singer called Lee Ann Womack back to the stage for a duet of the Glen Campbell hit, "Galveston." Their tribute to the ailing Country Music Hall of Fame member – who has a new exhibit in the museum – was the perfect bridge of classic country with a modern twist.
In his pitches to other artists to join him on the All 4 the Hall bill, Keith Urban probably didn't need anything more than one sentence: "You get to sing with Vince Gill." Everyone's dream backup singer served in the house band, taking heavenly high harmonies on even the ladies' sets. While singing with longtime friends Reba McEntire and Lee Ann Womack were like slipping into an old pair of shoes, Gill also proved songs like Kacey Musgraves' "Merry Go Round" could be a killer duet.
Keith Urban's touring group proved their versatility as the night's house band. Led by drummer Chris McHugh, Urban's music director, the players made each and every artist look and sound good, whether they were interpreting the radio country of newcomer Brett Eldredge or the Byrds-like pop of Mary Chapin Carpenter. Added bonus: pedal-steel ace Paul Franklin, with whom Vince Gill recorded last year's Merle Haggard and Buck Owens tribute Bakersfield, also sat in, keeping things country with some crying licks.
Following in what has become a tradition at All 4 the Hall, the night ended with a song the whole arena knew by heart. After belting his first solo country hit, "Don't Think I Don't Think About It," Darius Rucker then invited all of his opening acts back on stage for "Wagon Wheel" – Old Crow Medicine Show's signature hit that he brought back to life (and to the top of the charts). And while watching country stars try to dance is usually embarrassing for all involved, the crew's foot-stomping collaboration was actually pretty infectious – and, more importantly, showed what a great time they were having in helping such a great cause.