With his stock still rising as a multi-talented entertainer and fresh off an Emmy win for The Voice, Blake Shelton treated fans in Nashville to a free street concert Wednesday evening. Cooperative weather, big smiles and country hits were on the menu, but Shelton also took the opportunity to marvel at how far he’s come in the past 20 years — and maybe thumb his nose at those who doubted him.
As the culmination of the Pickin’ on the Patio summer series put on by Shelton’s label Warner Music Nashville, the performance drew a crowd of thousands, which spilled across the closed Music Row street. With a stage situated right in front of the major label’s front door, Shelton called out his bosses.
“Come on, bigwigs. Toast with me, damn it!” he yelled into his microphone, a drink raised high. “I can’t tell y’all how many times I drove up and down this road since 1994, dreaming of somebody letting me in one of these doors to play a song for them. Here I am — only 20 years later. And you know what? All those doors that didn’t let me in can kiss my ass, because I’m in front of them now!”
Shelton’s quick wit and ball-busting sense of humor have become his trademark on The Voice and his endlessly entertaining Twitter account, earning him fans way beyond the country music world. But Wednesday night he suddenly remembered to whom he was talking.
“That was cocky, I shouldn’t have said that,” he said with a sheepish laugh. “I need to remember I’m in Nashville and to tone it down a little.”
Not that the crowd cared much for industry politics. Shelton’s hour-long set was filled with boozy party anthems like “Neon Light” and “Hillbilly Bone,” as well as broken-hearted ballads “She Wouldn’t Be Gone” and “Mine Would Be You,” which took on new meaning in the wake of his divorce from fellow country superstar Miranda Lambert.
But referencing his own matters of the heart wasn’t the focus of the evening, and neither was getting drunk in the street at 6:00 on a weekday, although an ambulance was on hand in case things went south.
“I’m shocked and honored this many people came to hang out with me,” Shelton said to the crowd. “You probably don’t even know why we’re here — we’re doing this for y’all. There are lots of songwriters here tonight that wrote these songs, and we’re celebrating them. We’re celebrating country music.” (The show also served as a fundraiser for a charity set up by Warner Brothers and the T.J. Martell Foundation, called the FTL Sarcoma Fund. Dedicated in the memory of Warner employee Lindsay Walleman, who died of sarcoma at the age of 28 in 2013, the fund raises money for cancer research.)
Shelton mixed some oldies into his stack of current hits, including “Ol’ Red” and “Austin” —his first-ever single and Number One song, which got the tall Oklahoman wondering when his crowds started skewing so young.
“I look out in the crowd and I see a lot of young people. It’s freaking me out because I thought I knew what to do at this point, but I don’t want to come across as old,” he joked. “I thought I’d go back and do an old song, but if I read a bad review tomorrow it’s your fault.”
Shelton needn’t have worried much about that. He was animated and engaging during his block party, walking the line between inviting fans into his world and meeting them in theirs. He connected with each song (which he often teaches his singers to do on The Voice), rocking out on the bro-country smashes and letting loose with emotional abandon on the love songs. With only an hour to work with, the jokes flowed freely and so did whatever was in Shelton’s stage cup.
As Shelton wound down with “Gonna,” “Honey Bee” and a swaggering, uncensored version of “Boys ‘Round Here,” the reigning CMA Male Vocalist of the Year counted the night as a special moment.
“Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I’d see this street blocked off and so many people here,” he said, looking down the avenue that for so long seemed a far off fantasy. “Thank you so much.”