BY MELISSA RUGGIERI
Well, we all knew it was coming.
The rain, that is.
And it arrived Sunday afternoon with just enough power and length to probably deter some country music fans who intended to attend the second day of the Shaky Boots Music Festival.
But despite the lighter-than-Saturday turnout , the festival commendably zipped along at KSU Sports and Entertainment Park in Kennesaw with another robust lineup featuring a diverse array including Ricky Skaggs, Cracker, Sara Evans, Justin Moore, Rascal Flatts and headliner Brad Paisley.
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Here’s a look at some of the musical highlights:
Cracker: David Lowery and Co. have been doing alternative-everything since long before many of the acts on the Shaky Boots bill plucked their first guitar string. Cracker recently released the double album “Berkeley to Bakersfield” – which separately showcases Lowery’s love of garage rock and country – and both sides were well represented on Sunday. In his sleeveless Johnny Cash T-shirt, Lowery, close-cropped and bearded, unleashed the honky-tonk boogie-woogie of “California Country Boy” before sliding back to the classics – a double shot of Cracker’s biggest hits, “Low” and “Teen Angst (What The World Needs Now.” Sounding appropriately gruff, Lowery led the band, including right hand man Johnny Hickman, through a hee-hawing version of Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother” and a cowbell-infused “Sweet Potato,” whose insinuating groove owes a nod to Aerosmith’s “Rag Doll.”
The Cadillac Three: The swampy, rockin’ Tennessee trio had the misfortune of taking the stage about two minutes after a torrential downpour hovered over the grounds. But that didn’t diminish the rough-and-tumble approach by singer/guitarist Jaren Johnston, bassist/Dobro player Kelby Ray and drummer Neil Mason as they stormed (no pun intended) through “Party Like You.” The band’s scuzz-rock is made for shooting pool and whiskey and songs such as “I’m Southern,” with its basic tale of rebellion, conjure the ghost of Kid Rock when his music had muscle, while the sticky ballad “White Lightning,” which Johnston wrote for his wife, sounded as if the guys spent plenty of time listening to The Black Crowes.
The Eli Young Band: Frontman Mike Eli is a pleasant fellow with a round face and an easy smile. He and his Texas bandmates released their fifth album, “10,000 Towns” in March 2014 and since then, the quartet has continued its road-happy habits. Eli effortlessly worked the crowd gathered at the main stage to hear the band’s brand of serviceable country, including the song “Dust” and the ballad “Prayer for the Road.” Eli dedicated the latter to members of the military and first responders and noted that he and the band “know how lucky we are that we get to play music for a living.” Fittingly, the sun started to peek through the drizzle as “Prayer” was played.
Sara Evans: In keeping with the rain-be-gone theme, the pre-set music filtering around Evans’ stage was “Here Comes the Sun.” When the striking Missourian arrived on stage in a crème-and-white ensemble and large floppy hat, fans quickly shook off their dampness and fist-pumped along with “Perfect” and “I Keep Looking.” Evans offered a well-paced set, treating the crowd to “Put My Heart Down,” which she recently performed on TV’s “Nashville,” and then ably seguing from the ballad “Slow Me Down” to the groove-heavy, fiddle-tastic “Coalmine.” Of the myriad covers performed during Shaky Boots, Evans performed one of the most substantial – “My Heart Can’t Tell You No,” her 2011 hit version of the song popularized by Rod Stewart in the ‘80s.
Justin Moore: In his Tom Petty T-shirt, white cowboy hat and expertly ripped jeans, Moore looked the part of the stereotypical country singer. But there isn’t an inauthentic thing about his twang or the traditionalism that drives songs such as “Point at You” and “How I Got to Be This Way.” Moore was backed by an ace band that ripped out a zippy instrumental before diving into “Bait a Hook.” The musically muscular group also unfurled a solid cover of Motley Crue’s timeless lighter-bait, “Home Sweet Home,” which Moore recorded for the Nashville-leaning Crue tribute album. But it was his No. 1 hit, the wistful ballad “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away” that had fans swaying on the field.
Rascal Flatts: They’re slick, yes. And their music veers a little more pop than country, that is true. But it’s difficult to resist the charms of Rascal Flatts and their flashy country-pop because they are so adept at crafting a catchy song. “Me and My Gang” roused the crowd, while snippets of “To Love Somebody” and “Take Me to Church” bookended their mega-ballad “What Hurts the Most.” A trio of female backup singers aided singer Gary Le Vox, guitarist Joe Don Rooney, bassist/keyboardist/singer Jay De Marcus and the other musicians on stage and added welcome texture to “Love You Out Loud.” The band shared their most recent single, “Riot,” the power ballad from their 2014 album, “Rewind,” while De Marcus added lovely piano flourishes to a medley that included “Here Comes Goodbye” and “Easy.” The unabashedly feel-good pop-rocker “Summer Nights” had the crowed waving their beers in the air, Rascal Flatts’ mission to bring their arena spectacle to a slightly smaller stage complete and successful.
Brad Paisley: Following an afternoon spent at Fernbank Natural History Museum ( an Atlanta must-see that Paisley mentioned wanting to visit in our recent interview ), the ace guitarist and creamy-voiced singer burst on stage with his six-piece band to wrap the two-day country festival. “River Bank,” “Water” and “Moonshine in the Trunk” all showcased Paisley’s underrated guitar playing. He fluidly traveled the large stage, singing to each side as humorous videos played on the massive screen behind him (the funny/silly clip that accompanied “Celebrity” was a highlight). “It’s a shame you’re not going to remember this because it’s been a great weekend,” Paisley said with a grin to the cheering – if slightly tired – crowd. His record-perfect rendition of “This is Country Music” was an apt choice to play early in his set at Shaky Boots, an auditory memento for fans who had spent the weekend soaking up plenty of it.