WHERE: Live Nation Amphitheatre, 4802 N. U.S. 301, Tampa
TICKETS: $30.25, $70; 1-800-745-7400 and livenation.com
Tim McGraw just hit the gas on his Two Lanes of Freedom Tour and for Tampa fans of the country superstar the blacktop leads to the Live Nation Amphitheatre tonight. “I played Tampa from the very beginning, even before I had a hit record,” McGraw said in a phone interview from Nashville. “I've got a lot of friends there.” Those friends include Tampa-based Brad and Brett Warren of The Warren Brothers, who have co-written songs for McGraw and his wife, country superstar Faith Hill. McGraw's mother, “a Florida girl,” lives nearby in Jacksonville, so there's that, too, he said.
“It's always close to my heart.” His latest single from the Two Lanes of Freedom album, “The Highway Don't Care,” a duet with Taylor Swift featuring Keith Urban on guitar, has Tampa ties, as well. The Warren Brothers were co-writers on the song, which debuted at No. 1 on the country digital charts thanks to fans before it was officially released to radio. Those fans have a lot to look forward to, this weekend and beyond. Snacking on peanuts Hill brought home recently – “I can't stop, they're addicting” – the soft-spoken McGraw said Saturday's show will feature a set list that shakes things up a bit. “We're playing a lot of new songs, a lot of album cuts we haven't played in a while,” he said. “Every year the set list is different, because we have so many songs to choose from.” That, though, is a blessing and a curse. The fun part is figuring out the set list, and the bad part is figuring out the set list, McGraw laughed. “It's hard to decide which ones to cut,” he said. Not one for a lot of flashy effects or stage theatrics – they won't be “blowing anything up” – McGraw said exceptional sound is the focus of every concert. “We try to have a fun show that's really energetic that sounds great,” McGraw said. And of course, it includes a well-chiseled McGraw, known almost as well for his tight T-shirts and jeans as he is for his array of talents. Staying in shape is part of the gig, he said. To perform for close to three hours a night, often in the heat, he has to be in top form to deliver the strong performances his fans expect, McGraw said. But the delivery won't end when the last song is played Saturday. McGraw's visit to Tampa also includes a gift to a local wounded veteran. He partnered last year with Operation Homefront and Chase to launch a program awarding mortgage-free homes to military families. This year, McGraw will give away a home at each of his 31 tour stops. These people provide security to the United States, but when they come home they often can't provide security for their own families, McGraw said. “It's so heartbreaking.” The Tampa recipient has been selected, but not announced yet, McGraw said. “It will be a surprise,” he said. The 46-year-old megastar is full of surprises. Since the release of his first album in 1993, McGraw has sold more than 40 million albums, has 33 No. 1 hits, three Grammys, 14 Academy of Country Music Awards, 12 Country Music Awards and 10 American Music Awards, not to mention a successful acting career. But that's all in the past, he said. “I really feel like I'm just getting started in a lot of ways,” McGraw said. Better songs, better concerts, better movies – McGraw said he is constantly looking to improve on his success. “I'm not much for looking back, I'm more for looking forward,” McGraw said. “I really feel I've got a long way to go.”