Country greats Alabama party with Ruth Eckerd Hall crowd
Randy Owen sings as Alabama performs live during the Alabama Back To The Bowery tour at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, FL on Saturday, July 6th, 2013. LUKE JOHNSON/STAFFAlabama performs live during the Alabama Back To The Bowery tour at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, FL on Saturday, July 6th, 2013. LUKE JOHNSON/STAFF
By WALT BELCHER Tribune correspondent
Published: July 8, 2013
Updated: July 8, 2013 at 07:38 AM
They came to party and so did the audience.
A rowdy, shout-out-loud crowd, filled with fans that could sing along on every song, shared the love for the county-rock group Alabama at Ruth Eckerd Hall on Saturday night.
Celebrating a career that spans 40 years, the group's "Back to the Bowery" tour is packed with a solid selection of their greatest hits from "Song of the South" to "Mountain Music."
Older and grayer, the three founding members, vocalist Randy Owen, guitar picker Jeff Cook and bassist Teddy Gentry, proved they could still rock the joint.
It was a "Dixieland Delight" for the sold-out house. Fans often jumped to their feet to give the trio (and a five-piece backup band) standing ovations.
In between, there were whoops, hollers and several women swaying to the music like they were in a trance.
The group opened with "If You Want To Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)" followed by "Tennessee River" and a string of other Alabama favorites, both romantic and rowdy.
"Don't you dare sit down," Owen, 63, told the crowd. "We came here for one reason: to party with you."
Alabama's first tour in 10 years recalls The Bowery bar in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where the group started in the '70s before they hit it big in the 1980s.
They included their tribute to the South Carolina style of dancing: "Dancin' Shaggin' On the Boulevard."
The concert included 16 of the more than 40 hits the group has enjoyed over the years.
In addition, there was a tribute to the late George Jones ("She Thinks I Still Care") and "America, The Beautiful," a salute to U.S. troops.
Their love songs, such as "Love in the First Degree" and "The Closer You Get," had couples cuddling and swaying.
Owen's voice remains strong, but at times it appeared that the heat and humidity was getting to him.
Opener Aaron Parker, a young country singer wearing a big black cowboy hat, got the crowd primed for the country supergroup with a set filled with the right amount of country twang.
The singer-songwriter thoroughly charmed during his short acoustic set.
The strongest crowd reactions came during the Alabama songs that pay tribute to the group's rural roots in the deep South such as "Born Country" and "My Home's in Alabama."
Country stars turn out for twister victims
Some of country music's biggest stars, including Garth Brooks, Toby Keith and many others with ties to Oklahoma, played a sold-out show Saturday at the University of Oklahoma to raise money for the victims of the recent tornadoes that hit the state.
Organizers of the concert, which was held in the school's Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, estimated that nearly 65,000 people braved the searing heat to watch the show and show their support for the victims, the Tulsa World reported.
The money raised from ticket sales benefits the United Way of Central Oklahoma, which established a fund to aid victims of the May storms that killed dozens of people.
A separate benefit concert last month hosted by Oklahoma native country music star Blake Shelton raised more than $6 million in donations and pledges.
Saturday's concert was organized by Keith, who was still playing to a packed house seven hours into the show.
Brooks, who was the biggest draw, took to the stage Saturday afternoon to a rousing ovation.
"Today the healing begins," Brooks said.
His wife, Trisha Yearwood, joined him for a duet, "In Another's Eyes."
Some concertgoers said their experiences with tornadoes or someone affected by the recent storms drew them to the fundraising event.
Marie Carter, a physician whose office is in Oklahoma City, said she watched helplessly as a twister moved through Moore, coming within a half-mile of her own home.
"It was very scary for a lot of us," Carter told the Tulsa World.