Tim McGraw brought his Two Lanes of Freedom tour to Tampa Saturday – switching gears from sexy to sweet and back again – revving up generations of fans with a sly smile and a flawless performance. From the first chord of “Where the Green Grass Grows,” McGraw worked the crowd into a frenzy with an energetic introductory set that included abbreviated versions of '90s hits “Down on the Farm” and “Everywhere.” The fervor in the Live Nation Amphitheatre was palpable as the 46-year-old megastar delivered hit after hit for more than two hours, with little more than a few background video effects to enhance a show that needed no enhancement. McGraw's music career speaks for itself in terms of the success of his albums, but it's his personality that endears him to his fans.
The man sweats star power and has an effortless, sexy swagger that make it hard to believe he's a mere mortal, yet he performs with humility, smiling at the response from the crowd as if he's genuinely surprised they like him. He may be a real bad boy, but baby you just know he's a real good man. While some artists tend to appeal to a particular fan base, McGraw continues to grow new audiences, who enjoy his shows for the same reasons fans launched him on the path to megastardom 20 years ago. “It's amazing. His muscles, his smile, he's a great live singer,” Erin Fields, 13, said. And just when you thought he couldn't possibly have anything left – it was exhausting just watching him – McGraw fired up the crowd again with an encore performance of “Indian Outlaw,” “I Like It, I Love It,” and “Truck Yeah.” Four hours into a show kicked off by Love and Theft and Brantley Gilbert, the roar of the crowd was deafening when the stage lights finally went out on an exhilarating performance. Love and Theft's set had much of the crowd on its feet from the beginning, opening with the 2009 chart debut, “Runaway.” Gilbert demonstrated his own rising star power early on, kicking off his set with “My Kind of Party.” The Country Music Association's best new artist just had to stand on the stage with his arms crossed to get the ladies in the house riled up. Then his shirt came off, revealing a tight, Tim-style tank. Swoon. “I told ya'll I was going to raise some hell,” he said. The night was a hunk fest, no doubt, but the men of the Two Lanes tour are men's men, too. “Awesome concert. Brantley Gilbert rocked it,” Tristan DeYoung of Lutz said, shortly before McGraw took the stage. And the music, along with the character of the man who brought it all together, outplayed the sex appeal, believe it or not. In one of the best moments of the evening, McGraw pulled a few kids from the audience to sit on the edge of the stage for his 1997 hit “Just to See You Smile.” Chiming in on a song released long before they were born, the cute factor was off the charts. Each was rewarded with a kiss on top of the head from the country crooner. You know, a heart don't forget somethin' like that.