Moore, one of Nashville’s breakout stars, makes an easy target for complaints about the genre’s recent thriving themes: His last three No. 1 singles — “Somethin’ Bout a Truck,” “Beer Money,” “Hey Pretty Girl” — unapologetically cover those topics and then some. Despite the cliches, however, he’s still a truly dynamic, talented performer. Once Moore got started, armed with a flask, guitar and backward baseball hat, he had an appealing rawness on stage that made it hard for anyone to take their eyes off him.
The owner of a gritty rasp and style that have earned him numerous comparisons to Bruce Springsteen, Moore commanded the attention of thousands in the crowd for his 45-minute set, and he had the good fortune to have a cool breeze and the most pleasant Washington area summer weather in recent memory. Anchored behind the microphone at first, he threw himself into the music, punctuating his coming-of-age anthems with shouting and fist pumps, peppering the usually radio-friendly lyrics with expletives to make his point.
Moore, 33, has one of those back stories that shows there’s no rhyme or reason to the music industry: Kicking around Nashville as a singer-songwriter for nearly a decade, he struggled until he didn’t anymore. Why did it all click with “Somethin’ Bout a Truck,” the 2011 smash that’s about as generic as they come? No one knows, and Moore rode the buzz from his feel-good summer song to a succession of similarly crowd-pleasing singles.
Moore appeared particularly passionate about his lesser-known, deeper material, such as the new song “Unless Heaven’s Got a Dirt Road” and groovy, swampy “Fly Again,” about getting over a rough breakup. During the latter, Moore took on the persona of a life coach, yelling to the crowd about the three stages of heartbreak. Stage 1: Sadness. Stage 2: Feeling better, but still angry. Then, sharing that it took him five months to get to Stage 3 as a 21-year-old in south Georgia, Moore hopped off the stage into the screaming audience and shared the final step to recovery: It’s when you “don’t give a [unprintable word] no more.”
Moore’s softer side was just as compelling, as he sat on a stool with an acoustic guitar before syrupy-sweet love song “Hey Pretty Girl,” and shared tales of trying to make it as a singer and playing for crowds of just 10 people. During the last verse, after singing the line “I’m gonna thank the Lord for a real good life,” Moore took a long pause and, with a wide-eyed, Taylor Swift-ian look around the amphitheatre, drank in the screams of the crowd.
“It’s a damn good life hanging out with y’all, I’ll tell you that much,” he said.
Later, veteran crooner Toby Keith appeared, cowboy hat on, bathed in red, white and blue lights during an energetic two hours of patriotic songs and commercial tie-ins that at times made his set seem like an extended Ford commercial. Keith tackled many of the same truck-beer-girl subjects as Moore, but without the same earnest, raw emotion— showing that maybe, just maybe, Nashville needs to embrace some more baseball hats after all.