Just over a year ago, Morgan Wallen’s career momentum briefly stalled after he drunkenly uttered a racial slur.
But though his music was pulled from country radio and top country music playlists, and he was a persona non grata for a while on the awards show circuit, consumption for his 2021 album, Dangerous: The Double Album soared, as the project entrenched itself at the pinnacle of the Billboard 200 chart for 10 consecutive weeks and ultimately became the best-selling album of that year.
Now, the country music singer is picking up where he left off, and building on the monster success of his Dangerous: The Double Album with a sold-out headlining arena tour, including a three-night run at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena.
On Friday (March 18), the boy from East Tennessee rounded out his trio of sold-out shows as the Bridgestone Arena crowd, primarily consisting of teenagers and thirtysomethings, launched a barrage of approving screams and applause toward the stage from the first notes. Eschewing a propulsive, hard-charging opening, Wallen first appeared seated at a keyboard center stage and, under a lone spotlight, offered a softly mournful version of “Sand in My Boots.”
The set quickly revved up, however, thanks to an array of lasers and fire as well as Wallen’s rowdy track “Somethin’ Country.” With a stage taking the shape of his initials “MW” and outlined in neon lights, the singer made it clear this was not only his return, but his superstar arrival as a touring artist.
Wallen did not mention the 2021 racial slur incident during this concert, instead appearing thankful to be performing in his home state, and forging ahead with just over two dozen songs.
“Last night was really bada–, but I think y’all might have what it takes to put them to shame,” Wallen told the audience early in the set. “I’m happy, it’s my home state, a town that I live in, a town that I call home now, a town that’s been good to me. I’ve also got the majority of my family here tonight, so it’s a special night for me and I’m going to try to enjoy it as much as I can.”
His set list largely pulled from his Dangerous project, which was just named the 2022 Academy of Country Music Awards album of the year. In addition to “Sand in My Boots,” he offered “Somebody’s Problem,” “Wasted on You,” “865,” “Warning,” “Wonderin’ ‘Bout the Wind,” “Country A$$ S–t,” and another clear fan favorite, “This Bar.”
But the evening also delved into Wallen’s earlier hits, including “Up Down” and “Chasin’ You.”
“This song was the first time I wrote a song and felt, “This is a good song,’” Wallen recalled of writing “Chasin’ You” early in his career. “It gave me hope and faith.”
Throughout, Wallen as well as his openers HARDY and Larry Fleet, exuded the kind of loyalty to rural culture and small towns that was so apparent in an earlier era of country music, with the kind of approachability that breaks down barriers between artist and fan. Repeatedly, the songs centered on seeking love, coping with heartbreak and taking pride in being small-town and blue collar — with plenty of celebratory odes to favorite bars and letting loose on the weekend. And the crowd stayed with Wallen through every song, singing the album cuts as loudly as his chart hits.
Throughout this three-day Nashville stint, a cavalcade of fellow artists have made surprise appearances, including Jimmie Allen, Eric Church, Ronnie Dunn and others. Friday evening was no exception.
First up, Thomas Rhett surprised the audience by appearing for a rendition of “Whiskey’d My Way,” to explosive applause, followed almost immediately by Jason Aldean for a duet of Aldean’s 2005 hit “Hicktown,” bringing one of the most rowdy celebratory moments of the evening to a crowd already clearly primed for a night of partying.
But tucked alongside those raucous party anthems were heartfelt moments that resonated, including Wallen’s rendition of Jason Isbell’s tender “Cover Me Up,” which had Wallen again centerstage, surrounded by a sea of cell phone lights. Wallen’s own “Silverado for Sale” offers the tale of a lovestruck, small-town boy ready to sell his favorite truck in order to buy a ring for his lover, and in the process, passing that beloved truck onto the next young boy who is looking for the perfect truck to pick up “the prettiest girl in town.” Meanwhile, beer cans were raised up across the arena — from guys and girls — for Wallen’s “More Than My Hometown,” as the screens behind Wallen showed photos from his childhood in Knoxville, Tenn.
Both of his openers for the evening, Wallens’ Big Loud Records labelmates HARDY and Larry Fleet, returned to the stage during Wallen’s set, with Fleet teaming with the singer on “Where I Find God.” HARDY, clad in an Alice Cooper shirt, showcased his unabashed hard rock affinity with a capable, Kid Rock-esque yell on “He Went to Jared,” the HARDY/Wallen collab from HARDY’s Hixtape, Vol. 1.
Aldean and Rhett weren’t Wallen’s only superstar guests for the evening. How could Wallen not bring out Lil Durk to perform their No. 1 Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs hit “Broadway Girls,” just feet from Nashville’s Lower Broad?
As Wallen wrapped the show with songs including his breakthrough hit “Whiskey Glasses,” he shook hands with those closest to the stage and thanked the crowd, saying, “Thank you for making these three of the best days of my life.”