First, you've gotta learn the lingo.
Whenever you are ready to say something positive, replace it with the words "hammer down." Somebody open the door for you? "Hammer down." Accepting a marriage proposal? "Hammer down." Get a ride in the middle of nowhere? "Hammer down."
That's how a record-setting opening-night crowd, estimated by fair general manager Bob Fox at more than 28,000 people, got indoctrinated to Toby Keith on Tuesday at the Mississippi Valley Fair.
With the exception of the bluesy album cut "Haven't Had a Drink All Day," which opened the show, Keith plowed through nearly two dozen of his hits, piling on some time over the scheduled 90-minute show.
He recalled his last date at the fair, in 1997, when a tornado struck while he was waiting the storm out on his tour bus, before launching into "Beers Ago," his song where time is measured by suds consumption.
Beer and/or bars, females and American pride are the big subjects of Keith's 50 singles over the past 20 years. Midway through the show, he led a toast of the audience, drinking to firefighters, police and law enforcement, soldiers and soldiers' families. With the exception of the opening song, he bookended the concert with his most patriotic songs, "This American Life" and "Made in America" early in the night and "American Soldier" and "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)" during the encore.
Keith added to the fair's light system with his own four towers of lights, each with a rotating spotlight on the top.
Like his concerts at the iWireless Center over the past decade-plus, Tuesday's show included plenty of pyrotechnics. But without the echo of an arena, the loud noises weren't as disturbing and were more visually enjoying. While Keith played his 2011 hit "Red Solo Cup," a 10-foot inflatable version of the plastic icon popped onto the side stage.
Video accented the performance, including some comic-book style animation for his hit duet with Willie Nelson, "Beer For My Horses."
That was followed by Keith's newest single, "Drinks After Work," which in turn was followed by "I'll Never Smoke Weed with Willie Again," an ode to imbibing with the Red Headed Stranger, accompanied by a video of what looked suspiciously like slow-walking joints. I usually never question the logic of a set list, but wouldn't it have made more sense to play "Willie" after his duet with Nelson?
What followed was another song that Keith said would never get played on the radio: "Get Out of Your Clothes (or Get Out of My Car)," a tongue-in-cheek tune.
A six-piece band, plus a three-man horn section and a female backup singer gave even more muscle to Keith's already strong arsenal of hits.
With crowds that rival a Thursday, Friday or Saturday in other fair years, let's hope the rest of the week (Josh Turner is tonight) isn't a letdown.
But until then, hammer down, Toby, hammer down.
The three-man Nashville act Mockingbird Sun opened the set with more of a pop-rock-country sound. Their harmonies were tight on their own music, reminiscent of acts such as the Eagles and Marshall Tucker Band. The latter’s “Can’t You See” was among their cover songs, as well as Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” and John Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses.”