Top-tier touring talent continues to roll through Irvine this month but, with the COVID-19 pandemic still lingering, be sure to check for cancellations, safety guidelines, and health checks required by the venue before heading to any concert. That being said … enjoy!
LYNYRD SKYNYRD at FivePoint Amphitheatre
Lynyrd Skynyrd recently joined an expanding list of veteran acts that have swiftly reversed retirement announcements. In 2018, the Southern rock progenitors insisted that the Last of the Street Survivors tour would indeed be their last. But in June they posted 30 new shows, with founding guitarist Gary Rossington citing something about the healing power of music and wanting to lift peoples’ spirits during the pandemic. But all cynicism aside, who can begrudge anything of a group that penned not one, but two songs that have transcended music to become pop-culture staples (1973’s perennially-requested “Free Bird” and ‘74’s lyrically-controversial “Sweet Home Alabama”), before being devastated by a 1977 plane crash that claimed two members. A band that prominently displayed the Confederate Flag until 2012 may seem like an anachronism, but now is the time to enjoy and celebrate their sheer sonic prowess, which really must be vanishing from stages soon.
BRAD PAISLEY at FivePoint Amphitheatre
Brad Paisley’s achievements and accolades in country music could comfortably fill this page. Prolific and passionate, he was the youngest-ever inductee into the Grand Ole Opry in 2001, at age 28, by which time he’d already begun a long streak of Top Ten singles while also writing for other hit artists (including one-time lover Chely Wright, and the late David Kersh). And that was even before his 2003 breakout blockbuster album, Mud on the Tires, and follow-up Time Well Wasted cemented the superstar status which Paisley still enjoys. Whip-smart, hardworking, and ludicrously talented, this West Virginia-born phenom is distinguished by writing most of his own songs and playing a mean guitar to boot. He has thrived by tastefully pushing country music (and himself) forward, but never too far or too fast, thus offering both the comfort of familiarity and the thrill of sonic adventure to legions of fans.
LUKE BRYAN at FivePoint Amphitheatre
Boasting hefty country cred as the son of a Georgia peanut farmer, the eminently likable Luke Bryan often references his rural roots in song, and even (pre-pandemic) on his annual Farm Tour, which benefits rural communities. He’s not the first country artist who began their career writing songs for others (in Bryan’s case including Travis Tritt and Billy Currington) yet, ironically, don’t entirely pen their own tunes. But Bryan has himself been the star since the late aughts, including a string of Platinum-certified albums and a torrent of Number 1 singles, including 13 consecutive Country Airplay chart-toppers. Whether crooning about girls or trucks, raisin’ hell or growin’ corn, Bryan’s warm, finely wrinkled timbre always sounds intimate and disarmingly personal: from him to the listener, with little in between. He puts himself at the heart of the kinds of stories that mainstream country fans just love, but always leaves space to imagine themselves in his tales, too.
311 at FivePoint Amphitheatre
Omaha’s 311 made their name, and their fortunes, in the second half of the 1990s – a time when record labels were still creaming obscene profits from shamelessly overpriced CDs. But their stratospheric success back then (at one point singer Nick Hexum owned a $10-million private island in the Florida Keys) has barely dampened their enthusiasm for delivering deceptively proggy, mildly reggae-fied rap-rock. Even folks with zero love for this feel-good quintet will admit that they’re almost unmatched masters in moving, quite literally, a crowd. That they’ve retained their original lineup is impressive in itself, and 311’s long-honed chemistry remains palpable in their performances even of quarter-century-old hits like “Down,” “All Mixed Up,” and “Beautiful Disaster” (though their cringingly insipid butchering of The Cure’s gorgeous “Lovesong” remains a career blight). Pro-pot and party-hearty, yet sufficiently clean-cut to remain utterly inoffensive, 311 are worth witnessing live, if nothing else for the sheer devotion of their fanbase.
OUTLAW MUSIC FESTIVAL at FivePoint Amphitheatre
Outlaw Music Festival gathers the rootsy talents of Willie Nelson, The Avett Brothers, Lucinda Williams, Gov’t Mule, and Ida Mae. If you’ve read this far, 88-year-old living legend Nelson likely needs little introduction. A national treasure and almost age-defying rebel, Nelson’s concerts should be increasingly savored, as even he must be considering the end of a storied career as perhaps country music’s preeminent maverick. That The Avett Brothers, who’re a couple of generations his junior, can so comfortably share stages with Nelson says a lot about how far back these North Carolinans’ folk, bluegrass and country roots reach. Since 2007’s breakthrough Emotionalism album, the foursome (fleshed-out to a septet on stage) has also embraced rock-influenced drums and electric guitars to potent effect. Lucinda Williams’ mainstream success may have peaked around the turn of the Millennium, but this famously single-minded folk-blues songsmith has continued to record and tour on her own terms, leaving both her authenticity and credibility untarnished. Featuring former Allman Brothers Band luminaries Warren Haynes and Allen Woody, Gov’t Mule have been loud and virtuosic torchbearers for the jam-band ethos since its 1990s inception. Arriving early at the Outlaw fest will be rewarded with the arresting alt-folk of U.K. hubby-and-wife duo Ida Mae, relentless road dogs whose spirited yet sublime close harmonies and stark arrangements are best witnessed live.
AJ CROCE at Irvine Barclay Theatre
In what will surely be an unusually poignant performance, singer/pianist/guitarist A.J. Croce will interpret some of the best-known songs of his late father, folk-rock icon Jim Croce, alongside his own material and tunes that inspired them both. Croce senior was tragically killed in a plane crash before A.J. had even turned two years old, but his talents live on through the songs he recorded at the turn of the 1970s and in his similarly gifted son. Expect “Time in a Bottle,” which Jim Croce wrote upon learning his wife was pregnant with A.J. and became a posthumous No. 1 hit, to be particularly moving tonight. A.J. has carved his own 25-year career spanning blues, roots rock, and pop, and brings all these influences and his distinctively delicate vocals to his dad’s catalogue, in a set that will also feature “Operator,” “One Less Set of Footsteps,” “Lover’s Cross,” and “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim.”
ERIC MARIENTHAL at Irvine Barclay Theatre
Few jazz saxophonists can boast a resume to even rival that of L.A.’s Grammy-winning Eric Marienthal. On top of stints with the Chick Corea Elektric Band, Jeff Lorber Fusion, and Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat band, he’s performed with everyone from Elton John and Billy Joel to Barbra Streisand and B.B. King, while enjoying a string of his own jazz hits. Even if you don’t know the name, you’ve likely heard Marienthal’s famously crystal-clear, fluid tones on the hundreds of records, films, and TV shows he’s graced as a sideman. Last year’s Double Dealin’ album with trumpeter and long-time collaborator Randy Brecker finds Marienthal’s signature sense of melody and jaw-dropping chops in full effect. Today one of the biggest names of his genre, having three times topped the national Contemporary Jazz charts, expect a concert equal parts phenomenal control and bold improvisation.
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