Morgan Wallen at Star Lake (David Lehr)
Coming off an up-down year, to say the least, Morgan Wallen hit the stage Thursday night with “Up Down” and promptly got the biggest crowd of The Pavilion at Star Lake season bouncing.
Wallen, whose 2021 came with the top album of the year and a near career cancellation over his drunken use of a racist slur, rolled into town on The Dangerous Tour, which packed 23,000-plus into Burgettstown and easily could have done one of the stadiums given the resale tickets going for hundreds of dollars.
The 29-year-old country star has only two albums to his credit, but he’s loaded them with a whopping 46 combined songs, so he has plenty to work with on this first headlining tour.
After a playlist of the Stones, Nugent, Zeppelin and Aerosmith, Wallen hit the stage with his six-piece band wearing a dark T-shirt, white jeans and white cap (backward).
“First of all,” he said, “my name is Morgan Wallen, and we’re gonna sing some songs …”
After a long drive, a scorching hot tailgate and two opening acts, the crowd was so wound up, he had to sing over them as if he was the Beatles.
For all the heat he’s stirred up, Wallen has a pretty relaxed stage manner and performs the songs more like he’s just hanging out with friends than playing to the back of the lawn.
He took the mob to rowdy places with bangers like “Country A$$ S—t” and “This Bar,” but the meat of the set was pretty heavy there for a while on the slow songs. He soothed the crowd with ballads like “Somebody’s Problem,” “865,” “Sand in My Boots” (at the piano) and “Silverado for Sale,” which had the hillside glowing with cellphones.
Introducing the love song “Chasin’ You,” he told his back story, saying, “When I was 3, my mom put me up on stage at church, and I’ve been singing ever since.”
He’s grown into that quite well, with a voice that has a little sandy grit to it.
He put that to good use on his impassioned reading of Jason Isbell’s “Cover Me Up,” which had girls up on the lawn in their daisy dukes and boots slow dancing with their guys. Not something you generally see at a Jason Isbell show.
At one point, Wallen took charge and calmly halted the set and asked fans to clear a path for the paramedics to get to a fan who had passed out.
He moved on with the acoustic “Thought You Should Know,” a sweet song of gratitude to his mom, and kept it tender with Ernest’s “Flower Shops.”
He eventually broke the mellow mood, bringing back his rowdier opener Hardy for a dirty rockin’ cover of the latter’s “He Went to Jared.”
Wallen and the band hit it hard with the staccato “Warning” and kept it thumping right through to the climax of his breakout hit, “Whiskey Glasses.”
A lot of people there probably hadn’t seen Wallen before and weren’t sure what expect from the guy who got arrested in 2020 for being wasted at Kid Rock’s bar. It certainly wasn’t the wild drunkfest of a set reminiscent of early Eric Church. Wallen, who seemed to favor the more tender songs, kept it up-down and musically varied throughout.
Hardy was not like that. Taking the stage after the house PA blasted Mac Miller’s “Donald Trump” and Ozzy Osbourne, he came out in a “HARDY SUCKS” T-shirt and denim shorts and proceeded to rock the house like a headliner with “Sold Out.”
Backed by a hard rock band with a killer drummer, the singer and Nashville songwriter from Philadelphia, Miss., exuded more of that Kid Rock vibe. He got right to the country basics with songs titled “TRUCK” and “BOOTS,” and he dedicated “BOYFRIEND,” which goes “I don’t want to be your boyfriend anymore,” to his new fiancé.
“I said this three times before, but I think this is the best crowd we’ve had on this tour,” he noted. He can say it again Saturday at Country Thunder.
On “GIVE HEAVEN SOME HELL” all he had to do was hold out the mic and the crowd shouted the whole verse. Actually, it happened multiple times — the fans were especially hyped to express their patriotism on “God’s Country” — so while Hardy may not be a household name or the usual country hunk, he’s certainly loved by the Wallen faithful.
Kameron Marlow, who was an unannounced addition to the bill, was up first with a solid set that included his hit “Giving You Up,” a metallic version of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” and a song called “Money Ain’t S—” that people probably weren’t buying considering the price of getting to this party Thursday night.
Scott Mervis: [email protected] .