What better way to spend a Hump Day than with unplugged country music? Tampa Bay welcomes lots of country music concerts, but none stand out more than the 99.5 QYK Guitar Pull, a round table of country stars sharing stories, songs and alcohol. This is the fourth year for the intimate show at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, bringing Riley Green, Trent Harmon, Dylan Scott, Mitchell Tenpenny, Dustin Lynch and Cam together on stage.
Stripping the pop-country songs down to words and simple harmonies, the six artists showcased their catchy and relatable singles. And delighted us with just how downright goofy they all are.
It worked like a Writers Round in Nashville. Each artist performed his or her hits, introducing and explaining the song, never jumping into the other's spotlight. They golf-clapped after every song, chuckled at each other's stories, and hugged their guitars while waiting for their turn to play. It was all so … formal. But still fun to see millennial country artists discuss and perform their craft.
It's a can't-miss event for any country fan, and here are some of Wednesday night's best moments, in no particular order.
Songs about dads bring the tears.
No question, country music knows emotion. Whether it's about heartache, death or romance, a country song has a story behind it, and usually a real-life person as its subject. And if there's anything that gets to my tear ducts, it is songs about fathers. Green asked the crowd if there were any Nascar fans out there. The Alabama bro who grew up 10 minutes away from the Talladega Super Speedway told us about his grandfather struggling with dementia. "But he'll always remember the numbers on the cars," sang the 28-year-old. Tenpenny's debut album, which can't come out soon enough (Dec. 14), features his new single that is about his father who passed away from cancer three years ago. "It just hit me one day that my daddy ain't here no more," said Tenpenny about writing Walk Like Him. And Scott, who married his high school sweetheart, released 3 a.m. this year, a song about a different kind of late night when you're a new father. "I became a daddy a year ago. … There's nothing like the love of a little boy," said the 28-year-old.
Trent Harmon, y’all.
In 2014, a Southern country boy tried out for The Voice. His audition never aired, so when that didn't work out, he went ahead and won the 15th season of American Idol a couple years later. And Wednesday night proved why he's the champion. The 30-year-old from "Elvis country" belted his bluesy country songs — On Paper, a song for your "trashy person" and Her, a fiery love song — all rightfully earning lots of hoots and hollers. That razor-sharp jawline is home to a smooth Mississippi croon that out-ahhhhh'd everyone up there. Beating on his guitar and wailing every note, this small guy in a Rascal Flatts T-shirt and ripped jeans at the corner of the stage demands attention. His songwriting abilities shine on You Got 'Em All, a gut-wrenching song inspired by a break-up text message.
I hope you found whatever I ain't found yet
'Cause I feel like all my better days are gone
And I think you got 'em all
The crowd corrects the performers what city we’re in.
It started when Lynch asked if there were any Gators out there. His first single, Cowboys and Angels (one Green admitted to covering on tour a lot), was written about his grandparents, who have been together for 63 years. They live in St. Augustine and are Gator fans, said Lynch. Later, Green thanked "Tampa" for this opportunity. So naturally, people started yelling out "ST. PETE!!!" Lynch caught on. "Yes, we're in St. Petersburg!" he yelled to just as many cheers as there were boos. See, guys, Tampa Bay holds a little (okay a lot) of animosity for the other city. It's silly, we know. So, of course, Lynch, the night's biggest flirt, ended the night with Small Town Boy. "She loves a small town boy like me … in St. Peeete."
Twelve guys. One Cam.
The Mahaffey stage was packed with dudes. Five of them were the performing acts, and each brought other guitar players and musicians. Cam, the bubbly California girl, was the lone she-wolf, put at one end of the row.
"They had to bring someone out here to combat all the Axe body spray!" yelled Cam when it was her first turn. "I brought my vagina, and I AM READY!"
It made sense for Cam to call it out. She's a prominent voice in the debate about the lack of female representation in country music. Radio stations and festivals nationwide limit the amount of women played, citing that they don't get the same ratings as male artists. It's hard to argue that fact, but how do you gain ratings when women's songs aren't played?
Her first song of the night was Diane, a response to Dolly Parton's Jolene. In this ditty, the man thief — "Yeah, you can boo!" — gets to explain the other side of the story. "You know, (the industry) likes to pit women against each other. But you know who shows up for me? It's the women," said the 33-year-old.
Later on her last go-around, the crowd demanded Burning House. "I mean, duh," she smiled. The Platinum-selling record is a powerhouse of lyrics and emotion. She got up from her chair (the only one to do that the whole night), suggesting we all put our arms around each other — "It doesn't matter who you are, what color you are … we're humans, and we're Americans" — to sing the last chorus.
Cam was a bright star among the bros. "Damn, Cam!" shouted Scott, who followed her in the lineup. And she cheered them on, too.
"I gotta say, in this raw moment of women sharing their stories, that it's great to be up here with men who love women!" praising the night's love songs.
It's true. Scott loves that you're crazy, only if you're also crazy over him (Crazy). Lynch is seein' red and can't wait to take us out tonight (Seein' Red). Harmon says we'll never be Her, and preaches that every man hold the door, touch her like a work of art, etc (Make Her Laugh).
However, if you want more women on country radio, and on stage, don't settle for the love songs. We don't need love songs. (Okay, we do. Country music has the best love songs.) They do not make up for the very few women currently on the Billboard charts. We need allies, men who will also call out the problem and take action. (Gets off soap box.)
Country artists, they’re just like us! They love to talk about poop. Seriously.
The best part of a round of songwriters is getting to hear backstories on all our favorite songs. "You never know what you're gonna get," said Lynch at the end of the night. "Tonight we learned about anatomy and physiology. Burps and lady parts. Pee and poop." Well, this is what's expected when the dudes takeover the stage, amirite? However, Cam started it when she immediately made mention of her anatomy. (And later, telling us the polite way to burp — blow it to the side.) Then, Lynch, in the middle of the concert, said he had to pee. Scott handed over his Solo cup, which reminded him of the time on a tour bus with a guy who ate bad salmon. Long story short, apparently it's common courtesy to abstain from going No. 2 on the bus. So when a tourmate (not Tenpenny, who was on tour with Lynch last year) just had to go, he popped a squat as a buddy cupped out his hands in assistance.
You know, maybe it's okay if women aren't part of that.