Packed as a punching bag, the stage had so much musical equipment on it that it looked like a music shop with three exposed drum kits, amps, guitars and lighting gear. It was an impressive sight which would eventually produce an impressive sound. Contrarily, the venue may not have been packed, for there was a significant amount of open space; however, those who were present at the Corona Theatre on Wednesday night were better off than those who were not.
Opening the night, Madeline Merlo strutted onto the stage to a healthy level of cheers coming from the audience. She was a firework, revving up the crowd for what would be a high energy evening. Her striking vocals and bubbly personality certainly provided for great entertainment, a performance that is ideal for opening up an evening of country pop music. Moreover, her declaration of a beer chugging contest on stage mid-set was another clear indication of her desire for fun. With songs like “Whatcha Wanna Do About It,” “Crush,” and other songs about “being kissed” as she exclaimed, Merlo’s romance and general love for life and her fans were clearly projected, especially when she held a free photo session with her fans post-set.
Cowboy hats and boots are cool, but Tebey Ottoh of Tebey offers a more contemporary urban look to his country style. Not only that, but he also experiments with different styles of music while sticking to the bluegrass roots. We saw this madman experimentation with his rendition of the late Avicii’s “Wake Me Up,” a performance that truly hit me hard in the heart. The LED light bars flickered and flashed as Tebey, and his solid team of musicians, ignited the venue with a fat sound including a banjo and steel guitar played by a wizard – at least he looked like a wizard with his long hair and beard. Tebey’s songwriting skills have not only worked wonders for artists such as One Direction and Cher but, of course, for himself in such originals as “Denim on Denim,” and “Who’s Gonna Love You,” that this very passionate performer has bestowed upon the country music community and music-lovers in general.
Living up to the name of his current tour, Tim Hicks was about to Get Loud, but only after the entire venue erupted with piercing applause as he and his bandmates hit the stage. Opening up with “New Tattoo,” Hicks pulled out all the stops throughout his set. Dividing the crowd in two to determine which side could get louder, Hicks and his team of enthusiastic and all-smiling musicians not only performed incredibly but also ensured that the crowd participated in the entertainment and all-around “Hell Raisin’ Good Time.” Belting out such Hicks hits as “Loud,” “Stompin’ Ground,” and “1975,” there was never a dull moment during his set. Hicks still managed to keep the crowd entertained even when his guitar player’s loop pedal started bugging, requiring their tech guy to come and straighten things out. This minor mishap barely disrupted the flow of their set; Hicks and his gang kept things running smoothly, sliding into “Slide Over” right after. Performing “The Worst Kind” with guest vocalist Leah Daniels, and closing his set by having Merlo and Tebey join him on stage for “What A Song Should Do,” Hicks demonstrated a strong sense of love for music, friends and his fans, and by including a one dollar donation of every concert ticket sold to the Plus1 organization, Tim Hicks certainly provides a positive influence and image to musicians everywhere.
Along with great musical entertainment from the folks on stage, beer was flowing, t-shirts were being launched into the crowd, and fan cameras were borrowed by Hicks to take pics. The only thing that was missing was Hicks’ usual pyrotechnics which the Corona Theater unfortunately refused. I thought “Corona Bologna!” Our photographer Danny Donovan thought “Corona Bologna – no pyrona?!” – we think alike. Still managing to lit up the venue with their fiery performance, Hicks and his homies came back on stage after a short break to perform a three-song encore which included the crowd favourite “Stronger Beer.”
Written by Keenan Kerr
Photography by Danny Donovan
*edited by Danielle Kenedy