Alan Jackson on Sept. 11, 2011/ Associated Press photo

 

Is there something magical about the Mystic Lake amphitheater?

Somehow that new venue has managed to spark Carrie Underwood and Alan Jackson, two country stars not known for their sterling stage presence. Chatty Carrie let her hair down two weeks ago and rocked out with uncharacteristic abandon. On Saturday night, AJax showed more personality than he had in probably all of his Twin Cities performances combined.

His music wasn’t necessarily any better — well-crafted songs, which are occasionally sentimental and often clever but seldom cutesy, delivered with his predictable warmth — but he was eminently more likable. For the first time that I can remember, he talked a fair amount. He mentioned opening Mystic Lake’s indoor venue (the showroom) about four years ago. He remarked about the relatively cold weather and how his music would warm people up (though he later complained that he was about to freeze). He commented on Mystic’s no-booze policy ("I know that’s sad" he said after being booed) and how the music would create a Satuday-night fever. He explained what inspired this song or that one.

But there was one unforgettable exchange with a shouting male fan that could cause ripples and guffaws throughout country music and the Internet.

Jackson: "He said ‘Marry me.’ I’m already married. You sound like the wrong voice to me. But I appreciate it, though."

Throughout his 85-minute performance, AJax seemed to roll with the moment. He sprinkled "Minnesota" into several songs and even inserted "Mystic Lake" in one number. He acknowledged the slight, inconsequential drizzle. His video crew added shots of the Twin Cities sites (including Nye’s and Candyland) on the six video screens for the encore "Where I Come From."

Vocally, Jackson sounded homey and real, though he was a little flat at times. With his mullet cut off and his face lined, he looked his age — he turns 53 in October.

In the tradition of his role model George Strait, easy-going Alan didn’t do much onstage other than toss guitar picks while members of his fine Strayhorns band took solos. If he had any sense of showmanship, he would have brought some of the younger female fans onstage to line dance during "Good Time" just like the women in the video clip that was shown during the song. The closest AJax got to showmanship was when sideman Monty Allen put on a stocking cap at a sharp angle to sing the Zac Brown parts in "As She’s Walking Away."

AJax sang "Drive," written in memory of his father, with passion and intensity. He was so into "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" that he sometimes sang with his eyes closed, something he didn’t do the rest of the night. His vocals were more animated than usual on "Don’t Rock the Jukebox," especially when he sang the words "George Jones."

Jackson seemed to enjoy doing some of his lesser known tunes, including "The Blues Man" and "Long Way To Go," his new single that sounds like Jimmy Buffett trying to write a country song. With 50 Top 10 country singles (and 27 No. 1s) AJax couldn’t do them all; so some of the 7,000 fans might have missed "She’s Got the Rhythm (And I Got the Blues)," "Mercury Blues" and "Midnight in Montgomery," among others.

Opening the concert was Craig Campbell, who scored big points with the crowd for singing his current hit "Fish" (with all its double entendres) but lost points for mentioning about the Atlanta Falcons in another song. Said he afterward: "I knew I’d catch some flak about that Falcons thing. I apologize for that."

This was the final concert in the inaugural season of the Mystic Amphitheater, which has a temporary stage and temporary seats for 8,300.. Casino officials will meet Thursday to begin discussing amphitheater plans for next year.

 

Here is what Jackson played Saturday:

Gone Country/ Summertime Blues/ Livin’ on Love/ I Don’t Even Know Your Name/ A Woman’s Love/ Small Town Southern Man/ Blues Man/ Who’s Cheatin’ Who/ Long Way To Go/ Little Bitty/ Country Boy/ Drive/ Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)/ Don’t Rock the Jukebox/ Here in the Real World/ As She’s Walking Away/ Remember When/ Good Time/ It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere/ Chattahoochee ENCORE Where I Come From

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