Is there something magical about the Mystic Lake Casino amphitheater?

Somehow, that new outdoor venue has managed to spark Carrie Underwood and Alan Jackson, two country stars not known for their sterling stage presence. Suddenly chatty Underwood let her hair down two weeks ago and rocked out with uncharacteristic abandon. On Saturday night, Jackson 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 certainly more likable. For the first time in memory, the laconic veteran, 52, talked a fair amount. He mentioned opening Mystic Lake's indoor venue 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 Saturday 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."

While Jackson rolled with the moment throughout his 85-minute performance, vocally he sounded homey and real, though he was a little flat at times. In the tradition of his role model George Strait, the easy-going Georgia native didn't do much onstage other than toss guitar picks while members of his fine Strayhorns band took solos. The closest he got to showmanship is when sideman Monty Allen put on a stocking cap at a sharp angle to sing the Zac Brown parts in the hit duet "As She's Walking Away."

The usually even-keel Jackson delivered "Drive," written in memory of his father, with passion and intensity. He was so into the Sept. 11 classic "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) Jackson 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. But the unexpected personality at Mystic Lake compensated for any missing favorite tunes.

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