In the year 1969 the trio of musically-inclined cousins Jeff Cook, Teddy Gentry, and Randy Owen embarked on a musical journey that would leave them fifty-three years later universally regarded as the greatest country music group of all time and hosting their 50th Anniversary Tour alongside rock band-turned country group Exile, which they brought to the Enterprise Center this past weekend for a packed house full of generations of country music fans.
“Heartland Delight”? “Song of the Midwest”? “I’m In a Hurry (I-270 Rush Hour Traffic)”? The band may not have returned comment on my suggestions for these revisions to some of their biggest hits, but they sure did exceed my expectations for a group of 70-year old men with a band history longer than the median age of the fans in attendance – expectations that have been building since I was stripped of the chance to see them in 2020 and had a scheduling conflict for the reschedule in 2021. As it turns out, third time truly is the charm, because Alabama felt nothing short of magical on Saturday.
The show opened with Exile, the band that I, admittedly, thought was a one-hit wonder for their song “Kiss You All Over” – a track that I remember fondly, due mostly to a scene from Adam Sandler’s “Happy Gilmore.” I learned that Exile rebranded themselves as a country band just a few years after their hit single spent multiple weeks on top of the Billboard charts and have experienced over four decades of success in the genre since. The group, which was founded in Kentucky in 1963, is recognized as America’s longest-running band with now 59 years of experience and has played the Grand Ole Opry over 100 times; I recognized many of their songs throughout their performance, but I never put two and two together, and I am embarrassed that it took this long for me to call myself a fan.
Alabama started their set shortly after 9PM and wasted no time before firing up the crowd with the suggestion that “If you’re going to play in St. Louis, you’ve gotta have a fiddle in the band.” I was continually impressed by the female lead fiddle player during her solos in “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas”, and she continued to raise the bar every time she came to center stage throughout of the show. Next on the set list was “The Closer You Get,” the title track from Alabama’s seventh studio album released in 1983, and one of three singles from the album to reach #1 that year – including fan-favorite Dixieland Delight.
A heartfelt story about a young girl picking cotton to pay for a coat from the Sears-Roebuck catalogue encapsulated the 20th-century hard-working southern spirit that the band was founded on and to no one’s surprise led into a performance of “High Cotton,” released in 1989 and one of a record-setting 21-straight #1 singles. An instrumental background carried the tone for another story, this time about growing up as a Cardinals baseball fan, listening to Jack Buck, and getting to meet Cardinals legends like Bruce Sutter and Ozzie Smith. Lead singer Randy Owen related meeting some of his baseball heroes to the honor it is for him to get to play music for a living and thanks the fans for allowing them to do so, then transitions into a performance of “Give Me One More Shot.”
It was at this point in the show that my Bud Select-filled bladder overpowered my will to stay seated and I ventured to the bathroom before getting another in the concession line. No sooner than I paid for my drink did I join every fan in the concourse in fighting our way back to our respective seats for the beginning of “Dixieland Delight,” which, unsurprisingly, was one of the liveliest crowds I’ve had the pleasure of being a part of. “I Believe” played next, followed by a sequence of instrumental solos and band member introductions – including a Beethoven symphony teaser – and a seamless transition to “Born Country.”
Next on the list was “Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler),” one of Alabama’s multiple dedications to blue-collared, working class people. A duo of baby-making fan favorites, “When We Make Love” and “Take Me Down,” slowed the room down before reigniting the fire with a glimpse of “Country Roads,” which was certainly not the first time the John Denver hit had been played in the Enterprise Center (see: St. Louis Blues.)
“Mountain Music” was performed before the band took a bow and exited the stage, only to return to an enthusiastic encore call before ending the night with “I’m In a Hurry” at approximately 11PM. I was thoroughly impressed by the energy brought by the band whose been on tour for twice as long as I’ve been alive and seeing them live was a privilege that I am grateful to have checked off of my bucket list. If this is the last chance I get to see them perform I will be far from disappointed, but trust that if given the opportunity I will chomp at the bit to see them again and will be even more excited than I was this time around. Another 20 shows remain on the 50th Anniversary Tour between now and November, including a stop later this month in Cape Girardeau, and I strongly suggest that you see them while you can – you won’t be disappointed.
For more music content and commentary follow @AustyTalksMusic on Twitter and @ArchCityMedia on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Check back for the reviews of my upcoming shows – Aaron Lewis at the River City Casino this Thursday and Zach Bryan at the Chesterfield Country Fair on May 19th.