Saturday, September 19 was our final night at this year’s Tennessee Valley Fair seven days after we started with Chris Lane. Tonight we were seeing JT Hodges with Morgan Wallen. Stacy had seen Morgan last year, but I had never, and both of us had only briefly seen JT in the past so we were very intrigued to see this late addition to the Fair’s line-up.
We got there about 6 and we have been very lucky this year with the weather as it has been cool with sun setting before 8 every night. Tonight was probably the warmest day of the week, but considering it was not hotter than every day of past fairs we can’t complain. We haven’t had any rain, so couldn’t ask for a better week.
We went in for our meet and greet with JT at 7, so missed the very beginning of Morgan Wallen, but we got to our seat with still about 20 minutes left in his set. The Knoxville native who competed in Season 6 of NBC’s The Voice is young looking and sounded more Southern rock than pure country, but his raspy voice was perfectly suited for it. The band sounded good and he had a decent crowd in attendance.
Morgan did mostly original songs, which I applaud him for since some lesser known openers tend toward a cover heavy set. His song had some catchy lyrics, like “Get all night, get right with Sunday morning people” and in Yin Yang Girl said “She’s an angel who can raise a little hell.” He said he prefers writing slower songs, he thinks those country song have more to them, but he had uptempo cause they more fun. He played a good mix of both. He did a good cover of Hicktown that he made his own. He worked the stage, but did seem a bit shy and didn’t really show enough personality when he was performing his 40 minute set. He has a great voice so improving his live presence would only help.
He has two songs on iTunes, but says “Rock this Town” and “Spin You Round” (which we recorded) will be added next month.
During the meet & greet with JT Hodges he couldn’t have been any friendlier. I introduced myself and he recognized our names from Twitter. He is always very active on social media and when we have heard him on The Highway, where he has had 4 songs in heavy rotation, he seems like a really good guy. If anything I worried he might talk too much on stage, since he seems like a talker off stage. His wife was back stage and she also seemed very nice and told this little girl in the line that they had two little girls.
JT came out at 8 PM with his band that was just a drummer, guitarist and bass player. He played guitar with them on almost every song. He started right into “She’s Alive” from his current EP released early this year. Then he went into his first single, 2011’s “Hunt You Down” and many of the 400+ people around us seemed to recognize it. This crowd was a bit bigger than Chris Lane last Saturday, which considering like last week was competing with a Tennessee football game was a good showing. JT invited everyone to come down and they filled in and really helped make the show feel fuller and more fun.
Any concern I had he would be too chatty disappeared, as he didn’t really talk until the about the sixth song when he did his second single “Goodbye’s Made You Mine” and he seemed to hit a stride then. After that he talked about growing up in Ft. Worth where his dad had owned a recording studio and he had been around music all his life. He then did a song from the EP that he said was his daughter’s favorite during the demo process, “Gonna Need a Guitar.” He started “Sleepy Little Town” all alone and really slowed it down and when finished he introduced his band; Kel on bass, Ryan on drums and Jason Jordan on guitar.
When he got to the covers he was doing is really when the show seemed to kick into a higher gear. He rocked out a version of Peter Gabriel’s huge 1980’s hit “Sledgehammer.” I always hated the original, but really like his version. JT then did the current earworm “Shut Up and Dance” and got the crowd involved. During his two covers he didn’t play the guitar and danced around and was more fun. Stacy said this was probably her favorite part of the set.
He did “Locks on Doors,” the title track of his EP that is probably my favorite track on there. JT then put on his sunglasses and finished his set after about 75 minutes with “Ray Bans” that the crowd really enjoyed.
I’m glad we went tonight, but I must say the start of the set was a bit slow to get going. Many of his songs are slow paced on the CD and he played them close to the original live. Once he started talking and playing faster songs he seemed to get more into and so did the crowd. It is so hard to tell how much a small crowd, especially one where so many people are sitting down (the couple behind us complained we stood the whole time), affects the energy level of the show. JT definitely sounded good and he and his band could play, just wish more of the personality he shows in person came out on stage. I would see his show again, especially now that the Locks on Doors EP has more uptempo songs than his debut album did, but hope it is a bit more lively the next time.
That is it for the 2015 Tennessee Valley Fair. Stacy will have a wrap-up blog soon and we have a playlist from the whole week on our YouTube channel. We will be excitedly looking forward to next year and have some cool shows coming in the next two months.