By Dixie Reid
Brad Paisley brought his "American Saturday Night" tour to Sleep Train Amphitheatre on, appropriately enough, Saturday night.
He walked onto the stage unannounced, made his way to the end of the catwalk, picked up a waiting acoustic guitar and started singing "Start a Band," the duet he recorded with Keith Urban.
Suddenly, a huge black sheet across the stage fell, revealing his very own seven-man band and a video screen worthy of a drive-in movie theater.
Paisley is among country music's most successful and popular singer-songwriters. He's also one fine guitar-player. Ten years into his career, he's charted 14 No. 1 singles, including 10 in a row - something no other country singer has accomplished in 20 years of the Soundscan tracking era.
His 100-minute set was steady, tireless and endlessly entertaining. He also showed off his talents as a cartoonist and animator with a backdrop video in which he depicted himself as a superhero in a cape and cowboy hat, saving Reba McEntire from a dinosaur (was he ribbing her about her age?), Carrie Underwood from an oncoming train, Toby Keith from the Dixie Chicks, and various other country stars from similarly dastardly ends.
Paisley promised to play "until they kick us out," and said he wanted to cling to every last moment of summer - which wasn't unimaginable at the cool end of a 100-degree Sacramento Valley day.
"Till we stop playing, it's still summer," he said.
And so, until he got "kicked out," Paisley ran through his greatest hits, and more. He's a funny guy, song-wise, and one of his best-ever is "Celebrity," in which he makes fun of folks who live on the cover of tabloid magazines: " ... Can't wait to wreck a Ferrari on the way to rehab." He illustrated "I'm Gonna Miss Her" with a running video of hysterically gigantic fish.
Paisley is a guy's guy - yes, gals love him, too - who sings a lot about fishing, the waters that fish inhabit, hunting, beer and saucy women. But he's not all chest-thumping bravado. His "Waitin' on a Woman," which he did as a video duet with actor Andy Griffith, is quite sweet, as are "Letter to Me" and "We Danced."
Dierks Bentley performed prior to Paisley's set, in an all-male country revue that included Nashville newcomer Jimmy Wayne. It's amazing that Bentley is still someone's opening act. He last played this area with George Strait. No doubt he'll be headlining concerts before long. He's had No. 1 hits with such singles as "Feel the Fire" and "Sideways."
And he must have run a mile in his set, all over the wide span of the stage and up and down the catwalk, his blonde curls plastered to his sweaty face.
Before Bentley was Wayne, whose "Do You Believe Me Now," made its way to the top of the charts. He has an interesting story: His father walked out on the family, his mother was in and out of prison, and he lived in foster homes and on the streets as a teenager.
Unfortunately, Wayne's set was long over by the time much of the crowd made its way to Sleep Train, which is some distance from Sacramento and has a Wheatland address.
The traffic was horrible: It took two hours to drive from Sacramento to the amphitheater, but approximately 14,000 fans made it to the show, some of them buying tickets as late as 9:05 p.m., five minutes before Paisley hit the stage.
"American Saturday Night" was a great way to close out the summer. It also marked the end of Sleep Train's concert season.
On Nov. 11, Paisley will host the Country Music Association's awards show on ABC. He's earned the most nominations of any artist with six, including the top-dog Entertainer of the Year. His co-host will be Underwood.
Good thing he saved her from that cartoon train.
Call The Bee's Dixie Reid, (916) 321-1134.