Vince Gill brought his show into the Rockford Metro Centre on February 15th and the combination of varied musical styles, technical skill and personality made it one that was sure to please. There was no question that this group of musicians (Gill brought a 15-piece band with him including a four piece horn section) was talented and the music they played was strong. In many ways what made this show special, though, were the moments where Gill's personality took the forefront.
Gill showed himself to be the consummate entertainer. His musical skills were never in question, but we'll get to that shortly. One of the most impressive aspects of this concert was Gill's ability to connect with the audience. He responded to nearly every comment that was shouted out to him (requests for songs, "I love you"s from the ladies in the crowd, even a short conversation started with a question as to whether or not he had been to Dixon, IL). It was impressive that he even heard some of these fans, let alone took the time to respond. The fact that his answers were nearly always humorous was even more telling. In fact, much of the show was laced with Gill's self-deprecating form of humor. This tended to both increase the level of fun, but also make him seem more down to earth and accessible. From long tales about his chain smoking father to descriptions of his life with wife Amy Grant all of these made the audience feel as if we were sitting in the living room chatting with Gill about life. He gave many insights into the construction of the songs he was playing, the thought processes behind various musical choices and even gratitude about this hit or that one buying him a wonderful house. I don't know that I've ever seen a musician create such a rapport with the audience and connect on this type of level. If Gill ever runs out of music to create, I'd think he'd have a career as a TV host or even stand up comic. That puts me in disagreement with his father, though. According to one of his stories after Gill hosted an awards ceremony his dad remarked, "you are no Jay Leno."
While this connection surely added to the appreciation and enjoyment of the concert, the real reason we were there was the music and on this level, too, Gill and company delivered. While Gill is a country artist, I'd say that less than half of the set was restricted entirely to that genre. Like his recent These Days set (the reason for this tour), the concert moved between country, rock, jazz, blues and other genres showcasing an artist who is not content to be tied down to any one style of music. Often times these changes in styles took place within one song. The thing is, no matter what type of music they were playing; the entire show was hot. This band is exceptionally tight and Gill's tenor is always spot on. His guitar playing at times was awe-inspiring and there isn't a slouch in the band. These guys (and ladies) left no question as to whether or not they are world class musicians - they are. The diverse musical playing field lent another dynamic and also makes the show accessible to fans of most styles of music. This show was in the three and a half-hour range (with a short intermission) but never seemed to drag and never disappointed.
Those who were lucky enough to be in the audience at Gill's concert know just how special it really was. If you missed it, don't let this happen again. Vince Gill is one of the best entertainers out there. Even if you don't like country music, you'll love this show - assuming you walk in with an open mind. The band is great, the music is inspiring and Gill is just a good guy who happens to be a great musician. All of these things combine for an experience that will live in your mind forever.