MOORHEAD — Seeing Alabama in concert Friday night, June 4, at Bluestem Amphitheater was like hanging out with an old friend for a couple of hours. You reminisce and hear some old stories, but all too soon you part ways and you’re left wanting more.
The show was the first on a leg of the group’s 50th anniversary tour, split up by the coronavirus pandemic. It was also the first big show in Fargo-Moorhead in 15 months — and concert-starved fans ate it up, standing for the duration of the 95-minute set, singing and dancing.
The reunion vibe wasn’t just between the band and the audience, but also between remaining touring members singer Randy Owen and bassist Teddy Gentry, who hugged onstage before kicking into the chugging opener, “Pass it on Down.”
The cousins may have slowed a little as they are now in their 70s, but their harmonies remain sharp, as they showed joining voices on “If You're Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band).” The tune is one of the group’s best-loved anthems and the crowd roared when it started and again when Owen name-checked Minnesota and North Dakota in the lyrics. The number even got Owen to dance a little with the fiddler when he took a break from trying on baseball caps handed to him from the crowd.
He brought out the guitar for the crossover 1983 hit “The Closer You Get,” but he could just as well have led the crowd in one of the night’s many clap-alongs.
Owen needed no help getting the crowd to warm to him. He was more relaxed and chatty than when the group played WE Fest in 2012. While that night was chilly for August, Friday’s temperature was 98 degrees when the band took the stage at 8 p.m.
“Thank you for having something hot and warm waiting for us,” he joked.
Owen and Gentry swapped stories while introducing songs, from reminiscing about the good old days of “High Cotton,” or how “Feels So Right” paid for a new home for Owen and his wife.
Some of the introductions were even more poignant. Without addressing the coronavirus by name, Owen said that he, like many in the audience, lost friends and family to the virus and encouraged everyone to celebrate time together before playing “Give Me One More Shot.” Later, he dedicated “Angels Among Us” to all of those who followed him in supporting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Owen even took a few breaks from singing, handing over vocal chores to the keyboardist on “How Do You Fall in Love.” Later, Gentry sang a ballad about remembering for a friend as pictures of the band and founding guitarist Jeff Cook flashed on the screen behind them. Cook has Parkinson's disease which keeps him from touring.
The group also shared solos, showcasing the band on “Dixieland Delight/Will the Circle be Unbroken,” another crowd favorite.
If there was one complaint about the show, it’s that many other crowd favorites never made it to the setlist. Classics like “Song of the South,” “Roll On (18 Wheeler)” and “Mountain Music” were conspicuously absent.
Maybe there was an intention to play them, as Gentry was holding up two fingers before settling into “As Long As There’s Love.” The 2015 tune was never even released as a single, so it seemed like an odd choice for a finale from a band with more than 40 No. 1 hits, but when they finished, they abruptly thanked the crowd and the house lights came on. Throughout the night Owen said they were playing songs they’d never played in this area before, so maybe that was the way it was written up all along, as the group did play slightly longer than the expected 90 minutes.
We won’t likely see the band in our area again, so Friday’s show was a bittersweet reminder of how many great tunes the band leaves with its fans, even if they couldn’t play them all.