Southern comfort: Alan Jackson brings his 'Last Call' tour to Grand Forks' Alerus Center
“I want to thank you all for all the years listening to us,” Jackson told the crowd of more than 12,000. “I’ve lived the American dream."
GRAND FORKS – After compiling a career that has seen 26 Billboard Hot Country No. 1 hits and induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, it doesn’t seem possible the energetic Alan Jackson might be nearing the end of his touring days.
Jackson, who emerged on the national scene with “I’d Love You All Over Again” and then overtook the country music airwaves in the 1990s with songs like “Don’t Rock the Jukebox” and “Chattahoochee,” played Saturday for a riled-up crowd at the Grand Forks Alerus Center. Although the facility didn’t release attendance figures, the number easily surpassed 12,000. The Cory Farley Band, the opening act, played for about 45 minutes before Jackson took the stage.
The name of Jackson’s tour – which continues Aug. 12 in Savannah, Georgia – is “Last Call: One More For the Road." It comes after he revealed late last year that he has been diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a degenerative nerve and muscle disorder that causes difficulties with mobility and balance. It is not a fatal disease, but one that could make performing difficult.
“It’s starting to affect my performance on the stage a little bit,” he said during a September interview on ABC. “It’s getting more and more obvious.”
At the time, he said he went public with his illness because he “just wanted people to know that’s why I look like I do.”
To the layman, the Georgia native didn’t seem to be inhibited Saturday night as he reeled off a number of well-known, sing-along hits. He leaned back against a stool for much of the night, sitting every now and then, but he also walked the stage and threw T-shirts to the crowd several times.
“It’s been a few years since we’ve played way up here,” Jackson said early in the set. “This is a pretty part of the country, with beautiful farmland.”
He joked about playing in a facility with signs that pointed to places for purchasing beer and liquor.
“I feel like we’re back in the bar days in 1987,” he said. “But that’s where we come from.”
He added, “we’re here to have a good time. We hope we play something you’ll like.”
No problems there.
Jackson’s set started with “Gone Country” and stretched past 20 tunes. It included a few of his famous covers, like “Summertime Blues” and “Who’s Cheatin’ Who,” as well as “The Older I Get,” during which he appeared to have an emotional moment before collecting himself and continuing.
The night ended with a flurry – “Don’t Rock the Jukebox,” “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” and “Chattahoochee” all came in the final 20 minutes. Thousands of Upper Midwest-accented voices joined in, missing the distinctive Georgia twang familiar in those hits but singing with gusto nonetheless. Some people danced in the aisles.
“Chattahoochee” especially caused a stir. The song was a cult-like hit in 1993, with its tale of youthful excess – a pyramid of cans, the fogged windows of an old Chevy, laying rubber on the asphalt – and with a video that was broadcast heavily.
Jackson, now 63, wasn’t wearing the drastically ripped jeans (his jeans Saturday were only lightly ripped) or the worn Cowboys jersey he donned in that famous video, but he still offered fans a nostalgic glimpse back to a time when he was atop the charts and dominating the nation’s country music scene.
And the diagnosis of his illness notwithstanding, Jackson still moves well – well enough that most people probably wouldn’t notice without media coverage pointing it out.
Sure, he might be a bit slower. But who isn’t?
During the final few minutes of the show, local references – a North Dakota license plate emblazoned with “AJ 2022,” UND hockey clips and the like – flashed on the video board behind the band. Another North Dakota reference came earlier: Keyboardist Joey Schmidt, Jackson pointed out, is a native of Napoleon, N.D.
The night ended with “Where I Come From” and “Mercury Blues.”
“I want to thank you all for all the years listening to us,” Jackson said earlier in the night. “I’ve lived the American dream. It’s unbelievable. Thank you all for being here.”