Sound Check: Three country stars share the stage at Akron Civic

By Malcolm X Abram
Beacon Journal pop music writer

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Country singer/songwriter Sammy Kershaw will appear with Joe Diffie and Aaron Tippin at the Akron Civic Theatre.

Tonight the Akron Civic Theatre will host a country music show for fans who find the current crop of chart-topping country-pop stars such as Taylor Swift to be a little bit too pop. The trio of Aaron Tippin, Joe Diffie and Sammy Kershaw will bring along their solo hits along with a few new tunes from their 2013 collaborative album All in the Same Boat.

As with most popular genres, there’s been plenty of handwringing about the direction and image of country music, with artists such as Zach Brown and Kacey Musgraves complaining about the proliferation of lightweight cookie-cutter tunes.

“If I hear one more tailgate in the moonlight, Daisy Dukes song, I wanna throw up. There’s songs out right now on the radio that make me … ashamed to be even in the same format as some of those artists,” Brown said late last year, specifically referencing Luke Bryan’s hit That’s My Kind of Night.

This trio of veteran singer/songwriters, who all came to prominence during the ’90s neo-traditionalist revival, won’t be whipping out any pop-infused Swift-like screeds about never, ever, ever getting back together. Tippin has a nasal twang, pumped-up biceps and a penchant for tough southern rock-flavored honky-tonk rave-ups (the number one single Kiss This), requisite ballads (That’s As Close As I’ll Get to Loving You) and “Yay, America” anthems such as the No. 1 country and top 20 pop hit Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly.

Kershaw hit the big time with his breezy lead single She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful in 1993, and other hits include I Can’t Reach Her Anymore, National Working Woman’s Holiday and Love of My Life. Kershaw ran for lieutenant governor of his home state of Louisiana twice, in 2007 and 2010, and came in second in the Republican primary twice.

Diffie, known for his humorous boot-scooting tunes, had a string of 12 No. 1 hits and four gold and platinum albums throughout the ’90s with trademark fun hits such as Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (If I Die), John Deere Green and the peppy Texas Swing-influenced If the Devil Danced (In Empty Pockets).

For All in the Same Boat, the trio gathered to record a mix of their solo hits, a few new tunes and some interesting covers. The record is pretty lightweight, but they sure sound like they’re enjoying themselves as they run through an unplugged, jazzy and swinging take on the standard The Way You Look Tonight, a feather-light version of Stephen Bishop’s soft-rock hit On and On, as well as a reverent take on Neil Young’s Heart of Gold.

Kershaw, Diffie and Tippin sound like they genuinely enjoy making music together, which should make the show a fun walk through ’90s country.

Hope for future

The following has absolutely nothing to do with music, so feel free to move on if you don’t wanna read my ramble. But hey, this is my space, so I’m going to share this little slice-of-life moment.

Sunday afternoon whilst sitting on my tuchis not shoveling snow, two button-cute young teen girls — a thin black girl with a big wide smile, and a doe-eyed white girl with a faux fur-lined hoodie — came to my back door and offered to clear the snow from the garage door for $5 (totally underselling their cuteness factor). Great, I said, I was just about to continue to not shovel anything.

They do a pretty nice job, and I ask them to shovel my front steps and hand them two fives and five ones. Doe Eyes divvies up the fives and asks me about the extra wad of ones. I reply, surely sounding like an old fogey to these younguns, “I appreciate your industriousness and your teamwork. It’s Sunday afternoon and you’re out here in the cold earning some money rather than sitting in your house begging for money with your nose in your phones Tweeting out Instagrams.”

Yeah, I think I actually said “tweeting out Instagrams.” I might as well have been wearing khaki shorts, black tube socks and penny loafers, holding a cane with a tennis ball on the end.

The pair of working buddies naturally gave me “OK, old person” smiles and proceeded to have a (button-cute) argument about how to divvy up the final dollar.

“Here, take the three,” Doe Eyes said.

“No, it’s OK, keep it,” Smiley Face said.

“Here, take it … TAKE IT!” Doe Eyes demanded.

“OK, OK, fine,” Smiley Face said, reluctantly taking the extra dollar.

The pair then shoveled my front steps and moved on to the next house.

Is it a life-altering moment for any of us?


But in this Internet- and smartphone-dominated age, we are bombarded with negativity, unimportant (celebrity) scandal, scary statistics and cat videos, and many of us tend to share the worst parts of ourselves within the digital world. Plus there is a near-constant stream of grown folks (including me) waxing philosophic and griping and moaning about the alleged navel-gazing, selfie-absorbed, ill-equipped-to-survive-in-the-competitive-real world, fame-whore generations coming up behind us.

But for this medium-hard-hearted40-something, who rarely interacts with anyone under 20, it’s the small, real-life moments and interactions with actual young folks (not their avatars or the perceived zeitgeist assigned to their generation) that help to make the glimmer of hope to which I cling for the future of our species burn just a little brighter.

Thanks, ladies.

Malcolm X Abram can be reached at or 330-996-3758. Read his blog, Sound Check Online, at, or follow him on Twitter @malcolmabramABJ.

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