March 20, 2011
Uptown Theater - Napa
Napa, CA USA
Review by Cory Nichols
Photos by Suzi Roks
There is something truly special about California Wine Country that gives a person a sense of inner peace. Then again, Napa Valley is world renowned for the various wines it produces ever year. Maintaining a low key in this laid back atmosphere takes some work. It's even harder to sit still when an unexpected commotion enters your tranquil community. The hand on the ladel stirring things up was Gretchen Wilson, and that's right folks, she was 'here for the party.'
On March 20, 2011 Napa got a rude awakening when America's favorite Redneck Woman, Miss Gretchen Wilson, brought her grape stomping charm to this serene valley and turned up the volume for the wine-bibblers of Sonoma County.
The moment this 37-year old dynamo hit the stage, the raven hair beauty left no doubt in the minds of the capacity crowd she was charge. This former bartender was going to have a good time whether you liked it or not. It's an understatement to say this rebel with a cause feels comfortable jumping from one musical genre to another. When she kicked off the evening with a rip-roaring version of the Scorpions' "Rock You Like a Hurricane," you knew right away this wasn't going to be your typical boot scootin' country music outing. The construction work at the newly renovated Uptown Theater definitely got tested for seismic shock as Gretchen's back up band rocked the foundation to its core. And this was just the first song.
Throughout the evening, Wilson's 'work hard, play hard' attitude came through loud and clear in the music. Presently touring the West Coast promoting her fourth studio release, the aptly titled I Got Your Country Right Here, she never gave the audience a single moment to sit down and catch its collective breath. At first, a lot of people didn't think they were in the right place. When the band kicked into "Outlaws and Renegades," it was quite clear G.W's dual personality was going to create an identity crisis with the dainty wine crowd. By the end of the night, whiskey and beer would be the preferred drinks of choice.
Wilson confidently rocked the house with the title track off her new album, and then proceeded to drive the Napa-lonians thru another six-pack of hits which included "Here for the Party," "All Jacked Up" and of course her signature trademark tune, "Redneck Woman." It's no secret Gretchen feels at home in a tight pair of jeans. Looks good in them too! What was unexpected was her band. Led by guitarist Paul Allen, this tight-knit outfit never missed a beat throughout the eclectic evening of music the former bartender presented to the audience. Allen, dubbed T.F.O. (Ten Finger Orchestra) by his benevolent leader, was especially engaging with the soulful, bluesy, full of life command of his instrument. Whenever Gretchen had to stop for a moment to catch her breath, the guitarist was there to fill in the gaps.
Like I stated earlier, Gretchen Wilson has no problem bouncing from the world of country, over to rock, back to country, only to rock out again. On one hand, it was surprising to hear her sing a classic number like Foreigner's "Hot-Blooded," then launch into an array of tunes from Led Zeppelin, Edgar Winter, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Van Halen, Ray Orbison and Heart. Maybe it made sense, maybe it didn't. By the time G.W. opened her mouth to sing "Lights" by the Bay Area's favorite son, Journey, the high-octane performer had thoroughly canonized the audience with her saintly presence.
It's almost as if Merle Haggard's tour bus collided with Aerosmith's and when the dust settled little G.W. was born. Was she divinely jam worthy this evening? The answer is most definitely, can I get a witness?