Review: Up-and-coming country artists play hits, have fun at GNA Secret Star Acoustic Jam in Schenectady

Jon Pardi performs Wednesday night at the GNA Secret Star Acoustic Jam at Proctors. (Kirsten Ferguson)

Jon Pardi performs Wednesday night at the GNA Secret Star Acoustic Jam at Proctors. (Kirsten Ferguson)

SCHENECTADY Part of the thrill of the Secret Star Acoustic Jam, hosted by local “new country” radio station WGNA at Proctors, is the reveal — the first moments at the start of the show when the four “secret” country stars are unveiled onstage after WGNA personalities tease out their identities with a series of clues.

Although the annual event may not promise massive stars like Blake Shelton, it succeeds at bringing high-quality, usually young, performers who have radio hits to their names. This year’s stars met the bill: Jameson Rodgers (“Some Girls”), Chris Lane (“Fix”), Priscilla Block (“Just About Over You”), and Jon Pardi (“Dirt on My Boots”).

Another entertaining component of the show is the wild card nature of getting four “secret” performers together to take turns playing acoustic versions of their songs in a round-robin format. Mild mayhem and even good-natured ribbing can ensue as the four performers and their backing musicians interact onstage, surrounded by a sea of disposable red Solo party cups.

“I have a ten-month-old child at home, so I’ve had a little tequila tonight,” joked Lane, a 37-year-old North Carolina native who married Lauren Bushnell, the winner of the 20th season of The Bachelor in 2019. Dressed in a baseball cap, tan Henley shirt and tight blue jeans, Lane made his drink-fueled buzz a recurring joke — as did other performers after Lane misidentified the Schenectady location as Albany and even got the day wrong (the concert was Wednesday, not Thursday).

But Lane’s supposed inebriation didn’t affect his musical performance. Like a pro, he still managed to pull off solid versions of his radio hit “Fix” and “Big Big Plans” (a song he played a few years ago when he proposed to his wife). In a highlight of his set, he pulled a young woman named Anna from the audience to provide guest vocals on “Take Back Home Girl,” one of his best tunes, a 2017 duet recorded with pop singer Tori Kelly.

The bearded Lane’s final song, “I Don’t Know About You” was actually written by “secret star number one,” Jameson Rodgers. The handful of tunes by 34-year-old Mississippi native Rodgers covered his biggest hits, including the baseball-themed “Like You’ve Been There Before” and “Missing One,” a song that namechecked the Eagles and featured harmonizing by his two backup band members.

Of the four artists, Jon Pardi — who proposed to his wife at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium as teased in the clue offered up by WGNA before he came onstage — got the loudest reception and brought an energy level that was hard to top on songs like “Head Over Boots,” “Night Shift,” and “All Time High.” Or maybe the neotraditional country singer in a black cowboy hat was just the night’s biggest ham, whether that meant imitating grunge singers or reveling in the innuendo of a cowgirl-referencing new song.

Up-and-coming performer Priscilla Block, whose career took off in 2020 after her song “Just About Over You” went viral on her Tik Tok social media account, was hidden a bit in the far-right corner of the stage. But she demonstrated a spirit and songwriting skill that mark her as a country singer to watch in years ahead. Clutching a sparkly blue acoustic guitar, the 26-year-old singer with a powerful voice and clever lyrics was at her best when offering up a tune about drinking in a bar with her friends, “Ever Since You Left,” and telling off the mean girls and high school critics on “Peaked in High School.”

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