Country shows at Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Memorial Day weekend always come wrapped in the flag, and country star Chris Young’s performance with openers Chris Janson and Dylan Scott on Saturday night was no exception.
An American flag flew on the video screen backdrop during Young’s song about his honky-tonk bona fides, “Raised on Country,” and Nashville singer-songwriter Janson pulled two veterans onstage from the crowd — both former members of tank units and one wearing a hat from Operation Desert Storm.
In addition to playing to the crowd’s patriotism, the night’s three male country performers shared a penchant for ballads, black clothes and predictable country-music themes like drinking, trucks and small towns. In fact, so many beer and truck references were made during the night that the concert could have been a commercial for Bud Light or a Ford pickup.
But the souped-up party songs that have dominated SPAC bro-country shows in years past were overshadowed on this night by ballads, of the mushy sort currently dominating the country scene. Far from minding the slower tempo, members of the enthusiastic, packed crowd shrieked for every romantic, slow-going tune.
The 33-year-old Young is a deep-voiced crooner and a sensitive type, a specialist in the midtempo ballad. His set was filled with them, including opener “Hangin’ On,” slow-burner “Gettin’ You Home” (his first number-one single), “Losing Sleep” and wedding ballad “Who I Am with You.”
The show was five songs in before the pace picked up a bit, on the flirty “I Can Take It from There” and the party song “Hold My Beer,” from an upcoming album due out later this year. The chart-topping “I’m Comin’ Over,” fueled by weepy pedal steel guitar, was a return to sappy sentiment.
The beefy, bearded singer, dressed in a black untucked Western shirt, rounded out his set with number-one single “Voices,” Vince Gill-collaboration “Sober Saturday Night,” Cassadee Pope duet “Think of You” (with the fellow singer appearing onstage on a video screen), “The Man I Want to Be,” and the somber “Drowning,” about a best friend who passed away.
“That’s enough sad songs,” Young said before finishing on a higher note with songs like Garth Brooks cover “Papa Loved Mama” and cheap-swill anthem “Save Water, Drink Beer.”
Young has a fair amount of charm, and seems like a humble guy, but it was all a bit bland, as anodyne as the low-frills backdrop flashing lazy geometric effects. There just wasn’t enough dynamism to keep Young’s set interesting overall.
Janson, however, was the most energetic performer of the night. A skinny dynamo in black jeans and a bushy black beard, the swaggering singer flashed a high wattage smile and showed more range on hyped-up tunes like “Redneck Life,” “Fix a Drink” and “White Trash” as well as cautionary ballad “Drunk Girl” and amped-up closer “Buy Me a Boat.”
“I write a lot of love songs,” said opener Dylan Scott, kicking off the night’s ballad-fest with “Nobody,” which he dedicated to his wife. Seated on a stool, and wearing a black backwards baseball cap, the 28-year-old singer filled out his set with “Fishin’ in the Dark,” a cover of George Strait’s “Check Yes or No” and Eminem-referencing “My Girl.”