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A little after 10:30 p.m. on a Friday night in North Little Rock, big fish are looking enormous on the huge video screens in Verizon Arena and country music's brand-new Entertainer of the Year is rocking "I'm Gonna Miss Her" while a crowd of 9,688 sings along.
One of his best and most popular songs, it's the tale of a guy who has to choose between his gal and his favorite hobby, and it's classic Brad Paisley. So are "Catch All the Fish" (and "drink all the beer"), "Mud on the Tires" and "Waitin' on a Woman."
Paisley rolled into town on his H20 tour with pals Darius Rucker and Justin Moore and a string of 18-wheelers that may amply hold his equipment but could soon run out of space for all of his hits.
Always toting a down-to-earth personality, Paisley seems humbled by his popularity and acclaim, including the new title he earned a week earlier by finally winning the Country Music Association's biggest award. As part of his performance of the poignant "Letter to Me," a note sent back in time to himself at 17, he recalled uncomfortable years as a teen and told youngsters in the audience to hang in there, "I'm living proof high school is not necessarily the best years of your life."
From the fun and outrageous "Celebrity" and "I'm Still a Guy" to the haunting "Whiskey Lullaby" (with duet partner Alison Krauss joining him via video) to the tender "The World" and "She's Everything," he handles diverse subjects, tempos and styles with ease.
No Paisley concert is complete without a certain couple of songs, so when he left the stage briefly, you could bet he'd return for "Ticks" — as in "I'd like to check you for" — and his "Alcohol" anthem on which he was joined by Rucker and Moore. That's the one where he salutes so-called adult beverages for "makin' the bars with lots of big money and helpin' white people dance."
Along with past chart toppers like "Don't Think I Don't Think About It," "Alright" and "It Won't Be Like This for Long," Rucker showcased his most recent No. 1 — "Come Back Song" — and nearly brought the house down with a rollicking version of the Hank Williams Jr. classic "Family Tradition."
The engaging former lead singer for Hootie and the Blowfish also offered up that band's "Let Her Cry" and something you won't find at too many country shows — an interesting version of Prince's "Purple Rain."
Poyen-native Moore, sporting a black Razorback T-shirt with his jeans, boots and cowboy hat, delighted the home-state crowd with rousing renditions of hits like "Small Town USA," "How I Got to Be This Way" and "Backwoods," that song about, among other things, "country mud" and "sippin' on a Bud."
He not only called the Hogs — and did it right, unlike some musicians who are just passing through — he sent his "I Could Kick Your Ass" out to upcoming Arkansas foe LSU.