REVIEW: Cole Swindell at Allentown’s PPL Center is good, earnest; but is he a headliner?

Country singer Cole Swindell is a great songwriter, an earnest performer and seemingly a nice guy. But whether he’s a headline performer was a question left open after his concert Thursday at Allentown’s PPL Center. Swindell was playing the opening night of his first-ever headline tour, and in a lot of ways, it showed – the biggest of which was a noticeable lack of material that not only meant a short show (just 80 minutes) but one that was heavily padded. Perhaps that’s the consequence of such a meteoric rise as having your first seven singles top the Country charts. And Swindell played them all, opening with his 2015 gold hit “Let Me See Ya Girl.” Like almost all the others, it was catchy, nice and perfectly inoffensive, and he followed it with a little bit more edgy song, “No Can Left Behind,” from his most recent album, 2016’s “You Should Be Here.” But even it, with the music as thumpy as it got for Swindell, was upbeat and positive – so much so that Swindell had to color its introduction by saying, “Let’s get a little red neck in here: Who’s got a drink?” And by the fifth song, he had played two more of his No. 1 hits: “Hope You Get Lonely” and “Chillin’ It.” Those are good songs, though derivative – the latter sounds especially like many other country songs on the radio. Swindell used several tried-and-true headliner tricks. He brought out opening act Lauren Alaina, the former “American Idol” runner-up, for a duet on his No. 1 platinum hit “Middle of a Memory” – it was one of the night’s highlights; she helped elevate the song – and two verses of Prince’s “Purple Rain,” which by now is becoming a bit cliché, though it was a nice performance. He played an acoustic mid-section, starting strongly with “Remember Boys,” one of the few deeper cuts he played. It Continue Reading

Country singer Cole Swindell coming to Stir Cove

Cole Swindell is headed to Stir Cove. The country singer responsible for No. 1 hits "Chillin' It" and "You Should Be Here," will head to the Council Bluffs amphitheater on June 22. Swindell's two albums have hit No. 2 on Billboard's country albums chart, and he has a total of seven top 10 country hits. Prior to his success as a singer, Swindell was a songwriter for artists including Luke Bryan, Thomas Rhett and others. Tickets, $48 to $75, go on sale Friday at 10 a.m. via Ticketmaster. Continue Reading

CMA Music Festival: 5 Moments you missed like Garth Brooks, Luke Bryan

CMA Music Festival's nightly concerts at Nissan Stadium were full of surprises Thursday night — ranging from country music's top-selling artist Garth Brooks to the genre's newest award winner Lauren Alaina.Here are five things you missed:Garth Brooks just made one of his famous surprise CMA Music Festival appearances, walking on stage at Nissan Stadium and kicking off his unannounced set with Thunder Rolls.Brooks moved into Calling Baton Rouge and The River. He followed up with new single Ask Me How I Know, asking fans to help him sing it.In a ball cap and strumming his acoustic guitar, Brooks worked the stage during That Summer and went straight into The Dance as fans lit up the stadium with their cell phones. Brooks paused and let fans sing the last word, then flowed into Friends in Low Places, pacing the front of the stage during the set.While it has been close to 27 years since Friends in Low Places was released, country music fans haven't forgotten the song that helped propel Brooks to super stardom. The crowd, more than 50,000 strong, came in loud on the first word and sang with Brooks, through the last chorus. The Country Music Association's current Entertainer of the Year let them finish it out, a wide smile stretching across his face."That’s Nashville, home of country music!" Brooks excitedly bellowed. "YEAH!!!," he screamed as fans cheered wildly. "Are you kidding me?"With a final wave, Brooks ran off the stage.Luke Bryan just thought he was playing Thursday night at CMA Music Festival. By the time he made it on stage, it was the wee hours of Friday morning.Bryan injected some much-needed energy into the night, showing limitless enthusiasm for hitting the stage an hour after his headlining arena shows are typically finished.“It’s morning time,” he shouted to fans. “Are you all ready to get us into the morning?”Bryan wasted no time breaking out his Continue Reading

Three hip-hop heavyweights — Future, Big Sean and Migos — are headlining Summerfest’s 50th

Summerfest had a weak hip-hop showing last year, but it's stepping it up in a big way for the 50th.Three hip-hop A-listers — Future, Big Sean and Migos — will perform at the American Family Insurance Amphitheater July 8.Future has already released two albums one week apart this year — "Future" and "HNDRXX" — becoming the first artist to have two different No. 1 albums on the Billboard charts in consecutive weeks.The Kanye West-groomed, seven-time BET Award-winner Big Sean also had a No. 1 album debut this year with February's "I Decided."Migos — featuring Quavo, Offset and Takeoff — has been prolific since 2010, but the Atlanta group broke out in a big way with runaway single "Bad & Boujee," which topped the Billboard Hot 100 early this year. Its second official studio album, "Culture," also debuted at No. 1 in January.Tickets are available beginning at noon April 21 at the Summerfest box office (200 N. Harbor Drive); Ticketmaster retail outlets; Wal-Mart stores in southeastern Wisconsin; at; or by calling (800) 745-3000, (866) 448-7849 or (414) 273-2600. Prices have yet to be announced but will include Summerfest general admission on July 8.All but two amphitheater shows have been announced for Summerfest 50, running June 28 to July 2 and July 4 to 9.They include the Red Hot Chili Peppers opening night; Luke Bryan with the Brothers Osborne June 29; Zac Brown Band July 1; Pink July 2; the Chainsmokers July 4; Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with Chris Stapleton July 5 and 6; and Dierks Bentley with Cole Swindell and Jon Pardi July 7. Milwaukee native and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Steve Miller will also headline the BMO Harris Pavilion during the Big Gig. The date has yet to be announced. Continue Reading

Summerfest 50 is ending with Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crow, Jason Isbell and more July 9

Summerfest's 50th is closing with a festival within the festival.The American Family Insurance Amphitheater, formerly the Marcus Amphitheater, will close with the Outlaw Music Festival on July 9. The eye-popping lineup of legendary, acclaimed and up-and-coming Americana acts includes Willie Nelson & Family; recent Nobel Prize recipient Bob Dylan & His Band; Sheryl Crow; Jason Isbell  and the 400 Unit; Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats; Margo Price; and Willie Nelson's son Lukas Nelson's band Promise of the Real. RELATED: Nelson No. 4 on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's 10 best concerts of 2015 list The Outlaw Music Festival featuring Willie Nelson began as a one-off event in Scranton, Pa., last September. It's returning as a six-date tour this July, with additional stops in New Orleans; Dallas; Rogers, Ark.; Detroit; and Syracuse, N.Y.  The Summerfest lineup is the fullest, one of only two shows featuring Dylan, and the only tour stop with rollicking live act Rateliff. RELATED: Isbell No. 5 on Journal Sentinel's 10 best concerts of 2016 list Tickets are available beginning at 10 a.m. April 21 at the Summerfest box office (200 N. Harbor Drive); Ticketmaster retail outlets; Wal-Mart stores in southeastern Wisconsin; at; or by calling (800) 745-3000, (866) 448-7849 or (414) 273-2600. Prices have yet to be announced but will include Summerfest general admission on July 9. The Outlaw festival will last from 2 to 11 p.m. July 9.Just one amphitheater show announcement remains for Summerfest's 50th edition.The amphitheater lineup also includes: the Red Hot Chili Peppers June 28; Luke Bryan with the Brothers Osborne June 29; Zac Brown Band July 1; Pink July 2; the Chainsmokers July 4; Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with Chris Stapleton July 5 and 6; Dierks Bentley with Cole Swindell and Jon Pardi July 7; and Future, Big Sean and Migos July 8.The grounds stage headliners announcement is expected this month. Continue Reading

Jason Aldean repeats and Miranda Lambert makes history at ACMs

LAS VEGAS — Jason Aldean extended his reign Sunday night as the Academy of Country Music's top entertainer, while Miranda Lambert made history with a record-breaking eighth Female Vocalist of the Year win on a night of spectacle and surprise in Las Vegas.“I can’t even believe I can say that,” Lambert said of breaking Reba's McEntire’s longstanding record in the category. “I’m really so thrilled that I can still help lead the charge for women in this business at any level, songwriters, anybody behind the scenes, managers, whatever it is. I’m just thrilled I can keep pushing forward and making a way for other women to do the same thing. I’m really humbled by it.”Lambert also picked up her fifth Album of the Year win with her double album The Weight of These Wings.Thomas Rhett, another of the evening's top winners, was left virtually speechless after accepting awards for Song of the Year with Die a Happy Man and Male Vocalist of the Year.“I don’t have a whole lot of words except for everyone in this category are my idols,” Rhett said after receiving the second award. “Everyone in this category shaped the artist that I am. I try and be the best singer I can. This is a very humbling, humbling experience.”The 52nd ACM Awards were again co-hosted by Luke Bryan and Dierks Bentley — this time from Las Vegas’ new T-Mobile Arena, which allowed for larger stages and an even bigger audience. The singers incorporated many of Sin City’s most famous attractions into the show’s opening, joking about fishing in the Bellagio Resort and Casino’s famed pool and fountains and joining the cast of male revue show Thunder From Down Under.“They told me I had a shot but I couldn’t join because I’m not from Australia,” Bryan quipped, adding they told him the show had a pair of chaps reserved for Continue Reading

Biggest and best upcoming events around Phoenix

You won't want to miss any of these concerts, festivals and other events in the weeks and months ahead in metro Phoenix. You can even start planning your summer - including where to go to have fun away from the heat! Want to check out even more events?MORE EVENTS: Best things to do in Phoenix this week | 111 fall festivals around Phoenix | Top events for kids this week | Latest concert announcementsKirkman, who is the author of the New York Times bestseller “I Can Barely Take Care of Myself” also stars in a Netflix original comedy special “I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine).” Kirkman is also a regular on numerous late night shows like “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and her weekly podcast “I Seem Fun: The Diary of Jen Kirkman” is typically in the top 100 on iTunes.Details: September 1-3. 7:30 p.m. Thursday; 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Friday; 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday. Stand Up Scottsdale, 5101 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale. $10 and $15. 480-882-0730, the cool indie vibe of downtown Phoenix at this popular monthly art walk. More than 70 galleries participate with special exhibits, bands, DJs and food and drinks. The bars and restaurants near the arts venues are packed, and many, including the intimate Lost Leaf Bar & Gallery, hip Carly’s Bistro and funky Third Space, display works by local artists and feature live music. Roosevelt Row is the general hot spot, and there is a free trolley that takes visitors around to the different neighborhoods including Grand Avenue and the major museums just north of downtown.Details: 6-10 p.m. the first Friday of the month; hours vary by location. Downtown Phoenix along Roosevelt Street and Grand Avenue. Five shuttle stops available at Phoenix Art Museum, Heard Museum, Oasis on Grand, CityScape and Arizona Center. Free. 602-256-7539, ninth annual Saboten Continue Reading

Country Thunder Arizona 2018 brings Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Toby Keith, Cole Swindell

Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Toby Keith and Cole Swindell will headline Country Thunder Arizona in Florence the weekend of April 5-8.Also announced were Brett Young, Tracy Lawrence, Big & Rich, Lindsay Ell, Cody Johnson, Neal McCoy, Lukas Nelson, Bryan White, Michael Ray and Michael Tyler.“We are so proud to create the ultimate festival experience for our fans in Arizona,” says Country Thunder Music Festivals CEO Troy Vollhoffer. “We are incredibly excited to announce this dream lineup.”The announcement comes the morning after Bryan played Ak-Chin Pavilion as part of his Huntin' and Fishin' and Lovin' Every Day Tour. Bryan’s latest album, "Kill the Lights," topped Billboard's country charts, his third consecutive release to do so, on its way to going double platinum.By the time he gets to Florence, he’ll have dropped the long-awaited followup, “What Makes You Country.”Bryan’s hits include country chart-toppers "Rain Is a Good Thing," "Someone Else Calling You Baby," "I Don't Want This Night to End," "Drunk on You," "That's My Kind of Night," "Drink a Beer," "Play It Again," "I See You,” “Kick the Dust Up” and “Strip It Down.”Aldean’s fourth album, “My Kinda Party,” established him at the forefront of the modern-country vanguard. The biggest-selling country album of 2011, “Party” sent three singles, led by the quadruple-platinum “Dirt Road Anthem,” to the top of Billboard’s country charts and took home album of the year at that year’s CMAs.Subsequent hits include “Tattoos on This Town,” “Fly Over States,” “Take a Little Ride,” “The Only Way I Know,” “Night Train,” “When She Says Baby” and “Burnin’ It Down,” all of which have gone at least platinum. Last year’s “They Don’t Know” became his fourth Continue Reading

Summerfest 2017 Recap: the best and worst shows, unforgettable moments and more

A tidal wave of nostalgia swept through Milwaukee leading up to Summerfest's 50th edition, which wrapped up its 11-day blitz Sunday.In the end, this year's edition of the World's Largest Music Festival wasn't stuck in the past — although it did offer loads of oldies acts.Lineup tweaks and promotional days marked the possible beginnings of new traditions. With unforgettable performances — some great, a few far from great — it created memories that will span years.Before we bid adieu to another Big Gig, we're giving out some "Summerfest Awards," although not all of these are exactly honors.Best set:Pink's first North American concert in more than three years got off to a rocky start, but that just made this live-wire show's triumphant moments — a breathtaking acoustic cover of "Me and Bobby McGee," a literal high-flying finale — all the more phenomenal. Worst set:The Chainsmokers brought fire, fireworks and fancy lighting to their Summerfest spectacle, thinking that would somehow compensate for bland band performances, atrocious live singing, boring bass drops and a genuinely offensive homage to Daft Punk.Longest set: Zac Brown Band and Paul Simon both commanded the American Family Insurance Amphitheater stage for about 2½ hours, but Simon is the only one who didn't need an intermission, ending his concert in the most sublime fashion, with a hush-inducing solo acoustic performance of "The Sounds of Silence."Best addition:Summerfest's "Throwback Thursday" June 29 was a smash success, attracting large crowds with discount beer and admission deals and a full slate of national acts in the afternoon, bucking Summerfest's inclination to reserve each day's biggest names for the end-of-the-night slots. It'd be nice to see Summerfest's marketing team bring that kind of focus and strategy to the promising "millennial day" it created for July 4.Biggest shortcoming: Approximately 51% of music Continue Reading

Miranda Lambert wins big, Luke Bryan takes top prize at ACM Awards

ARLINGTON, Texas  -- Miranda Lambert won four awards, including album and song of the year, but the singer lost the night's top prize to Luke Bryan at Sunday's Academy of Country Music Awards. It was a repeat of the Country Music Association Awards in November, where Lambert won multiple prizes but lost the big award to Bryan. "Listen guys, what an amazing night of music," an excited Bryan said onstage after winning the fan-voted award. "Thank you to my wife, my kids ... my fans, country radio." Lambert was the sole female nominated for entertainer of the year; other nominees included Garth Brooks, Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line, who won two awards Sunday at the AT&T Stadium. Though she lost the top prize - again - Lambert was the queen of the night. She was on a red-hot winning streak - and she even rocked a red-hot bustier when she performed "Little Red Wagon." Lambert won her fourth album of the year, her sixth female vocalist of the year and her third single record of the year (she won twice this year as a performer and songwriter of "Automatic.") "I don't even realize what's happening tonight," Lambert said. "I love my job so much. I will never not love my job." Lambert, a fashion favorite in the last year, wowed again in a flowing, plunging dress on the red carpet. Inside the venue, she wore white pants and a white top with a black sheer center. She also accepted the 50th Anniversary Milestone Award, given to her by Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara (Lambert wrote a song for their new film, "Hot Pursuit.") It was also a memorable night for Taylor Swift, who made it a family affair. The singer was one of seven recipients of the Milestone Award, and a video package highlighting her career and success played before her mother, who recently announced she is battling cancer, presented her daughter with the award. "I am a very proud mom," said Andrea Swift, who Continue Reading