Up-and-coming country artist Jake McVey faced a tough room at the Paramount Theatre on Saturday night. The Iowa native put on a show for a mid-sized crowd, much of which seemed to be there for libations and socializing rather than to listen to the music. By evening’s end, the audience had largely undermined the artist.
Local country cover band Lady Lowe opened the show with a strong set. Jenn Lowe is a powerhouse vocalist, and she is well supported by Dan Scott on guitar and vocals, and Al Fear on cajon (box drum). The trio delivered great takes on Miranda Lambert’s “Baggage Claim,” Kenny Chesney’s (by way of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) “Fishing In the Dark,” and Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” among others. They closed with two solid originals—the ballad “Once Upon a Time” and a very catchy mid-tempo number involving a pickup truck.
Throughout Lady Lowe’s set, a good portion of the audience was avidly chatting and exiting and entering the room. Still, the music seemed to be well received, and I figured things would settle down for the headliner. I was wrong about that.
McVey took that stage, guitar in hand, and dove into his country rock repertoire with songs like “Redlined and Wasted” and “Used to Be.” The latter is a tribute to country music legends, but it is, for all intents and purposes, a rock song, complete with roaring guitar solo.
Through the first 10 numbers, McVey and his band—which included a bassist, drummer, and steel guitarist who doubled on fiddle—tore it up and seemed to take the audience along. McVey has a big warm voice that is a pleasure to hear, and he can deliver a guitar solo with an appealing swagger. He has surrounded himself with quality musicians who played well throughout the show.
The hangover lament “One of Those Days” took the concert in a more purely country direction, and McVey followed it up with a cover of Waylon Jenning’s “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love).” Then the band left the stage and McVey took a seat to sing “Unknown Highway” and, in a duet with Jenn Lowe, Chesney’s “You and Tequila.”
The crowd didn’t settle into this softer section of the concert, and it was all McVey could do to get a portion of the audience to sing along on his cover of Tom Petty’s “Free Falling” as the band returned to the stage.
Over the final three numbers, which included his hit “Carry On,” the vibe in the room was one of distraction, though McVey grabbed back some of the early-show energy as he rocked out the final number.
While I am quick to acknowledge that different kinds of concerts encourage different kinds of atmospheres, I was disappointed that more of the audience didn’t lend an ear to the music McVey and his mates were making. Whether or not he’s the next big thing in country music, he’s clearly a quality performer worth paying attention to.