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Country star Morgan Wallen gives packed PNC Park crowd what it craved

Sep 20, 2023

PITTSBURGH ― Fans sang along to pretty much every song Wednesday.

It was one big ol' Morgan Wallen love fest for opening night of the country star's two-night appearance at a nearly sold-out PNC Park.

After his band got introduced baseball-announcer style, Wallen rose to the stage from a trap door and proceeded to deliver a high energy performance, spending much of his time on the rectangular area that jutted into the crowd.

In brownish-yellow pants, a yellowy-beige ballcap and long-sleeved white shirt, the 30-year-old Tennessean launched with the jaunty "Up Down," establishing early that he planned to make a lot of audience eye contact, often crouching while he sang to get closer to the crowd.

His voice sounded fine − not what you'd call remarkable but showing no evident signs of the vocal cord strain he cited for postponing six weeks of shows in May and June, including his two original PNC Park dates.

Similarly, his band sounded solid though devoid of standout moments. They gave the right measure of upbeat pop to "One Thing at a Time," the hit title track to his March album; and sustained a catchy, chunky groove to "Everything I Love."

Wallen kept his banter rudimentary, mentioning a show he did years ago at Jergel's Rhythm Grille in Marshall Township, and setting up his hit "'98 Braves" by recognizing an audience in a Pittsburgh Pirates stadium might not approve.

You kidding? Western Pennsylvania fans cheered loudly for "'98 Braves," with many in the crowd wearing Atlanta Braves-patterned Wallen jerseys purchased from a merch table.

As a mist of rain fell, and clouds obscured that rare Super Blue Moon, Wallen chugged along confidently, with male and female fans alike singing along loudly with "Still Goin Down" and "Sand in My Boots."

As Wallen sang his popular cover of Jason Isbell's personal and poignant "Cover Me," fans lit up the stadium prettily with their cellphones.

For "Cowgirls," two-thirds through the one-hour-50-minute set, Wallen welcomed on stage as guest co-vocalist Ernest, the singularly named country artist in charge of opening Thursday night's concert.

Flames and pyro periodically shot up from the stage. A song title plastered on the jumbo video screens unnecessarily let everyone know when Wallen was singing "This Bar."

Unlike this summer's Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran and P!nk concerts, this stadium show didn't move the needle with tricks, concepts or talent. It was night simply for fans to snap selfies and reels as they sang along gleefully with songs they knew by heart.

Switching to a Pirates jersey for the encore, Wallen set up "Last Night" by urging fans to dig even deeper and sing even louder to celebrate the most-streamed song of the year, which set a record this month after 16 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

His Pittsburgh faithful didn't just sing along, they practically screamed the words enthusiastically.

The concert began with Wyoming singer Ian Munsick who had an interesting, higher reaching vocal timbre. Munsick supplied the earworm "Cowboy Killer" and gave a shout-out to the '80s, '90s and '00s babies in the crowd with a medley of TLC's "No Scrubs," Britney Spears' "Toxic" and Destiny's Child's "Say My Name." He said he wishes country music had more fiddle in it, like his band does.

Next at bat was Bailey Zimmerman who brought a likeable raw energy and floppy-haired exuberance.

The 23-year-old ended his set with an inspiring testimony of how just two years ago he was still installing gas pipelines for a living, including work in Pennsylvania, but after prayers and leaning on faith he began recording music, and in short time is now playing stadiums. He encouraged newly-won fans the next time someone tells them they can't achieve a lofty dream, "tell 'em Bailey Zimmerman did."

The main support act, Parker McCollum, brought the night's strongest, most polished voice, with a down-to-business approach pointing to a George Strait influence.

In interviews, the long-legged Texan also has cited Townes Van Zandt, James McMurtry and John Mayer as influences, which maybe will be more apparent when McCollum gets a full set Sept. 16 headlining UPMC Events Center in Moon Township. Would be a good idea for him to move around the stage more, too.

More:From Aerosmith to ZZ Top, September concert calendar is stacked for western Pennsylvania

Scott Tady is entertainment editor at The Times and easy to reach at [email protected].