"It’s really amazing to smell this smell in New York City. Disorienting.” said Brad Paisley, licking his lips on a small stage in the lower level of the Hill Country Barbecue Market in Manhattan.
While there was clearly Texas barbecue on the grill upstairs; Paisley -- whose new album, Wheelhouse, came out Tuesday -- cooked up a witty, entertaining acoustic performance downstairs, customizing his hit songs with New York lyrics, imitating Willie Nelson for a few seconds, and introducing songs from his new album.
“It’s a pleasure to see your grizzled New York faces,” he told the crowd of about 200. A second later he shouted, “I’m Garth Brooks!” to a roar of laughs.
Paisley, sitting on a wooden stool, played only his guitar for the exclusive lunchtime show presented by New York’s three-month-old country radio station, Nash-FM.
“This has been the strangest week of my life,” said Paisley. “Never have I felt so listened-to and so misunderstood -- and at the same time to see it all come back around so that I’m being understood.”
Paisley referred to this week’s tremendous internet and online controversy over a duet on his new album with his friend LL Cool J called “Accidental Racist.” The song talks about two people, one black, one white, who ask not to be judged for wearing things like a confederate flag t-shirt or a do-rag.
“To be starting a dialogue that’s leading us all to a better place, to bring people together, that’s what I’ve always tried to do,” he said. “I cannot thank you enough for knowing who I am before I open my mouth. The feeling that someone ‘gets me’ is simply the best... and you have my loyalty to you as fans." He did not perform the song.
Paisley wore his signature white cowboy hat, t-shirt, and ripped jeans with a knee peeking out on one side, having just come from an appearance on “Good Morning America.” National television appearances reach millions of people and make sense for a star like Paisley. But even a relatively small radio station event is a big deal when it’s in the largest market in the US.
“Bringing Brad to New York City for a Nash-FM show to spread the word about his new release makes all the sense in the world,” said John Sigler, director of national promotion for Arista Nashville. “The format is growing and Nash-FM brings Brad’s music to a massive audience.”
“My job knows I’m here, I took a personal day,” said Joe Surman, an attorney from New Jersey. “This is a once in a lifetime experience,” he said. “Usually, you can only see him in a big place, and to see him in a small environment like this, well, I would’ve done anything to get here.”
Some ticket winners who stood in the cold rain for as long as three hours to make sure they got in first to be as close as possible to the star were disappointed to discover five rows of chairs for VIPs at the front. They shouted their anger to the singer as soon as he appeared on stage.
With the finesse of a pro comic diffusing hecklers every night, Paisley had it all under control.
“We’ll see if these suits in the front are worthy of where they are,” he said, before ripping-into his appropriate hit “Southern Comfort Zone,” which melted into “New York, New York” at the finish.
Many of those “suits” in the front rows were Nash-FM clients -- advertisers who’ve come on board to support New York’s first country station in 17 years.
“Me and my entire staff, we’re the luckiest people in New York City,” said Kim Bryant, vice president and market manager for the Cumulus radio stations in New York, including Nash-FM. “I’ve always been a huge fan of country music, and I’m excited about where it’s going.”
Paisley’s Nash-FM performance was the third in a series that included newly-crowned ACM vocal duo of the year Thompson Square, and one of the hottest young acts incountry music, The Band Perry, whose new album Pioneer debuted this week at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart.
“Each one has been exclusive, electric, and emotional,” said John Foxx, whose appointment as the new Nash-FM program director was made public shortly after the event. “The fans have amazing passion and loyalty,” he said. They sang every word, shouted out song titles for Brad to play, and generally had a conversation with him while he performed.
Paisley’s set included his current hit “Beat this Summer,” and older hits like “This is Country Music,” “American Saturday Night,” “Celebrity,” “Alcohol,” and an impromptu, clever mashup of “Little Moments,” “Ticks,” and “She’s Everything.” From the new Wheelhouse album, Paisley performed “Karate,” with a “Devil Went Down to Georgia” break mid-song.
Paisley’s “Beat This Summer” tour hits the PNC Bank Center in Holmdel, New Jersey on May 16th.