On Friday evening (March 3), when Morgan Wallen ascended to center stage before a full house of rowdy, screaming fans at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena for his free pop-up concert — with the aim of previewing his hyper-prolific, 36-song album One Thing at a Time which had released earlier that day — it was a pinnacle moment in a week already filled with celebratory instances.
Earlier in the week, Wallen was one of 16 songwriters honored with the Country Music Association’s Triple Play Awards (alongside several contributors to One Thing at a Time, including HARDY, ERNEST, Ashley Gorley, Chase McGill, and more).
By Friday evening, not even 24 hours after One Thing at a Time released, the project had already broken a record, becoming Spotify’s most-streamed country album in a single day by a male artist. With the new project, Wallen seems poised to dethrone himself on the Billboard charts: his previous effort, the 30-track Dangerous: The Double Album, which still resides in the Billboard 200’s top five, and currently at No. 1 on the Billboard top country charts, two years after its release.
Wallen had announced the free pop-up concert on Thursday morning (March 2), along with the fact that the ticketing plan was decidedly old-school: fans had to line up outside of Bridgestone Arena to obtain tickets, and they did, forming huge lines that wrapped around the building. Within hours, all the tickets were gone. In March 2022, Bridgestone Arena previously served as home base for three sold-out shows on Wallen’s The Dangerous Tour.
“This is so badass and makes me so proud,” Wallen told the crowd Friday night, eliciting cheers. “You guys are truly remarkable. Thank you for making this happen on such short notice. We gonna sing some new ones, some old ones — and that’s about it, I guess.”
Beyond the Bridgestone Arena walls, thousands more watched the event via livestream from Wallen’s official social media channels.
The new album largely picks up where Dangerous left off, with three dozen songs forming an arc that predominantly focuses on alcohol, heartbreak, dejection, and declarations of remorse over bad romantic decisions and bad habits, viewed through the hazy lens of more alcohol. Sonically, the project meshes elements from the lexicons of country, alternative and hip-hop.
But while the recorded album is filled with frothy, arena-aimed productions, Wallen and his band offered stripped-back versions of many of the album’s songs on Friday night, as well as selections from the catalog of hits he’s built since his debut, “The Way I Talk,” in 2016.
Proper for an evening delving into this new project, Wallen launched the show with the introductory song from the album, “Born With a Beer in My Hand.”
“Y’all make some noise if you can relate to that,” the singer said, stalking the perimeter of the compact stage, acknowledging the crowd and shaking hands as waves of cheers followed from the audience that crowded the arena floor and stands. Bolstered by thousands of fans fervent enough in their Wallen fandom to have stood in line for tickets, Wallen’s performance carried an air of relaxed, assured confidence.
Though Eric Church, HARDY and ERNEST are all featured on the album, there were no special guests at Bridgestone: this night was solely about Wallen and his fans. Also absent were any references to the other reason Wallen has been in the spotlight over the past two years, a video published by TMZ that depicted a drunken Wallen using a racial slur in reference to a friend.
“We’ve been working really hard on this record for the last three or four months,” he said of One Thing at a Time. “I ain’t been doing a lot of sleeping. I’ve been doing a lot of singing… probably won’t be doing a lot of sleeping tonight, either.”
From there, his two-hour set rolled on, with the album’s title track, as well as fellow album cuts “Me and All Your Reasons,” “I Wrote the Book” and “Keith Whitley,” the latter written by Wallen’s cousin Jared Mullins along with Thomas Archer and Brad Clawson.
“One of my favorite artists of all time is a man that died far too young, someone I think had a whole lot more magic left in him,” Wallen said, referring to the late Whitley, who died in 1989 and was posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame last year. “I listen to him at least every week. I wanted to have a song that talked about him.”
Before launching into “Whiskey Friends,” Wallen quipped, “When we put this together I looked at my discography and decided I didn’t have enough whiskey songs. Here’s another one.”
Wallen dedicated the album’s closing song “Dyin’ Man” to his son Indigo Wilder.
“I’m singing to a woman [in the song], but in real life, it’s dedicated to my son. He’s in here somewhere tonight,” Wallen told the crowd. “I went back to east Tennessee yesterday to play a show at my old high school for the album release, which was special in its own right. My son was there and I saw him and he was like, ‘Damn, these people think dad’s cool.’ He’s just getting to that age. If you understand me out there, Indie I love you. This one’s for you.”
The Sneedville, Tennessee, native also paid homage to another love he holds dear, for the Knoxville-based Tennessee Volunteers, by performing “Tennessee Fan.”
“I’m sure most of y’all know how much I love my Tennessee Volunteers,” Wallen said. “I got some really good buddies who went to Alabama and they always are giving me s—. There ain’t really much I can say, at least not for the past while. Before the Tennessee-Alabama game I wrote a song about us losing. Of course, the year I write about us losing, we win the damn game. But I’m okay with that,” he said.
After rolling through several album cuts, Wallen performed “Thought You Should Know,” a tender ode to his mother that is spending its third week at No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart. Seated at a keyboard, highlighted by a lone spotlight, he followed with a tender rendering of the lost-love hit “Sand in My Boots,” then, accompanied by his acoustic guitar and bandmates, ran through additional Country Airplay chart-toppers: “More Than My Hometown,” “Chasing You,” “The Way I Talk,” “Whiskey Glasses,” and “Wasted on You,” and his latest release “Last Night,” which currently leads Billboard‘s Hot Country Songs chart.
He introduced the crowd to his band members and closed with yet another chart-topper, “You Proof.”
“This is something way more than we thought we could grasp. We don’t take this for granted,” Wallen said. When the concert concluded, Wallen stepped down from the stage and slowly made his exit from the room — along the way, shifting the spotlight to some of the thousands of attendees, joining them for selfies and signing autographs, one fan at a time.