“If you like country music, you’re in the right place,” Vince Gill said.
He was addressing the near-capacity audience filling Bass Hall Tuesday night for the University of North Texas Health Science Center Foundation’s annual “An Evening With a Legend” benefit.
Those gathered began applauding, but Gill, with his trademark dry wit, had a punchline waiting: “If you don’t, then this might be the longest hour and 20 minutes of your life.”
Laughter rippling through the room, Gill and his airtight seven-piece band were off and running, reeling off a string of country music that would probably make most modern Nashville stars scratch their heads in wonder.
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Full of feeling (Gill’s poignant 1991 single Look at Us still packs a wallop, nearly 25 years later) and rich with the sort of playing that can only come from a lifetime spent putting fingers to fretboards (the extended guitar solos of Pretty Little Adriana, from 1996’s High Lonesome Sound, were the night’s undeniable emotional and artistic high point), the music on display throughout the 80-minute set was a welcome trip into yesteryear, an era Gill cherishes and honors in every sound he makes.
The Grammy-winning Oklahoma native doesn’t strictly handle the past with kid gloves — the evening began with a rip-snorting two-fer: One More Last Chance and What the Cowgirls Do. (In another of several wisecracks the 58-year-old Gill offered up: “I recently had a birthday — my doctor told me no more than two fast songs in a row.”)
An artist of Gill’s caliber can summon a murderer’s row of musicians to back him, and that’s precisely what was arrayed on stage Tuesday: vocalist and fiddle player Andrea Zonn, keyboardist Tim Akers, guitarist Tony King, drummer Billy Thomas, bassist Willie Weeks, steel guitarist Paul Franklin and guitarist Charlie Worsham provided tasteful, unerring support for Gill’s singular voice.
While most of the night was spent roaming Gill’s back catalog, he also worked a few tributes to Music City royalty, doling out spotless renditions of Buck Owens’ Together Again, and Merle Haggard’s Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down and The Fighting Side of Me.
At one point, Gill paused, like so many artists who have taken the Bass Hall stage before him, to praise his surroundings: “This is one of the greatest places in the whole wide world to play music.”
For a time Tuesday night, being able to sit in that magnificently appointed room, soaking up the music Gill and his collaborators were making — well, at that moment, there was no better place on earth to be.