Sugarland didn’t play as loud as Lynyrd Skynyrd or and they don’t have the 50-plus year catalog of Willie Nelson, but they had no problem making their own joyous noise Friday night at WE Fest
If anyone questioned how Sugarland, a 7-year-old group with only four albums, would do headlining over seasoned veterans, those questions would’ve been answered by Jennifer Nettles’ confident smile.
The Sugarland singer is arguably the best front woman in contemporary country (Taylor Swift perhaps her only real competition) and she showed why.
Nettles’ voice is as flexible and engaging as her body language. She strutted, sashayed and danced all round the stage from the powerful opener, “All We Are.”
Nettles is a triple threat: Good looking, great stage presence and oh yeah, a power house voice. But unlike other female country singers, she doesn’t reach for high notes to show off. She’s gifted with one of the most identifiable voices. It’s hard to picture her on a “Divas” special, though she would easily steal the show.
Whike she doesn’t seem to lack for confidence, part of her strength is her musical partner, singer/guitarist Kristian Bush. He seems happy to play beside her and not stand in front of her. Almost as energetic and mobile as Nettles, when the two would meet on the stage, watching them play off each other musically and with body language was a treat, such as when she leaned on him during the infectiously poppy, “All I Want to Do.”
Even when the two stayed in one place, as they did when she played guitar on the acoustic “Baby Girl,” it was hard to take your eyes off the stage, or rather the jumbotrons. That said, watching the crowd, especially the young women, dance and sing along was also entertaining.
Nettles connects with fans, joking how good they looked, especially since the fans had been camping. Then getting them to sing along with a cover of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” the loudest sing-along I’ve heard at WE Fest, including “Sweet Home Alabama” hours earlier by Skynyrd.
Bush connected on his own when he waded into the crowd to give away a guitar.
Sugarland likes having fun with covers. They worked in the PG version of Cee-Lo’s “Forget You,” Brittany Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” and Beyonce’s “Bootylicious” into their own “Everyday America.” They even took back Bon Jovi’s “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” which Nettle helped make a hit. (personally I liked Bush’s singing over Jon Bonjovi’s.) The group even closed with Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ “Come on Eileen.”
The finale was fun, but I wanted more songs like their own anthem, “Stand Up.” It’s another of their catchy tunes with a positive, uplifting message and made me wonder when Sugarland will make it to Glee.