Last updated on September 2nd, 2023 at 09:51 am
We all know the Minnesota State Fair is big, with an average daily attendance of well over 100,000. That immense scale pervades many aspects and areas of the “Great Minnesota Get-Together,” but few more than the Grandstand.
Where else can you and 10,000 or so of your friends and neighbors experience high-level outdoor entertainment that feels larger than life? On Friday night, The Chicks put on a Grandstand show for the ages that tapped into those feelings and many more.
Though many in the crowd of approximately 13,000 likely weren’t familiar with opening act Wild Rivers, their performance was strong enough to win them some new fans. With a warm sound buoyed by multiple talented singers, the band pleasantly and effectively soundtracked the golden hour.
The band’s songs were compelling and held the audience’s attention with melancholic undertones. The high point for many in the audience was a familiar and welcome cover of Sheryl Crow’s “If It Makes You Happy,” rightfully received as the enduring banger it is.
The Chicks’ set was a knockout from the get-go, kicking off with “Gaslighter,” the electric title track from their 2020 album. Like the rest of the record, it blended the Chicks’ country and bluegrass instrumentation with a “modern” production. They aren’t the first to try something like that and won’t be the last, but their execution of that vision was appreciably stronger than most other attempts.
The new songs fit perfectly on their own merits and as a change of pace between the well-crafted country pop songs of their commercial heyday. It was telling that several of these songs played pivotal roles, like when the powerful, heavy “March March” provided one of the major emotional climaxes of the show.
Though newer tunes were heavily featured, comprising nearly half of the set, there was still plenty of room for the old favorites in the 90+ minute performance. “White Trash Wedding” and “Sin Wagon” brought welcome bluegrass energy, while the generational smashes “Wide Open Spaces” and “Cowboy Take Me Away” sounded as anthemic as ever. Underpinning all these songs was the fantastic-sounding voice of lead singer Natalie Maines.
While the group is officially a trio consisting of Maines and talented singers/multi-instrumentalists Emily Strayer and Martie Maguire, they tour with several musicians to help flesh out their sound. Those bandmates helped create many big moments throughout the show, personified by the main set closer, “Not Ready to Make Nice,” as much a rock anthem as it is a “country” song.
The trio and band also effectively worked in softer moments, including a largely acoustic take on Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” which earned them a hit in 2002. They put an exclamation point on the night with a typically spirited encore rendition of “Goodbye Earl,” which never fails to get the audience singing.
These mixes of old, new, loud, soft, personal, and political kept the show constantly fresh and engaging. With a stellar setlist, fantastic performances, and too many memorable moments to recount, the Chicks put on one of the best shows I’ve seen in several years. They don’t play here often (this was their first in many years), but on Friday night, they made it count.