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Review: Jason Aldean, Eli Young Band, the Wild Feathers and Jack Ingram at March Madness Music Festival

Posted 11:15pm on Friday, Apr. 04, 2014

As seems to happen every time the North Texas area hosts a major sporting event, the weather threatened to play spoiler ahead of this weekend’s Final Four action, spread from Fort Worth to Arlington to Dallas.

But, walking around the lush green turf of Reunion Park (what seems, by all outward signs, to be a temporary space erected on what was once the site of Reunion Arena) on a sunny, faintly chilly Friday afternoon, it was hard to feel anything but a sense of calm mixed with anticipation for the forthcoming games.

Oh, and an afternoon and evening full of music, provided free to the public by one of the March Madness Music Festival’s three major corporate sponsors, AT&T (Saturday and Sunday’s concerts are sponsored by Coke Zero and Capital One, respectively).

The first day of MMMF was a decidedly country-centric affair, with a number of performers with roots right here in North Texas. The sprawling festival grounds, set up in the shadow of Reunion Tower, were easily navigable, with memorabilia, food and beverage sales offered on the perimeter, and corporately branded activities, like the Capital One Ferris wheel or the Coke Zero “social arena” set up for visitors to check out.

Southern Methodist University alum Jack Ingram got the festival rolling with a gritty set of rock-stained tunes, and reminisced about his first-ever professional gig at Adair’s Saloon, not terribly far from where he found himself ( “I was paid all the free beer I could drink and a burger at the end of the night,” said Ingram from the stage. “When I left [Adair’s] that night, I was the richest man in Dallas County.”). Ingram had to work overtime to compensate for the thin crowd — in his defense, it was 3:30 in the afternoon on a Friday, so most potential attendees were likely still at work or en route; Dallas police estimated the crowd at about 16,000 by night’s end — but made the most of his time on stage.

The Wild Feathers, a Nashville-based act that formed in Austin and has two members (Taylor Burns and Preston Wimberly) who were born in Richardson, showed why it’s earning big-time bookings, despite just releasing its debut album last year (they’ll be back to perform at Plano’s Suburbia festival next month). A simmering blend of bluesy rock and twangy country, the Wild Feathers likewise dealt with a smaller audience, but didn’t hesitate to attack its hour-long set with gusto.

The Denton-born Eli Young Band arrived at the AT&T Block Party, fresh off the chart-topping debut of its latest LP, 10,000 Towns. Frontman Mike Eli was clearly relishing the hometown-ish audience, which continued to grow at a steady pace over the course of the afternoon and early evening, letting the vociferous throng sing lyrics back to him and working up a sweat. The wisdom of deploying not one, but two covers, during a roughly 85-minute set is questionable — particularly the Lynyrd Skynyrd chestnut Gimme Three Steps — but if anyone really minded, it was tough to tell.

Jason Aldean, the night’s headliner, took the stage promptly at his appointed time, to the strains of Audioslave’s Cochise. The Georgia native, up for male vocalist of the year at Sunday’s Academy of Country Music awards in Las Vegas, ripped right into Crazy Town, sending the appreciative crowd into spasms of joy. Aldean’s style is direct and simple, and were it not for the banks of whirling, flashing lights and the massive, video screen-flanked stage upon which he was singing, it would not have been a stretch to imagine him performing at some beery hole-in-the-wall.

Whether the remaining installments of the March Madness Music Festival can sustain the smooth charms of its first day remains to be seen (and, admittedly, it’s more weather concerns than anything purely logistical), but as sporting event-related music festivals go, the AT&T Block Party was a breeze.

Preston Jones, 817-390-7713 Twitter: @prestonjones

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