Quick story … I was at Game 6 of the 1980 World Series.
Now if you’re not a baseball geek or a Phillies’ fan, you may not realize the significance of that game. It was when the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Kansas City Royals to win their first-ever World Series, after trying for almost 100 years.
Phillies’ relief pitcher Tug McGraw was the hero of the night, striking out Royals’ outfielder Willie Wilson in the ninth and securing a 4-1 win.
Though I was just a small child at the time, I will never forget that moment: McGraw leaping in the air after the third strike, third baseman Mike Schmidt jumping into his arms and my dad, brother and pop-pop all screaming and cheering wildly along with over 68,000 other jubilant fans.
The game was like watching a theatrical performance, filed with highs and lows, drama and excitement (remember the foul fly ball that bounced off Bob Boone’s glove and Pete Rose wound up catching?) and McGraw was the lead actor positioned directly on center stage.
Fast-forward almost 40 years, and I found myself watching Tug’s son, country music superstar, Tim McGraw on a stage of a different kind at the Mark Estess Arena at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City last night.
In the halls of Hard Rock prior to the show, you could tell which guests were planning to attend. Men and women in cowboy hats, boots and plaid shirts could be seen weaving between tall, thin and well-manicured women in all-black ensembles cinched with Gucci belts and men with all-things shiny: shoes, shirts and hair.
When the house lights dimmed, half of McGraw’s band entered from stage right, the other from stage left. McGraw came on from upstage center in a stream of flashing lights and electricity.
At 51, the seemingly ageless McGraw, dressed in skin-tight jeans, a printed shirt with Bengal tigers that was unbuttoned just far enough to see his smooth, taut chest, and, of course, his signature black cowboy hat, opened the night with “Truck, Yeah” before moving into “Southern Voice,” during which he laughed and admitted he forgot the words.
The concert as a whole served as a full-blown retrospective of McGraw’s nearly 30-year career, pleasing fans young and old. It included older songs such as “All I Want is a Life,” “Something Like That” and “For a Little While,” in which the talented drummer held fast to a steady backbeat that the audience immediately hooked on to, as well as a string of newer songs like “Thought About You,” “Neon Church” and “One of Those Nights.”
On and off throughout the show, McGraw would stop to humbly acknowledge his good fortune, giving shout outs to his mom Betty, who was in the audience, and his famous wife Faith Hill, as well as recognize his unique situation of not merely performing for, but recording a song by Sir Elton John, “Tiny Dancer.”
During the big crowd-pleaser “It Felt Good on my Lips,” the band playfully acted up, tossing guitar picks into the audience. After, McGraw bent down to speak to a young girl in the front row who asked him to sing “My Little Girl” for her. He sweetly held her hand for a few bars, struggling to remember the lyrics. He turned to his band for help with no luck, joking, “C’mon! No one? It was a big hit!” He did, however, know the words to “Happy Birthday,” which he sang directly to an audience member who held up a sign requesting that of him.
“I Like It, I Love It” shook up the arena. Dancing audience members went particularly went wild when he switched up some lyrics to, “I ain’t seen the Phillies play a game all year,” an obvious nod to not only the region where he was performing, but to his late dad as well.
The ballad “Humble and Kind” proved to be that song in any concert where thousands of cell phone flashlights turn on in droves, creating a beautiful firefly-like ballet. It continued during his final song, “Live Like You Were Dying,” which he strongly encouraged the audience to sing along with him.
The band took a quick respite off stage before returning for a two-song encore beginning with “Real Good Man” and ending with McGraw’s first Top 40 hit “Indian Outlaw.”
Before leaving the stage for the night, McGraw ran back and forth, high-fiving everyone in the front row as he bid folks good night.
He performs again tonight, and Hard Rock just announced that McGraw will give audiences yet another opportunity to see him perform when he returns on June 28 and 29.
TIM MCGRAW SETLIST, HARD ROCK A.C., FEB. 1, 2019
1. Truck, Yeah
2. Southern Voice
3. All I Want is a Life
4. Something Like That
5. Shotgun Rider
6. Where the Green Grass Grows
7. For a Little While
8. Red Ragtop
9. Tiny Dancer
11. Thought About You
12. Neon Church
13. One of Those Nights
14. It Felt Good on My Lips
15. I Like It, I Love It
16. Humble and Kind
17. Live Like You Were Dying
18. Real Good Man
19. Indian Outlaw