PLAINS TWP. — Country star Josh Turner christened the new Keystone Grand Ballroom at the Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs on Sunday with 90 minutes of his bone-shaking baritone and traditional-sounding songs.
In the new venue’s first open-to-the-public event (comedian Jay Leno did a private show on Saturday night), Turner, the 36-year-old singer from Hannah, S.C., sang all of his biggest hits plus seven of the 11 songs from his most-recent album.
Since that album and tour is called “Punching Bag,” Turner was cleverly brought to the stage like a prize fighter, complete with an introduction from Michael Buffer (the “Let’s get ready to rumble!” guy) on the big screens behind the stage.
Entering the ring with the title tune from the album that was released in June 2012 and peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and No. 4 on the all-genre Billboard 200, Turner and his seven-piece band of country traditionalists (which includes his wife, Jennifer, on keyboards and backing vocals) pleased the sold-out crowd with tunes built around fiddles, pedal steel, mandolins and acoustic guitars.
“Look how great of a crowd you are,” he said about halfway through his set. “I hear it is sold out. Thank you for showing up. Without you it’s just a glorified sound check.
“I was doing an interview this afternoon,” he continued, “and I said I had been here before. They said, ‘No you haven’t, it’s brand new.’ After being on tour for 12 years, you get a little confused, but I am so honored to be here for the grand opening.”
The showroom itself, located inside the new hotel and convention center at the Plains Township casino and horse racing complex, looks to be a wonderful place to see concerts. The comfortable, non-permanent chairs didn’t seem to be on top of one another and offered plenty of leg room, the stage seemed to be very close to the audience and the sound was top notch. There were no lines at Will Call 10 to 15 minutes before the scheduled start time and the usher helped me to my seat quickly and efficiently in the dark.
Only problem was the show began about 30 minutes early (the tickets and website information indicated doors would open at 7 p.m. and the start time was 8). While that may not seem like a negative to most concert-goers, it meant the opening act, up-and-coming country singer Rachel Bradshaw, was finishing up her set when I got there.
From the one song I witnessed (“Red Dress”), Bradshaw, the daughter of NFL Hall of Famer Terry who will release her debut album later this year, seemed to have a really good voice and a great stage presence.
Not sure if that was a venue snafu or an over-eager artist on her first tour, but I’m sure that will be worked out with a little more practice for both parties.
Highlights of Turner’s set – and there were many – included “Cold Shoulder,” “Find Me a Baby” and “Time Is Love” from the new album, a gospel-flavored medley of “Me and God” and “For the Love of God” (also from the new record), and No. 1 hits “Your Man,” “Would You Go With Me” and “All Over Me.”
Other standouts included his breakthrough song, “Long Black Train”; “Everything Is Fine”, his set-closer, “Firecracker,” and his two-song encore of new song “Deeper Than My Love” and No. 1 smash “Why Don’t We Just Dance.”
All in all, it was a very fine way to usher in the new showroom.
Next events scheduled at the Keystone Grand Ballroom include comedian and “SNL” alum Darrell Hammond on Feb. 8 and John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band (famous for the “Eddie and the Cruisers” movies) on Feb. 21.