Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, September 1st 2013
“I want you to get your money’s worth,” Justin Moore joked to the crowd packed around the tiny stage outside Heinz Stadium’s scoreboard on Sunday night. Given that the concert was free, he added “You get what you pay for though, so I could have sucked!” The hoards laughed — it was funny because The Inky Jukebox can attest that his performance as part of the annual Rib Festival did not suck. Far from it: it was finger-lickin’, lip-smackin’ good.
Billed by the festival as a one-hour set, Moore in fact played for two. That’s value for money right there. And if you arrived on the scene during the set changeover (Drew Baldridge opened), you could snag a spot right up to the stage. By the time he came on (earlier than scheduled), it was filled with die-hard fans, only a few of which appeared to be from the actual country.
If this had been a Burgettstown show, that would have been a very different demographic. Still, they were all boozed up and happy, crowd surfing and generally singing and hollering along to every single word. Hey — it was a free show on the banks of the Ohio on a hot summer night; parking was cheap, Heinz Field’s Steeler pavilion was open to the public, there was a vast array of world-class ribs available a few hundred feet away, and they came double-fisting big cans of beer.
From the stage the band’s view was the interior of a lit-up Heinz Field to one side and the downtown Pittsburgh skyline reflecting in the water to the other. Moore and the band delivered a set packed full of his hits, along with the crowd pleasers (“I Can Kick Your Ass”).
He threw in some Randy Houser and Josh Thompson to advertize his upcoming tour, where they will be opening for him. He saved “Small Town USA” until the end, a sentimental favorite, after which the crowd gave a deafening chant — Justin…Justin…Justin, which morphed into USA…USA…USA. It was a moving moment; he hung his hat on his mic stand and crouched on the stage fighting back tears.
This intimate connection was furthered by Moore’s ad-libbing repartee with the crowd throughout his show. To the absolute delight of everyone, he threw in an acoustic version of “Grandpa,” which hadn’t been on the set list, but was requested at a meet-and-greet.
This kind of interaction with his core base is what builds the kind of serious loyalty that fuels a long career.
In a twist from a regular encore (The Inky Jukebox had hoped and prayed for “Outlaw Like Me”), Moore came back out clad in a Steelers cap instead of his signature cowboy hat, alone, with an acoustic guitar, and proceeded to give a two-song preview of as-yet unheard songs from his upcoming album. They were great, especially “One Dirt Road,” which he indicated would be his next single. He peppered this with an impromptu medley of covers.
In case anyone has looked up which songs appear on the new album, The Inky Jukebox can reveal that “I'd Want It To Be Yours” is a humorous song about women’s bottoms. He literally played his way off the stage, spent.
“You get what you pay for,” he’d quipped earlier. We did: it was priceless.
Off The Beaten Path comes out September 17.