Alabama brings Mountain Music to York State Fair

The iconic country group played a variety of hits

There comes a time in every artists’ career where the need for pretense falls away. No longer is it about matching outfits, long hair ‘dos, or the need to “brand” themselves for the masses. They just get to be.

And this was true when Alabama strolled on stage a little after 8:30 pm at the York State Fair Bobcat Grandstand last night (Sun, July 25th) wearing jeans and simple collared shirts. The message was clear: there was no need for this group to prove themselves. They had done that for 50 years. On that night, it was all about music… and family.

Seventy-one-year-old cousins Randy Owen (lead vocals, guitar) and Teddy Gentry (bass) have been two-thirds of the trio making up Alabama for a half-century. Their third cousin, Jeff Cook, has ceased touring with the band for now due to complications from a late-2010s diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. The band paid tribute to their missing member with photos and stories throughout the night.

The group might be called Alabama, but their catalogue reads like a musical journey below the Mason-Dixon line. There are the deep, low chords that recall the deep south in songs like “Pass it on Down.” The wheat fields of the flatlands are represented in “High Cotton.” “Tennessee River” pays tribute to the Volunteer State.

“Dancin’ Shaggin’ on the Boulevard” speaks directly to the group’s formative time in South Carolina, where “Shag music,” Teddy told the crowd, was what they needed to play in order to earn tips. And of course, the down-home fiddle and driving beat of “Mountain Music” recalls whatever mountains you prefer. For yours truly, it’s the Ozarks and the Appalachians.

Throughout the set, Owen and Gentry bantered like the family they are. Owen and Gentry shared stories as if adopting the crowd as their own grandchildren just sitting around the rocking chair. The crowd ate up every tidbit.

Owen gave a special shout out to his guitar tech Slo-Hand (no “W”). He also thanked the promoter for booking them in after a cancellation (Pitbull — Alabama is unquestionably an upgrade.) It is clear the affection the group has for their band and family runs deep.

And the band is also family. Megan Owen, daughter of former member Jackie Owen stepped in on fiddle, and tore it up. Her proud uncle Randy mentioned that she had married Jackie’s son, and that the pair are expecting their first child.

Jeff Cook pulled the job of two people, as Gary Mode also stepped in for him on vocals and keyboard. Mode gave a stirring rendition of “How Do You Fall in Love?”

To watch Teddy Gentry and Randy Owen perform is a stoic affair. There is no bombast. Only pure voice. They switch from grandfatherly conversationalists to powerful country crooners in an instant. All of that energy they are not consuming running around the stage like madmen is let out through their vocals.

Alabama may be 50 years in, but their fanbase crosses generations. From boomers to millennials to the newest generation, there is something for everyone in the way Alabama’s music so beautifully paints the colors of our country. Whether it’s across a Tennessee River or over a Mountain, run to hear this Music.

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Matt Bailey
Matt Bailey is podcast producer and writer located in the Northeast. Since 2013, Bailey has produced more than 160 episodes of his own online radio show, Talk For Two. In 2016 alone, he interviewed Kevin Bacon, Crystal Gayle, Bob Barker, and Gilbert Gottfried, among several other stars. As a Correspondent for The Music Universe, his focus is Broadway, country music and concert reviews.
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