There were whistles and shouts emanating from the Schermerhorn Symphony Center audience on Thursday night as a tall gentleman in a sequined jacket walked onstage and picked up an acoustic guitar. Randy Travis began his three-night engagement with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra with his 1994 hit, “Whisper My Name,” and he had the audience singing along by the first chorus.
He took the stage after a short opening performance by the Nashville Symphony. Conductor Albert-George Schram talked the audience through each piece with his usual enthusiasm. They chose accessible pieces for the country music-loving audience, including a raucous “Tribute to Irving Berlin.” The Symphony’s best piece of the night, however, was Terry Mizesko’s “Appalachian Lament,” a simple and beautiful work that featured a stunning performance from Radu Rusu on French horn.
Travis and his eight-piece band began after a brief intermission. As he soared through hit after hit, it was amazing to see just how prolific he has been in his 25-year career. Audience favorites included 2003 hit “Three Wooden Crosses,” and 1988’s “Deeper Than the Holler.” It may have taken a few songs to get there, but his recognizable voice was bright and clear, and those deep, rumbling lows were as good as ever. It is impressive to watch such a seasoned performer sing songs he has sung thousands of times. He precisely and effortlessly glided from song to song, each tune’s signature licks so ingrained in him that he couldn’t change them if he tried.
The orchestral arrangements were tasteful and understated, never drawing the focus away from the songs’ messages about love, life and God. In a particularly beautiful moment in “He Walked on Water,” the violins danced around the steel guitar’s melody with the accuracy and ease we expect from the Nashville Symphony. The orchestra sat out on some of the more rowdy country numbers, a wise choice on songs like “Diggin’ Up Bones,” during which lead guitarist Rick Wayne Money threw guitar picks at the audience (for maybe the first and only time that’s happened on the Schermerhorn stage).
A member of the New Traditionalist movement in country music, Travis’ career began in the 1980s, and he has seven GRAMMY Awards, ten ACM Awards, and five CMA honors. A tumultuous personal life has garnered him some negative media attention, but the audience wasn’t holding that against him Thursday night.
Between songs, it was easy to hear the calls of “I love you, Randy!” from various corners of the audience. “I love you, too,” Travis replied each time with a grin. At the end of the night, he graciously thanked the Nashville Symphony and the audience for allowing him to be there. And, it was clear that he was talking to his fans when he sang the hook from the last tune of the night: “I’m gonna love you forever and ever. Forever and ever, Amen.”
IF YOU GO
Randy Travis performs his hits in a pops concert with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. Performances are 8 p.m. Friday, March 8 and Saturday, March 9 at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Tickets are $28 to $129. Call 687-6400 or click here.