Reprinted from some editions of yesterday's GlobeMANSFIELD -- The sight of cowboy hats is as rare in New England as "I Love New York" T-shirts at Fenway Park. It means either folks are still hung over from last year's Red Sox "cowboy up" campaign or a country music festival has hit the Tweeter Center. The latter was the case Saturday night, and Stetsons were out in full force as superstar Tim McGraw, the duo Big & Rich, and the Warren Brothers turned this town into Nashville for a night.
The muscular McGraw, in tank top, jeans, and, yes, black cowboy hat, has a six-pack of charisma and a U-Haul of first-rate songs. He came out smoking, with some early highlights including the Eagles-flavored "Illegal" and the sweetly melodic "Unbroken." The sold-out house treated him like a conquering hero from the get-go, and with his eight-piece band, the Dancehall Doctors, McGraw reigned supreme for nearly two hours.
Playing on a clean, multitiered stage with a bevy of video screens -- some of which mechanically moved back and forth overhead throughout the night -- the singer accentuated the breezy, ingratiating songs from his catalog. "Watch the Wind Blow By" was a wistful ballad put across effortlessly, and he cruised through "Red Ragtop" and the understated "She's My Kind of Rain," which was spiced by a rap break from guest Cowboy Troy.
It's easy to see why McGraw is so popular. There's a tasteful simplicity to his music, with an underlying sincerity that seduces during these often cynical times. It helps that he surrounds himself with stellar players, including lead guitarist Darran Smith, who juiced a number of songs with tart fills, and fiddle player Dean Brown, who added texture and dimension to the entire set.
McGraw also has some fiercer crossover moves than Allen Iverson as he strays from country to rock with muscle and adds plenty of pop sheen. He did play an acoustic set, during which he debuted a good new song, "My Old Friend," from a forthcoming record, and played his early hit "Don't Take the Girl."
But the night was dominated by hot-wired, guitar-based songs such as "I Like It, I Love It" (during which, oddly, Glenn Close appeared to wipe him down with a towel), "Indian Outlaw," and "Real Good Man." McGraw is a fierce populist at heart -- he invited numerous fans onstage and signed countless autographs at night's end -- and he can pull off a melodramatic can of corn such as "Live Like You Were Dying" like a country-fried Bono. Understandably, the masses don't just like him, they love him.
Genre-bending openers Big & Rich played a rousing set of witty, tuneful songs informed by everything from rock to hip-hop. Their record, "Horse of a Different Color," is a smart, potent disc that stands up to the most crafty pop out now. The Warren Brothers played a short, brisk, but effective early set and were well received.