The Jason Aldean party at PNC Park Saturday night had a few things that the Luke Bryan one last month didn't, including a pre-emptive strike from the mayor on tailgate behavior, a thunderstorm and one show-stealing leading lady.
This baseball version of the sold-out country-rock spectacle kicked off with a condensed tailgate due to later parking lot gate times, no doubt resulting in more beers being shotgunned and more energetic corn hole games. Right next to a red pick-up truck flashing its Confederate colors was a family with a neon green sign that said "Green 4 Aldean," so even though there was no "please clean up" tweet from the Aldean camp, the message seemed to get through country fans were on probation in Pittsburgh.
Kansas City newcomer Tyler Farr, sporting a Pirates tank, went on before the advertised time to a sparse stadium making songs like "Redneck Crazy" a little less crazy.
The radio-friendly, genre-hopping Florida Georgia Line batted second and was a big hit with the fans thanks to the catchy party anthems and rock-star vibe of long-haired Tyler Hubbard, who leads the group with Brian Kelley.
They were on a roll with "It'z Just What We Do" and a sing-along of "Round Here," among others, but when the dark clouds opened up, they cut right to smash hit "Cruise." With the crowd doing a rain dance, it definitely felt like the windows were down and the radio was up.
With the rain passed for the lady, Miranda Lambert, rocking a black tank top and pink guitar, hit the stage like a blond Joan Jett on "Fastest Girl in Town." The girl from Texas brought a nice female touch to this bro-country party, with plenty of spunk and twang, and vocal chops even the harshest critics aren't going to mess with. "A 21st Century blend of Dolly and Loretta Lynn," says PG blogger and country historian Rich Kienzle. Maybe one part Shania in there, too.
She came with a batch of songs -- like "All Kinds of Kinds," "Famous in a Small Town" and "Mama's Broken Heart" -- that are infinitely more clever and heartfelt and varied than the dude-country ones.
Her ripping into "Little Red Wagon" with that high sassy voice and sexy swagger was the "wow" moment of the night. When she followed that by revving up ZZ Top's "Gimme All Your Lovin'" and a nasty "Gunpowder & Lead," we all could have gone home thinking we got our money's worth.
She laughed about the rain turning the show into a bad hair day and "one big wet T-shirt contest." It would have been worth standing in it to listen to her, because in this dubious mainstream country game, you can put Miranda Lambert at the top.
The DJ got the crowd pumped with everything from Wiz Khalifa to Neil Diamond to AC/DC for the headliner, who came on with a blaze of pyro and his rugged first hit, "Hicktown." He had a dazzling stage set in front of the city skyline and a band, cranked to the max, that could sound as much like Poison or Motley Crue as anything country. You could probably hear them in the North Hills.
Jason doesn't bring the over-the-top friendly showmanship of his buddy Luke -- he's more comfortable at the mic with his guitar -- but he's got a richer baritone that he applied to sturdy country rockers like "Big Green Tractor," "Johnny Cash" and "Take a Little Ride." He needed that big voice the way the guitars were screaming and snarling around him.
Even "Don't You Wanna Stay" (with Kelly Clarkson on video) was souped-up beyond power ballad.
His muscular country songs about open roads and four on the floor drew chants of "USA! USA!." turning it into a pride rally of the all-American kind.
He was well served by that cowboy hat, too, because the rain was back for his set in a big way. "What's a little rain when you're having good time?" he said, and the fans agreed, hanging in there while he powered through "Night Train," "The Only Way I Know" (with FGL) and lightning strikes for "Crazy Town," forcing him to cut the set a few songs short.
This stuff isn't everyone's country -- or everyone's rock -- but there was no denying its sheer full-throttle power with the city of steel behind it.
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @scottmervis_pg.