Whisperin’ Bill Anderson, April 28, 2018: Shows I’ll Never Forget

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Gobbler Theater at Johnson Creek, Wisconsin: Absolutely unflappable. Professionalism at its highest level. Completely in control of performance and audience. Although not an advertised part of the concert, Whisperin’ Bill Anderson gave his Wisconsin admirers a clinic on ‘How to Deal with Performance Adversity.’

Anderson was singing “A Lot of Things Different” — a ballad about life’s regrets that he had introduced as “a personal favorite” among his own compositions. The performer was well into the emotional heart of the number when sheriff’s deputies briskly moved to the lip of the stage. Paramedics soon followed; a stretcher was unfolded and an unconscious woman was carried out. Anderson neither paused nor acknowledged the medical dilemma.

He delivered the song’s recitation while making riveted eye contact with individual audience members and, by doing so, connected deeply with the entire room. Anderson never wavered, insuring that the audience overcame all distractions and remained focused on his song. It was remarkable showmanship.

A patriotic number followed — “Old Army Hat,” one extolling selflessness and dedication. This was an unintentionally appropriate follow-up, for the audience had just witnessed Whisperin’ Bill Anderson’s own unflinching dedication to his music and to his fans.

Country performers are proud of their heritage. Anderson spoke of his induction into the Grand Ole Opry in 1961 and then played his first Opry song — a favorite called “Po’ Folks.” He did “City Lights,” and asked the audience if they knew why he had just sung a big hit by Ray Price. Anderson added that he’d written “City Lights” in 1957.

“That’s the song that got me to Nashville,” he said, and then played other songs that had been hits for country music colleagues, including Lefty Frizzell’s “Saginaw, Michigan” and Connie Smith’s “Once a Day.” “Those all started out at my house,” he said, smiling.

The set was drenched in history, but Bill Anderson refuses to live in the past. He mentioned some of his recent co-writers, including Jamey Johnson; together they penned “Give It Away,” the 2006 hit for George Strait.

Whisperin’ Bill’s vocal mannerisms are very recognizable, and it was during the second number, “Wild Weekend,” that the singer and his band truly combined for the unmistakable Anderson sound. The backing group of electric bass, drums, fiddle, and keyboards provided a comfortable setting for the star’s singing and frequent narratives. One of the very few disappointments of the night came when banjo and mandolin solos were artificially replicated by the electric keyboard.

Anderson ended with one of his own best known hits, “Still.” Returning for the encore, he asked what the audience wanted to hear. So many requests were shouted from these 400 fans that the star had trouble discerning titles, finally settling on another hit he had written for himself, “I Get the Fever.” This was followed by a novelty number, “Peel Me a Nanner,” and the show closed with the Hank Williams evergreen “I Saw the Light.”

People left the theater happy — happy that Whisperin’ Bill Anderson was still touring, and grateful that he had come so far north for this performance. I learned later that the woman who left on the stretcher was fine. She had been so excited at the prospect of seeing Anderson in person that she neglected to eat. Her priority of country music over food would have been applauded by much of this audience.

Whisperin’ Bill Anderson set list, April 28, 2018

But You Know I Love You
Wild Weekend
Po’ Folks
Two Teardrops
Country Singer
City Lights
Saginaw, Michigan
Once a Day
Give it Away
A Lot of Things Different
Old Army Hat
Mama Sang a Song
Precious Memories
Fever (request)
Peel Me a Nanner
I Saw the Light

Tom Wilmeth is the author of ‘Sound Bites: A Lifetime of Listening,’ which has earned raves from the likes of Gary Burton and Hal Holbrook. It’s available now from Muleshoe Press via Amazon.

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