There’s nothing we here at Keepin’ It Country love more than live music, so it only made sense to put together a list of some of our favorite live tracks to share with you all, our lovely readers! This particular list is made up of only live tracks from 2000 – 2012, mostly because trying to go through the entire live history of country music turned out to be a bit daunting. Also, all tracks in consideration had to have been released commercially at some point, so no bootlegs here! (Though that could easily be another list.)
Now that the fine print is out of the way, check out our picks below!
10. Love & Theft – “Don’t Wake Me” – Live in Savannah EP
Love & Theft’s performance of “Don’t Wake Me,” off of the band’s Live in Savannah EP, highlights everything that’s great about the group. Three (now two) great looking guys singing perfect harmonies on killer pop-country songs. Any cut from this album could have made our list, but this was a personal favorite. The band gained certain notoriety when Taylor Swift wrote “Hey Stephen” about member Stephen Barker Liles, but if Love & Theft can keep their moment going with live shows like this one there’s a good chance they’ll give Rascal Flatts a run for their money in a few years.
9. Kenny Chesney – “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy – Live Those Songs Again
Kenny Chesney has long ruled the country music touring circuit; one of the few acts in any genre that can consistently sell out stadiums, so it should be no surprise that he made our list. “Tractor” is a reminder of exactly what makes Kenny so fun to see live. It’s a fun summertime party with the best soundtrack.
Check out the rest of the list after the jump!
8. Carrie Underwood – “I’ll Stand By You” – I’ll Stand By You – Single
American Idol’s reigning sales Queen, Carrie Underwood returned to the Idol stage in 2007 to perform a cover of the classic “I’ll Stand By You” during the charitable Idol Gives Back episode. The performance is quintessentially Carrie – Can nyone can deliver a vocal performance quite as flawlessly as this girl? And though Underwood is often criticized for her sometimes robotic, unemotional performances, this delivery was spot on. It’s a perfect example of the sonic gold that happens when a great song is paired with an incredible vocalist.
7. Martina McBride – “This One’s For the Girls” – Martina McBride: Live in Concert
This song is a feel good, girl power track that serves as a rallying cry in concert. With a catchy hook and a positive message Martina makes sure everyone is on their feet and, in this version, peppers in a few “We’re in the together anecdotes.” It’s also a great vehicle to show off her strong, powerful, full-bodied voice. And, as a fellow Kansan, I like to see folks from my own backyard succeed.
6. Miranda Lambert – “The House That Built Me” – Revolution: Live By Candlelight EP
While not a huge departure from the actual album cut, a Best Female Country Performance Grammy for the song would indicate that it doesn’t need to be. The track works entirely because of the lyrics, which Lambert delivers perfectly. Perhaps one of the best parts of this performance isn’t the track itself, but is the between song banter during which Lambert reveals that she heard the song on a demo tape for hubby Blake Shelton. Clearly, juicy insider info fans love.
5. Sugarland – “Come On Get Higher” – Love on the Inside (Deluxe Fan Edition)
As a writer for this blog, this is probably politically incorrect of me, but I’m going to say it: Jennifer Nettles has the best voice in country music today. I can’t even pretend to be unbiased about this band and their cover of Matt Nathanson’s “Come on Get Higher” is a standout track on the group’s multi-platinum selling Love on the Inside. With already heady lyrics, Nettles gives the song a sexy vibe and partner Kristian Bush adds perfectly complimentary backing vocals and guitar on this acoustic number.
4. Keith Urban – “You’ll Think of Me” – Livin’ Right Now DVD
It’s impossible to talk about Keith Urban and not talk about his incredible guitar playing. While this song might not show off the height of his abilities, it’s still incredible to watch a killer guitar player at work. The song itself is an uplifting number about pulling through a breakup and, while the entire song is a standout, it’s the final, passionate minute of the performance that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
3. Kelly Clarkson – “Up on the Mountain” – Idol Gives Back
In 2007, Kelly Clarkson was asked by her label to perform her current single on Idol Gives Back, American Idol’s annual charity show. Thinking that the event wasn’t an appropriate place to pimp her current material, she chose instead to cover “Up to the Mountain,” an inspiring song written by country-folk great Patty Griffin. Thank God she did. Join onstage with legendary guitarist Jeff Beck, Clarkson’s rootsy, soulful voice was on full display. Mean judge Simon Cowell later commented about the performance, “When you let her come back on the show it makes everybody else look like an amateur.” Enough said.
2. Dixie Chicks – “Cowboy Take Me Away” – Top of the World Tour Live
Before the Dixie Chicks became punching bags for the right wing, they were three incredible country girls who wrote universal songs and sold a lot of albums and ticket sales doing it. This song, “Cowboy Take Me Away,” is one of their finest. Co-written by group member Martie Maguire, the track is a simple love song about needing only your man by your side. The song is performed beautifully and with emotion that is more ingrained than on the album, a sure treat for any fan of the trio.
1. Zac Brown Band – “Oh My Sweet Carolina” – You Get What You Give (Deluxe Version)
It was hard to pick a true winner for this list because these are all incredible live performances and, let’s be honest, this whole thing is completely subjective anyway. (I’d like to shamelessly plug our comments section below to share your own favorites.) But for me, a great live performance happens when a great song and the right artist come together and deliver something completely unexpected that keeps an audience captivated. Zac Brown Band’s “Oh My Sweet Carolina” delivers on all accounts. The track is a Ryan Adam’s cover but Zac Brown Band’s delivery creates a different journey for the song altogether. While Adams’ version comes off as a bit depressed and hopeless looking back on his life choices, Zac Brown Band transforms the song to something that sounds nostolgic and almost hopeful. It’s a beautiful number and a fantastic inclusion on the You Get What You Give Deluxe Edition.
So, that’s it Keepin’ It Countryers! Did you love our list? Do you think we’re crazy for leaving out one of your favorites? Let us know below!