Ronnie Milsap promised to arrive at The Event Center at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Saturday night with his “secret weapon” — his band. But he also brought along the big gun — his voice!
Nashville recording artist Risa Binder opened for Milsap, singing a few songs from her six-song EP/CD, including “Nashville,” a song she wrote on the flight to her move to Music City, and the song that set her on the path to pursue country music as a career, Deana Carter’s “Strawberry Wine.” She closed her set with the upbeat and empowering “Light It Up,” a song she wrote about following the dream in your heart “because it’s there for a reason,” she said introducing the song.
After a short break to reset the stage, the curtains opened with Milsap’s band and the singer/songwriter seated at his piano, center stage, dressed in black with a colorful rhinestone design on the yoke of his shirt. The venue features two big screens on either side of the stage, giving the audience a good view of what’s happening on stage.
With dozens of hits to his credit, Milsap couldn’t sing them all (or “we’d be here until Thursday” his music programmer and band member quipped). But he did squeeze a whole lot of them into a couple of medleys, including “Prisoner of the Highway” and “Any Day Now” in the opening set.
“Thank you for the 40 No. 1 hits,” he said, before launching into “I Wouldn’t Have Missed It for the World.”
“I like singing all those songs,” Milsap said of his hits. “I’m going to play the songs I was singing in the ’80s.” Cue the applause and another medley: “What A Difference You Made in My Life,” “No Getting Over Me,” “Where Do the Nights Go?” “Let’s Take the Long Way Around the World,” “She Keeps the Home Fires Burning” … .
If you want to know what country is or was, then Milsap is the definition. There’s love and heartbreak and love that works (he’s been married to his wife Joyce for 50 years). The show was part of his A Legend in My Time Tour, which he said in a phone interview last week, is not his final tour as far as he knows — he loves country music and loves what he does and is working on a duets album with guest artists including Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean and Keith Urban.
“I love country, but I love the classic country. I’m always looking for classic country songs,” he said. That led into him singing “I’d Be a Legend In My Time”: If heartaches brought fame In love’s crazy game, I’d be a legend in my time. If they gave gold statuettes for tears and regrets, I’d be a legend in my time …. .
“You could walk the streets of Nashville for months and never find a song that good,” he said.
Following that was another medley of hits including “Back on my Mind Again,” “Lost in the Fifties” (for which he won a Grammy), “Daydreams About Night Things” and “Almost Like a Song” — that’s a beautiful love song and a sad love song: … “the flame became a dying ember, it was also almost like a song but it’s too sad to write” — ending with an awesome Ronnie Milsap power note. He’s 71 now, but still has the voice.
No pickup trucks, no beer, no sliding on over in these songs, but some thundering piano licks, something Milsap said he never forgot with his recording sessions with Elvis Presley and “the king’s” “Kentucky Rain.” He told how he met Ray Charles who encouraged him to follow his heart and become a professional musician, and honored his late friend by singing “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” Charles loved singing “country western” songs, Milsap said.
When he performed his hit “Smoky Mountain Rain,” he told how he got to thinking about Elvis’ telling him to give his piano “more thunder” on “Kentucky Rain” and “I got to thinking more thunder would work on this song.” It did, and still does!
“America is a very exceptional place,” Milsap said. “People say ‘if so-and-so is elected I’m going to move.’ Move where?!! It doesn’t get any better than this, here in West Virginia!”
With that, he closed the show with a heart-felt performance of “America the Beautiful,” a performance that brought a hush over the venue and the audience to their feet.