By Lora Kaelber Special to Published Mar 24, 2018 at 10:56 AM

At the outset, I really just want to say that this review would have been so much more enthusiastic if Granger Smith’s sound hadn’t been so, well, brutal. Right from the start, it was heavily reliant on bass, which can be fine. But as the concert progressed, it not only became nearly impossible to hear what Smith was singing, but it was like being one of the dice in a Yahtzee cup. Pretty sure that’s why about halfway through his set, people started leaving.

That said, while I had absolutely no idea what to expect walking into Granger Smith’s show on Friday night at the Miller High Life Theater, I was looking forward to what looked to be a solid lineup of country music. Admittedly, I’m not super familiar with Smith’s discography except the few songs that have charted and seen tons of airplay on mainstream country radio. But still, I was hoping for good things.

What I certainly didn't expect was the party in the lobby right off the bat. Goodwill was there selling country attire from cowboy hats to flannel shirts and pretty much everything in between for $5 a pop. It was a really cool way to blend a fundraiser in with a concert – and I hope they did well.

Before Granger Smith hit the stage, Walker McGuire and Runaway June laid down two beautifully great sets.

Walker McGuire brought its own brand of rock country to Milwaukee with its seven-song set. These guys are breaking through the chaff that is so much of mainstream, sound-the-same country today.

Walker McGuire’s set included their newest single, "Lost." Pretty sure this song is poised to be their next hit. The guys also played "Hurricane" which Jordan Walker co-wrote with Luke Combs. Funny story: Walker said the song is about Combs's actual ex-girlfriend and her mom, who were both texting and calling while Combs and Walker were trying to write. "Hurricane" had the crowd on its feet, dancing and singing along. Watch for these guys. You'll see them again soon.

Next up was Runaway June, a sassy trio of women reminiscent of the Pistol Annies only not quite as gritty. With tight, brilliant harmonies, Runaway June flew onto the stage with the original song "Train Whistle." Fair to say they held the audience during their eight-song set – even though, by that point, the crowd was pretty rowdy.

These super talented ladies have been nominated for their first ACM, and after Friday’s set, I can definitely see why. They performed some killer covers, including Eric Paslay’s rip-your-heart-out "She Don't Love You." But they were at their best during their original songs, including their Top 25 hit, "Lipstick." Such a solid song.

I can't tell you how refreshing it was to hear great female country artists live. Their talent earns them a long-term seat at the table. I seriously hope they see more airplay in the future.

And then Granger Smith took the stage. He led with "Gimme Something" and ripped through the next eight or so songs with very little break – all good stuff, a mix of new, old and covers. His run from Tom Petty’s "Free Fallin’" straight into "Backroad Song" was super smooth. I also, totally dug Smith’s fresh take on Alabama’s "I’m in a Hurry (And Don’t Know Why)" with its rock heavy beat.

The sound pitfall came somewhere around "19 Forever" where I was literally catching bits of the lyrics to take notes on and look up later because I absolutely couldn’t hear the song over the bass. My whole body was vibrating – and not on the good way.

Right after that, Granger Smith paid tribute to the approximately 70 men and women brought in by the U.S.O. – first responders and veterans – saying, "I’m going to tell you that we feel very blessed. And I’m going to tell you that we feel like we are allowed to play music because you guys are the best fans in the world, you come, you support country music like this. We feel like we have people overseas fighting for our rights to do what we do." He thanked the first responders that keep people safe at country concerts. He closed his tribute by saying, "We have a lot of things to count our blessings for, for sure."

The rest of the show was good, but he continually lost the audience on every song where the bass overtook the singing – which was most of them. Even a major hit like Garth Brooks's "Ain't Going Down" was so bass-laden, it was so hard to hear. After "Merica," people started to leave. Again, it’s really a shame because the show could have been insane.

Even an encore from his alter ego Earl Dibbles, Jr. couldn’t make up for the sound issues. It was fun to see Earl in action – and even more so to see him shotgun and explode a beer can at the end – but the show should have been about the music and not Earl’s antics.

While I didn’t know much about Granger Smith heading into Friday’s show, one thing I did know was that he’s a guy with true heart, one who puts his fans above all the commercialism that’s become country music. To promote "When the Good Guys Win," Smith decided to tour the country doing some pop-up meet and greets. He also said he’d call the first 15,000 fans who bought the album.

And then he did. He called them all. And in the course of that, he spoke to a woman who wanted to get to one of his pop-ups but had to work instead. Enter how much Granger Smith gets that fans are everything: He re-routed the tour bus to head two hours off track to meet this woman and give her a moment she'll never forget. She cried. He cried. I cried. It was a watershed moment.

Who can’t love an artist who does this?

So while I wasn’t sure what to expect – and the sound failed him – knowing he's good people would bring me back to see him again live. He’ll do great things in this life. And we’ll keep hearing from Granger Smith. For sure. 

Granger Smith setlist

"Gimme Something"
"Country Boy Love"
"Free Fallin’/The Backroad Song"
"Still Holds Up"
"I'm in a Hurry (And Don't Know Why) - Alabama cover
"Silverado Bench Seat"
"City Boy Stuck"
"When the Good Guys Win"
"19 Forever"
"I Don't Even Know Your Name" - Alan Jackson cover
"Everybody Lives"
"You're in It"
"Happens Like That"
"Ain't Goin’ Down (Til the Sun Comes Up) Garth Brooks cover
"Don't Tread on Me"
"If the Boot Fits"

Encore by Earl Dibbles, Jr.
"The Country Boy Song"

Runaway June setlist

"Train Whistle"
"Forget Her"
"Somebody Like You" - Keith Urban cover
"Wild West"
"Fast as You" - Dwight Yoakam cover
"If I Was So Bad Why Do You Want Me Back"
"Suds in the Bucket" - Sara Evans cover
"She Doesn't Love You" - Eric Paslay cover 

Lora Kaelber Special to
Moving to Milwaukee in 1998, Lora quickly adapted to and embraced big city living. A graduate of Carthage College and Marquette University Law School, Lora clerked for the Hon. Diane Sykes at the Wisconsin Supreme Court, worked as a litigator in private practice, and most recently was employed as a development officer for the MACC Fund.

In all of her experiences, time was focused on writing which has been a passion since junior high school. A series of food service industry jobs both before and after law school taught her that bringing out the human side in any story is key to great storytelling and good writing.

A die-hard east side girl, you'll usually find Lora down by the lake or on the Oakleaf. She's an avid photographer, and sometimes storm chaser.

Hobbies include biking, gardening, cross country skiing, swimming, blogging, and of course working on her fictionalized autobiography--fictionalized, because whose life is really interesting enough to fill 400 pages?

She's in IMDb. Look her up.