Interestingly, when Tim McGraw and Faith Hill took the stage Friday night at the Huntington Center, country music’s power couple opened with Aretha Franklin’s “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me).”
Toledo has been waiting for more than seven years for McGraw to return to the city. He appeared at the Huntington Center in May, 2011, but he has never headlined a show in Toledo with his wife.
The wait was worth it for a sold-out crowd, which raucously welcomed back the superstars Friday night, in what was the first of a two-night stay at the Huntington Center. They will also be in concert Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
The love was returned early on when Hill took a break to talk about walking around the city earlier in the day.
“This is a beautiful city. Kudos to you for trying to save the old buildings,” Hill said. “I think I almost got run over 15 times trying to take pictures. Not too many cities try to [preserve their buildings]. There are some really old homes. I was impressed.”
In their Soul2Soul stop in Toledo, @TheTimMcGraw and @FaithHill took a stroll through the crowd. @toledonews #soul2soul #Toledo419 #huntingtoncenter #timmcgraw #faithhill #countryroyalty pic.twitter.com/hgh43Wd2ej— Brian Dugger (@DuggerBlade) June 9, 2018
McGraw and Hill have been married since October, 1996, and their 26-song set was heavy on sentimentality, especially on “It’s Your Love,” which the couple sang while staring into each other’s eyes, as photos of them and their children flashed by on the video screen.
The video screen was mammoth, possibly the largest to be used at a Huntington Center show. Too often visual effects have no rhyme or reason to their usage, but Friday night’s visual effects were top-notch.
At 8:37, a large 60 appeared on the screen and began ticking down. When it hit zero, Hill and McGraw were raised from below the stage while singing the Aretha Franklin classic.
The show was broken into four clear parts. In the opening segment, the couple performed together for eight songs, highlighted by the emotional “Break First.”
The second portion of the set was Hill and her band alone. It would be understandable for an artist who has been around for 25 years and in the midst of a 27-city tour to hold something back to preserve her voice. There was absolutely no question that Hill gave everything she had, leaning back to belt out “Stronger” and “Piece of My Heart.” It is easy to imagine Carrie Underwood in her living room as a young girl mimicking the powerhouse Hill. All these years later, she is still worthy of emulating.
The fun thing about this show is that there was a little something for everyone. Hill is beautiful and elegant. And her husband still has that certain something that caused a roomful of young and older women to jump to their feet when he strutted around the stage singing “Real Good Man.”
If you had to put two highlights of the night above the others, you would have to list “Humble & Kind” and “Live Like You Were Dying” - McGraw’s final numbers of his solo set. “Humble & Kind” has a powerful message, hammered home by pictures of all races and religions flashing by on the big screen as McGraw sang. And the crowd took over to sing the chorus of “Live Like You Were Dying,” something that seemed to genuinely impress McGraw. It was difficult not to shed a tear or two.
Caitlyn Smith, who is little known by country music radio fans but a titan in Nashville publishing circles, opened the night with an impressive six-song set. Her debut album, Starfire, was released in January, and she introduced the crowd to some of her new music.
Smith, whose husband Rollie Gaalswyk plays guitar and supplies backing vocals in her band, has written cuts for Megan Trainor, Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Lady Antebellum, Rascal Flatts, and James Bay. Her and her husband wrote “Wasting All These Tears,” a top-10 smash for Cassadee Pope. Friday night, she got a chance to show off her vocals, and was particularly impressive on the mournful “Before You Called Me Baby.” She also played “Like I’m Gonna Lose You,” which she co-wrote with Justin Weaver and Trainor, who turned it into a multiweek No. 1 smash.
Smith was the only opener, but the night was not short on music. The show lasted more than three hours.
Toledo is one of 27 cities in the United States and Canada that McGraw and Hill will play this year. Last year, they played 70 different arenas. So they have the formula down at this point, able to pull from more than two decades of hits.
They wrapped up the night with five songs together, and it was hard not to feel as though the crowd was witnessing country royalty. Some artists have good voices, others have a commanding stage presence. McGraw and Hill have both. On back-to-back songs before closing the show, Hill and McGraw took turns working their way through the crowd, shaking hands with those who could get close enough to touch them.
Friday night, Hill and McGraw gave everything they had to Toledo. It was a welcome return.
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