The singer made it clear during his concert at the Chumash Grandstand Arena on Sunday that he feels very much at home here, greeting the audience with a casual “ ’Sup, Paso.”
For a few concertgoers, this was their second or third time seeing McGraw at the fair. It was clear from the wide variety of styles worn by the audience, and the nearly sold-out status of the arena, that McGraw’s appeal extends far beyond that of your average country fan.
Brooke Eden, a country singer from Florida, opened the night with a song about being proud of where you’re from. She asked audience members to tell her in comments on her Instagram account where they hailed from for a chance to win merchandise; after the song, she announced that a concertgoer from Visalia had won.
Eden pumped everyone up with a song about an ex-boyfriend she never wanted to see again, thanked the audience for letting her vent, then turned the stage over to the main act.
McGraw’s entrance a couple minutes later perfectly exemplified his expert control over the atmosphere of the evening. As the lights dimmed to an electric blue, the arena was filled with a loud, reverberating drumbeat that might as well have been echoing through the Grand Canyon. The beat pumped up the audience for a minute that felt like forever, until, finally, McGraw emerged, singing, “How Bad Do You Want It.”
By the time McGraw jumped into “I Like It, I Love It” a couple songs later, the whole audience was hopping, cheering and whooping to the chorus. Given the setting, the lyrics “Spent 48 dollars last night at the county fair/I throwed out my shoulder but I won her that teddy bear” likely rang true for at least a few attendees.
McGraw, who described the audience as “really good-lookin’ ” and joked about staying and playing until three in the morning, wore a cowboy hat and a Stanford Cardinal shirt. He performed with eight band members, some of whom sported tie-dye shirts and shaggy hairdos.
McGraw told the audience members that they could travel the world but they’d never hear music as good as what they were hearing from his “boys.”
“Trust me, I know how good they are. I sign their paychecks,” he added to an eruption of laughter and cheers.
Near the end of his set, McGraw introduced a very young girl named Ashlyn, who translated the lyrics of his recent hit “Humble and Kind” into American Sign Language as he sang. Concertgoers waved their cellphone flashlights to the sound of the energetic, yet sentimental anthem.
As the number ended, McGraw gave Ashlyn a kiss on the hand and a hug. The audience members stomped the bleachers and cheered their approval.
McGraw delighted the audience when he left the stage to give and take high fives during “All I Want is a Life.” And everyone in the Chumash Grandstand Arena danced as McGraw finished his set with 1994’s “Indian Outlaw,” his first Top 40 country hit.
It seemed like the show was over, but a couple minutes of nonstop cheering brought McGraw and the band right back out to perform “Truck Yeah” in full force.
McGraw closed out the encore with the song “Live Like You Were Dying.” Although he was done for the night, almost everyone looked ready to get down the next time the country singer comes to town.
The California Mid-State Fair runs through July 31 at the Paso Robles Event Center, 2198 Riverside Ave. in Paso Robles. For more information, call 1-800-909-FAIR (3247) or visit www.midstatefair.com.