Credit: Carl Perry

Brad Paisley is quintessentially American. As in, the kind of “proud to be an American” American that Lee Greenwald sings about in “God Bless the U.S.A.” 

In his classic white cowboy hat, the 50-year-old singer-songwriter charmed the crowd at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Sunday, May 21. His award-winning country sound flowed from the stage in harmony with the billowing American flag cast on the bowl’s digital screen. 

At one point, he invited the audience to “go fishin’ after this” as a lead-in to playing “I’m Gonna Miss Her.” If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a ballad about Paisley’s girl giving him an ultimatum: Her, or the fishin’ hole. Visuals of fish, lures, and hooks set the mood, ending on a short clip of Paisley pulling his catch out of the water as he sang, “I’ve got a bite.” 

Credit: Carl Perry

At another point, Paisley brought out five uniformed military officers, thanked them for their service, and handed each of them a beer, saying it was “the least [he] could do.”

Watching him on stage, one might half-expect the guy to start belting out the national anthem.

But even beyond the red, white, and blue appearances, Paisley is a true patriot — in the sense that rock and roll originated and evolved in the United States. Anyone who’s heard the insanity that spills from Paisley’s fingertips knows he isn’t just some run-of-the-mill chump who picked up an acoustic guitar one day and started singing about beer, fishing, and trucks.

The best parts of the show were when the country music superstar would step away from the mic and start shredding on one of his flashy Crook or Fender guitars outfitted with his custom pickguard. In the words of the Indy’s senior arts writer “Country Joe” Woodard, Paisley is a true “Telecaster master.” 

Whether his Telecaster of choice was baby blue, sparkly, or classic pine with a glossy finish, Paisley picked and licked in a way that any guitarist would envy. He never misses a beat.

The unbelievable sonic energy in his guitar solos — usually played as outros in his tracks — knocked the boots off the Bowl’s crowd. A video of a squirrel water-skiing around bikini-clad women on inner tubes could be vying for the audience’s attention and, still, all eyes would be glued to Paisley catwalking across the stage, playing jaw-dropping licks at breakneck speeds. 

(And, yes, that exact video was a part of the show.)

Moments after playing the final note of “I’m Gonna Miss Her,” Paisley dive-bombed into a quick-as-lightning, bouncy solo displaying the talented guitarist’s momentum, flair, and incredible control of the instrument. 

Wrapping up his 2003 hit “Mud on the Tires,” Paisley’s unfiltered talent shone through again with a down and dirty, almost twangy, exploration of the strings on a colorful patchwork Telecaster.  After each masterful rendition, he would toss his guitar pick into the eager front row — good thing he had numerous replacements.

Credit: Carl Perry

The West Virginia-born artist was not only playful in his solos. He didn’t miss a single chance to poke fun at the audience under the partly cloudy night skies. 

“I appreciate you guys coming out in this awful weather we’re having,” he said. “This is a big strain on you Santa Barbarans — Santa Barbara-inos or whatever you call each other — so try not to catch a cold tonight, it’s chilly.”

As a benefit for Santa Barbara-based nonprofit Unity Shoppe, the show was for a good cause and filled with sincere moments. 

Paisley seems to have an affinity for giving away guitars, and this concert was no different. He signed a turquoise guitar and passed it to a young girl sitting in her father’s arms in the front row, knighting her as the next Taylor Swift.

A kiss cam lit up the Bowl’s screens during Paisley’s songs for sweethearts — such as “She’s Everything,” and “Perfect Storm” — with cameras zooming in on lovebirds in the crowd who took full advantage of the excuse to plant one on their date. 

The Bowl attendees, and Paisley, were in good company. His band featured musicians from all around Southern California, including a few from Santa Barbara County. 

Paisley’s opener, Dawes, a folk-rock band from Los Angeles, created a jovial atmosphere for the audience, prompting a dressed-down Paisley to make an acoustic cameo during their set. Later, Dawes lead-singer Taylor Goldsmith flipped the script and joined Paisley for a rendition of Paisley’s new song, “Same Here,” as well as a special peek into their upcoming collaborations.

It was a laid-back, California-country evening all around. Paisley made the Bowl’s audience feel at ease, which was sometimes necessary to bring them back to the U.S.A. after getting lost in the guitarist’s wild, sonic world.

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