Aaron Lewis: I Feel Like Country Is The Music of Real America

Aaron Lewis of Staind
Photos by Caleb Haley
Aaron Lewis performed songs from his country and hard rock careers.
For more than 20 years singer and guitarist Aaron Lewis' powerful, rolling baritone voice has carried fans on a personal journey into his life through songs of acceptance, consequences, depression, love, and family--both with the alternative metal band Staind and most recently his solo country ballads.

Friday night, in the close-quarters setting of the sold-out showroom at Talking Stick Resort, Lewis mingled with the crowd, smoked cigarettes, drank whiskey, and provided a moving, intimate and informal acoustic event.

Outside of the showroom the slot machines rang and casino dealers were turning over house-favoring blackjack hands; the usual casino madness was in full swing, but Lewis' audience was none the wiser as they sat patiently, waiting for the performance to begin. Shortly after eight Lewis emerged onto the darkened stage to a roar of cheers. Sauntering toward his microphone, leaving a vapor trail of smoke in his wake from a cigarette dangling loosely in his mouth, Lewis snagged his acoustic guitar off its stand and slung it over his shoulder.

The spotlights rose to illuminate Lewis, wearing a camouflage hat, a thick graying beard, and a Metallica World Tour t-shirt. Four band members took their places on stage, and after resting the burning cigarette in an ashtray atop a small table near his microphone, Lewis and his band dove into the first song of what would be a two-and-a-half hour set list full of original country tracks, Staind renditions, and various covers.

Kicking it off with a handful of country songs, including the radio single "Granddaddy's Gun," Lewis' powerful voice filled every inch of the room as he sang about living and loving. The performance was in no way the typical event that sold out Staind's headlining tours in the early 2000's, but it was also far different from the pop-infused country concerts dominating the mainstream today. Frankly, it was superior to both.

"I've caught a lot of shit for this next one," said Lewis at one point. "I find it funny, since it's my fucking song." That song was the country version of "Mudshovel" off of the 1999 Staind album Dysfunction. The re-imagining of one of his heavier early songs was crafted masterfully and powerfully around the acoustic twang of guitars and keyboards, and by the end it was almost hard to imagine that it was ever recorded as anything but a country song--almost.

Halfway through the set, the other members of the band left the stage for a few songs allowing Lewis to stand with just him and his acoustic guitar as he told more stories from his life, joked with the audience and sang the staple Staind song "So Far Away", followed by the first verse of "Wanted Dead or Alive" by Bon Jovi.

"I don't know the rest of it," said Lewis after nailing the dead or alive chorus, "it's a good song even though it's Bon Jovi."

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