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12-pack of tunes: A dozen concerts not to miss during NFR

Updated December 9, 2023 - 2:56 pm

She possesses a “Heart Like a Truck,” and she’s going to run you over with the thing.

Emotive country wunderkind Lainey Wilson has been penning tunes since grade school and released her first EP when she was just 14.

It was called “Country Girls Rule,” of course.

These days, Wilson is living up to her words and then some.

The bohemian singer is having a banner 2023, having taken home four trophies at the Academy of Country Music Awards in May, including being named “Female Artist of the Year” and winning “Album of the Year” for her latest full-length “Bell Bottom Country.”

And now she’s hitting the National Finals Rodeo festivities.

Wilson has played during NFR before, opening for Jason Aldean at Dolby Live at Park MGM in December 2021.

She’s returning to Vegas for four shows this ‘go round at The Theater at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas on Dec. 13-16 in what will surely be high among the hottest tickets during NFR.

Here are 11 more notable concerts:

Ryan Bingham

The Theater at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, Dec. 7

Talk about on-the-nose entertainment for NFR, earthy singer-songwriter Ryan Bingham was a bull rider in his teens. He left the rodeo circuit for a career in the music business, an industry only slightly less bruising than getting gored by angry livestock. You may also know Bingham from hit TV series “Yellowstone,” where he plays Walker.

Miranda Lambert

Bakkt Theater at Planet Hollywood Resort, Dec, 7, 9, 10, 14, 16

Still “Actin’ Up” after all these years, as the first track of her latest album “Palomino” explains, Miranda Lambert remains one of country’s most fiery, take-no-guff presences. She resumes her “Velvet Rodeo” residency just in time for NFR, and when she plays “Gunpowder & Lead” toward the end of her set, prepare for the sparks to fly for real.

Garth Brooks

Colosseum at Caesars Palace, Dec. 8-9, 13, 15, 16

The Oak Ridge Boys, Billy Joel, Bob Seger, Randy Travis, Lady Gaga, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Marvin Gaye — you never know who Garth Brooks will cover during one of his Vegas residency gigs, you just know there will be a lot of them, in addition to his many fan-favorite tunes. To borrow a line from Confucius, or maybe it was the Beastie Boys, Brooks has got mad hits like he was Rod Carew.

Carrie Underwood

Resorts World Theatre, Dec. 8, 9, 13, 15, 16

“Beautiful, wonderful, perfect All-American girl,” Carrie Underwood sings on “All-American Girl,” one of the 20 songs regularly featured in concert during her Resorts World residency. She may as well be addressing herself, as Underwood’s undeniably wholesome, like eating your broccoli. But she has an edge, too. Hence, when “Cupid’s Got a Shotgun,” Underwood’s quick to return fire.

Cody Johnson

MGM Grand Garden, Dec. 8

“She gets excited about all my crazy dreams,” Cody Johnson sings on “The Painter,” the first single from his new album “Leather,” a song dedicated to his wife. Her enthusiasm is warranted, as Johnson has made his dreams of country music stardom come true.

Cody Jinks

Dolby Live at Park MGM, Dec. 8, 9

“What makes NFR time so fun is that people travel out there, it’s a destination, they want stuff to do while they’re out there, they want to go see shows, they want to go gambling,” Cody Jinks told the RJ last year before two sold-out shows at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. “In Vegas, man, they’re coming from all over. It’s just party time.” With NFR back in town, it’s party time once more.

Gary Allan

The Chelsea at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Dec. 8

“I’m a different kind of man,” NFR regular Gary Allan explains on the title track to his platinum-selling, breakout third record, 1999’s “Smoke Rings in the Dark,” his voice rising above tendrils of lap steel that fades in and out of the mix like said smoke rings. This is certainly true of this honky-tonk throwback, whose voice is supple yet lived in, radio-friendly but shot through with grit and gravitas: Think of a rose blooming from a field of burlap.

Ned LeDoux

Veil Pavilion at Silverton, Dec. 7, 8

The son of the late country music legend Chris LeDoux began playing drums in his father’s road band, Western Underground, in 1998. Now he’s a headliner in his own right, known for blending his country roots with rock and roll. And for the seventh year in a row, his shows are free.

Ray Wylie Hubbard

Golden Nugget Showroom, Dec. 10

From one outlaw country great to another, Eric Church himself inducted this gritty Americana lifer into the Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame, a well-deserved honor for a man who’s penned numerous tunes for the likes of Lucinda Williams, Pat Green and Waylon Jennings.

Toby Keith

Dolby Live at Park MGM, Dec. 10-11, 14

In September, Toby Keith performed live for the first time since announcing in June 2022 that he was battling stomach cancer, delivering a moving take on his 2018 hit “Don’t Let the Old Man In” at the Peoples Choice Country Awards. That song’s about facing death and not flinching, a sentiment that Keith has embodied.

Charley Crockett

The Theater at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, Dec. 12

As indebted to R&B icons like Curtis Mayfield and Nina Simone as he is to country legends like George Jones and Hank Williams, Charley Crockett’s catalog is as bluesy and soulful as it is rootsy and Americana-influenced. ◆

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