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Top 10 country acts in Las Vegas during NFR 2019

Updated December 4, 2019 - 12:52 pm

When all the hard work starts paying off, there’s a word that bands have to learn to say.

“No.”

Sounds simple, right?

The musician on the phone chuckles at the thought.

“The first few times you say it, it feels wrong,” acknowledges Matthew Ramsey, guitarist and songwriter for country band Old Dominion. “You’re like, ‘Ahh, this feels wrong, but ‘no.’ ’’

But why does it feel this way?

Because when you’re trying to make a career in music, you learn to say “yes” to any and all opportunities. That’s what Ramsey’s band had gotten used to doing, touring relentlessly and practically living on the road, while putting out three albums in four years.

But 2019 has been a turning point for the gold-selling group: Old Dominion graduated to headliner status, won the Academy of Country Music Award for vocal group of the year for the second time in a row and dropped a new, self-titled album in October. The latest single, “One Man Band,” is on the verge of becoming the band’s next No. 1 hit and biggest song yet.

Now Old Dominion is bringing its banner year to an end with a two-night stand in Las Vegas as part of Nationals Finals Rodeo festivities. But next year, for the first time, the band will tap the brakes a bit.

“We did just have a meeting yesterday. It was like a tour routing meeting for what our year is going to be like next year, and it’s much, much lighter than the past few years. Which is a great thing, because we have just been saying yes to everything that came across our paths,” the 42-year-old Ramsey says. “We had to strike while the iron was hot, and now we have solidified ourselves a little bit and we can say no to a few things. We’re still going to play a lot of shows and we’re on big tours, but it’s less than the past few years.”

‘People will respond’

The group has earned a bit of a breather.

Old Dominion is perhaps best known for its songwriting, with three of the five band members penning hits not just for themselves but for artists including Luke Bryan, Cole Swindell, Randy Houser, The Band Perry and Blake Shelton.

It’s rare to have so many accomplished tunesmiths in one band. On their latest album, they explore the breadth of their different musical voices to a greater extent, resulting in perhaps their most confident-sounding and widest-ranging album, from the Maroon 5-esque swing of “Never Be Sorry” to the rootsy longing of “I’ll Roll” to spare, beatific, album-closing ballad “Some People Do.”

“Our background is in songwriting, and we’ve had success writing with other people, so we don’t really sit down to write what we think an Old Dominion song is or what a song for someone else is. We just sit down to try and write a great song,” Ramsey explains. “After that is when the question becomes, ‘Is that an Old Dominion song or not?’

“With this album in particular, we pushed those boundaries a little bit,” he continues. “We felt more free to try to do that. We have songs like ‘I’ll Roll’ and ‘Some People Do’ that we initially didn’t really maybe look at as an Old Dominion song, but then we thought, ‘Well, what’s to say it’s not? Let’s try it.’ ”

If well-crafted songs are a staple of Old Dominion’s catalog, so too is an overriding sense of hopefulness.

They may sing of long nights and bruised hearts on occasion, but ultimately, with this bunch, the beer glass is always half full.

”I don’t know that we’re mindful of that. I just think it is who we are as people,” Ramsey says. “When we started having success as songwriters, it was because we made this decision to write what we wanted to hear. Maybe those messages of hope are what we ultimately want to hear ourselves. Whenever you’re truly honest and vulnerable with yourself and you put that out there, it turns out a lot more people can relate to it than if you’re trying to write what you think people want to hear.

“If you’re just honest with yourself,” he concludes, “people will respond.”

Other top NFR acts

Old Dominion is among the top 10 country music acts in town during the National Finals Rodeo. Here are the rest:

Dwight Yoakam & The Bakersfield Beat, Dec. 4, 6-7, 10, 12 and 14, Encore Theater at Wynn Las Vegas: Buck Owens may have pioneered the Bakersfield sound, but Dwight Yoakam continues to keep the rock ’n’ roll-influenced strain of country music alive and kickin’.

Reba and Brooks & Dunn, Dec. 4, 6-8, 10-11 and 13-14, Colosseum at Caesars Palace: With 58 (!) No. 1 singles between them, it’s safe to say you’ll hear hits and more hits with a side of hits when Reba McEntire and Brooks & Dunn continue to share the stage together during NFR.

Gary Allan, Dec. 6-7, The Joint at the Hard Rock: An NFR staple for years now, Gary Allan’s rootsy repertoire is as much a part of the annual festivities as buckin’ broncos and lassoed steers.

George Strait, Dec. 6-7, T-Mobile Arena: The King of Country returns to salute his court, playing the rare non-stadium gig as part of his standing engagement here. It doesn’t get any bigger than this.

Jason Aldean, Dec. 6-8, Park Theater at Park MGM: It’ll be a highly emotional moment when Jason Aldean plays his first Las Vegas headlining shows since the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting. Like Las Vegas itself, Aldean has remained unbowed in the face of tragedy.

Shania Twain, Dec. 6-7, 11, 13-14 and 18, Zappos Theater at Planet Hollywood Resort: The best-selling female country artist of all time launches her latest Vegas residency, “Let’s Go!” Yes, let’s.

Ronnie Milsap, Dec. 9, Showroom at the Golden Nugget: The forecast calls for some “Smoky Mountain Rain” when one of country music’s all-time great balladeers heads back to NFR to get a few tears in your beer.

Jamey Johnson, Dec. 13, Showroom at the Golden Nugget: This outlaw country throwback gives vintage honky-tonk a modern spin as the spiritual heir to late greats such as Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard.

Kip Moore and Midland, Dec. 14, The Chelsea at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas: Singer-songwriter Kip Moore teams up with Midland, 2018’s ACM Award winner for new vocal group of the year, in one of NFR’s best musical pairings.

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