There is snow on the ground as I hurry to the doors of Knoxville’s Cotton Eyed Joe. I meet a friend who is local to the area. We find a place three rows from the stage, under the neon wagon wheels.
The wait time feels extensive, but the DJ pacifies the crowd with a mix of 90’s country hits as well as new favorites by the Weeknd and Bruno Mars- not so bad.
As the time draws near for the show to start, the DJ prompts everyone to face the flag in respect of the playing of the national anthem. Nothing like green disco ball lights illuminating the American flag. Ha!
Country music’s rising Australian cutie, Morgan Evans, takes the stage. Wearing a constant smile and camouflage joggers, he seamlessly blends his songs with known favorites: “Kiss Somebody” meets Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Backroad” and so on. Before his charming set ends, he brings his Knoxville-raised wife Kelsea Ballerini on stage with him for a brief moment.
The stage is cleared and reset.
“… Now they always say congratulations,” seconds before Cole Swindell takes the Joe stage for the fourth consecutive year, the crowd is bumping to Post Malone’s “Congratulations.”
To my surprise, Cole isn’t sporting a Georgia Southern hat as per usual. His stage is surrounded by country music fans who have been waiting to sing along to all of his songs. He introduces the intimate set with acoustic guitars and his thick Georgia accent.
“Hope You Get Lonely Tonight” and “Chillin’ It” warm the crowd as Cole reflects on his early success.
As a lover of country music, Cole pays homage to Tim McGraw with “I Like It, I Love It.” He acknowledges it to be a fitting transition into “Broke Down”: old school McGraw coming out of my doors, had to pull over couldn’t take it no more. I’ve been wishful that Cole would include “Broke Down” into a setlist for sometime.
Amidst his own songs, he includes songs he has written for other country stars: “This is How We Roll,” “Rollercoaster,” and “Get Me Some of That.”
Cole continually awes over the crowd’s rowdy enthusiasm. Certain to rouse the crowd further, “Ain’t Worth the Whiskey” follows. When the song ends, Cole claims that all of his exes could hear the sound.
Country hits continue from the stage as the crowd welcomes each song with singing and dancing.
“You Should Be Here” signals the concluding of the show. He takes out his in-ears in order to hear the crowd sing along.
Cole gives thanks to the crowd and exits the stage.
We kick through bottlenecks on the dance floor as we exit.