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REVIEW: Alabama heats up the last cool night of WE Fest

Randy Owen of Alabama asks the WE Fest crowd to help sing "Dixieland Delight" during their main stage performance Saturday night. Brian Basham / Forum Communications

Despite retiring nearly a decade ago, Alabama showed no signs of rust Saturday night at WE Fest. The founding trio fell back into fine form as if they'd never taken a break.

The group returned to the site where they headlined the first, 10th and 20th shows, making them the obvious choice to close out the 30th anniversary show. But fans had to wait even longer as the group took the stage 30 minutes after the listed set time.

All was forgiven when they opened with "If You're Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)," with guitarist Jeff Cook sliding to fiddle.

Guitars turned out to be an issue at the beginning of the show as singer/guitarist Randy Owens had technical difficulties with his. The troubles carried into "Tennessee River," so Owens laid his guitar down and became more mobile a front man. No knock against Owens or Cook, but Alabama was always better known for their vocals than guitar work.

Those vocals shone on "Dixieland Delight," which featured a rich crowd sing-along and a spirited segue into "Will the Circle be Unbroken."

The Southern-centric tunes showed off the trio's harmonies best as they breezed through simple-times anthems "Song of the South" and "High Cotton."

As straightforward as the music was, the stage show didn't upstage the songs. Unlike the previous performance by Eric Church, Alabama didn't rely on pyrotechnics, a video show or elaborate lights. The three founders mostly stood at their mikes in front of one simple backdrop. For a band that brought production of country shows to level of rock bands, even Alabama's lights were so minimal you wondered if it wasn't the same rig they played with 29 years ago.

In fairness, the group is not touring - WE Fest is one of the few shows Alabama will play this year - so you don't expect them to travel with a whole set. And with music as memorable as their 40-some no. 1 hits, they don't need any distraction.

Besides, even in his 60s Owens is still a magnetic front man, quick with a joke and great at playing to the crowd. Fan participation would be a big part of the show, as Owens invited a female fan celebrating her 22nd birthday onstage, had a humorous chat and played her request.

After ending their scheduled set around 12:40 a.m. with "Roll On" and "Mountain Music," the group returned for one more. Owens seemed to want to play another, but guitarist Cook and bassist Teddy Gentry both set down their instruments and walked off the stage, apparently the mid-50-degrees weather not being conducive for the Southern boys.

Still, Alabama gave WE Fest the best gift it could for its 30th anniversary - one of the most memorable shows in recent years.