Is country music's reigning threesome on the verge of becoming a foursome? It sure felt that way Saturday night, when fiddle player John Jeansonne played a major role in Rascal Flatts' show. And it all started with an instrumental duel between Jeansonne and guitar player Joe Don Rooney early in the 90-minute set. "All right. You've made your point," Rooney reluctantly conceded when it was clear that he'd been beat by the fiery fiddler.
After the full house at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre greeted the group, Jeansonne joined the band's core three (Rooney, Jay DeMarcus and frontman Gary LeVox) at the edge of the stage on almost every song, whether it was a dizzying rocker such as "Life Is a Highway" or a bummer ballad—"What Hurts the Most."
It's a good thing Rascal Flatts let the fiddle into the inner circle, too, because it was one of the only elements that felt truly country in the show. The rock-star vibe was holding steady with steel risers and a light show to rival the Olympics opening ceremony.
But the fans seemed to get just as much of a thrill out of that high-end production as they did out of the sparsely arranged songs. When the rest of the band was cloaked in darkness, and Rooney came out front with his guitar and said, "You and I are gonna sing a duet together," that kicked the screams up a few notches. Not enough to drown out Rooney's hidden gem of a voice on "Movin' On," though. Same with DeMarcus when he played keyboards and sang "Skin" all alone. Between those quiet moments and LeVox's powerhouse vocals on songs such as "Love You Out Loud," "My Wish" and "Take Me There," Rascal Flatts has this pop country thing down to a science.
Even down to booking the perfect opening band. Taylor Swift only had time for seven songs, including current hit "Should've Said No." Before Swift, Nashville songwriter Neil Thrasher took the stage armed only with a pristine voice, an acoustic guitar and a medley of hits he'd written for Rascal Flatts and Kenny Chesney.