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K102’s Class of ‘10 graduates with honors
Nov. 22, 2010
by Ryan Gueningsman

K102’s Class of 2010 concert Nov. 14 featured Jerrod Niemann, The Band Perry, Jaron and The Long Road to Love, Josh Kelley, and Sunny Sweeney, and everyone in the class passed their tests and graduated with honors, poised to continue their moves into country music’s mainstream.

The show featured several artists who have already had a couple of hits on the radio (Niemann, The Band Perry, and Jaron and The Long Road To Love already have two singles each out on radio), and Sweeney and Kelley each have their debut singles out on country radio now.

The show this year, its second year at Mystic Lake Casino, seemed to feature more of a stage production than last year – more spotlights and background screens.

The show is something K102 offers lucky listeners the chance to attend for free and is becoming an annual occurrence. The station has had some good luck over the years, highlighting up-and-coming artists in the industry. Taylor Swift, in 2006, is the obvious success story that comes to mind.

Niemann closed the show with a 40-minute set, and each of the other acts had 25-minute sets.

Sunny Sweeney: She seems like a cross between Gretchen Wilson and Miranda Lambert, and is quick to let everyone know she is not afraid to sing – or say – what’s on her mind.

Just ask her about that darn hair on her microphone that kept getting in her way.

The Houston, TX native performed her 25-minute set with two other musicians, one who was introduced as being from Carver County.

Highlights included her single that is out to radio now, “From A Table Away,” as well as “Drink Myself Single,” and “You Don’t Know Your Husband Like I Do.”

Sweeney, who originally had aspirations to be a comedian, confessed her love for Pronto Pups, and also threw in a rollicking version of the Waylon Jennings hit, “Good Hearted Woman,” which she also recently sang with Jennings’ wife, Jessi Colter, on a Waylon Jennings Tribute project.

For more information: www.sunnysweeney.com

Josh Kelley: Kelley didn’t seem to hit his comfort zone until the third song of his set, but once he did, there was no looking back.

Once he found his groove, Kelley then arguably had the best stage presence of the evening, but he has been at this for some time.

His song, “Amazing” was released in 2003, and he has been plugging along at his music since that time, having some success in the pop and adult contemporary genres. He said he has now found a genre he feels at home with.

Also since that time, the Georgia native has watched his brother, Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum fame, find superstardom with his band, and he’s married actress Katherine Heigl.

The couple adopted a little girl from South Korea, and Kelley sang “Naleigh Moon” Sunday night.

“We’d only had Naleigh for a couple of weeks when I wrote this, and I think it’s the best song I’ve ever written,” Kelley said. “The way the chords and the melody intertwine, it really tugs on your heartstrings.”

“Raining Whiskey” and his single, “Georgia Clay” were also highlights of his 25-minute set at Mystic Lake.

For more information: www.joshkelley.com

Jaron and The Long Road to Love: As part of the pop duo Evan and Jaron back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with his twin brother, Jaron Lowenstein is also no stranger to the music industry.

The duo was most-known for its hit “Crazy For This Girl,” which Lowenstein sang to the delight of the crowd.

Lowenstein joked that “The Long Road to Love couldn’t make it tonight,” which is a running joke he’s had to endure since the release of his debut album.

“The Long Road to Love” isn’t his band, but rather, is just a common theme of his debut album, “Getting Dressed in the Dark.”

Highlights from his set at Mystic Lake included his current single, “That’s Beautiful,” and also his debut single, “Pray For You,” which he did twice – once with the crowd singing the words, and a second version that only he sang.

His true highlight of the night came later, when he joined his buddy, and the Class of 2010 valedictorian, Jerrod Niemann on stage at the end of Niemann’s set for “Lover, Lover.”

For more information: www.www.jaronatlrtl.com

The Band Perry: Sibling trio The Band Perry – Kimberly Perry, Neil Perry, and Reid Perry – has one of the hottest songs in the nation right now with “If I Die Young,” and they were happy to share that and several other selections with the Mystic Lake audience.

“Hip to My Heart,” the band’s second song of the night, brought additional recognition for the trio, as the song was the first single the band released.

The band’s version of “Fat Bottom Girls” also found its way onto the set list right before “If I Die Young.” Also included were “Independence,” “You Lie,” and “Sugar Sugar.”

Several jokes made during the set by Kimberly didn’t seem to resonate much with the fans (trying too hard to make sure the audience knows they’re not teeny-boppers perhaps), but when the three played music, they held the audience’s attention well. Who doesn’t enjoy a little mandolin now and then?

Kimberly also does a majority of the vocals, and gets harmony from her brothers for a nice three-part sound.

“There’s a tightness between the three of us that goes way beyond even best friends,” Neil said. “Family vocal harmonies can’t be fabricated.”

For more information: www.thebandperry.com

Jerrod Niemann: Probably not only my personal favorite from the Class of 2010, but also my favorite breakthrough artist of the year, Niemann is no stranger to the Twin Cities market.

He had a CD release party July 21 at Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill in St. Louis Park to promote his debut “Judge Jerrod and the Hung Jury.”

From start to finish, the CD is an easy and fun listen. The banter between songs makes it flow nicely and, before you know it, the album is complete and you want to start all over again. I almost wore out my copy of it on a road trip I took out east earlier this fall. But, back to the show Sunday night.

The Kansas native performed his current single, “What Do You Want,” which, of all the songs on his CD, I personally would have picked as my last choice to have released as a single.

After his 3 minutes and 26 seconds of seriousness, however, Niemann returned to the lighter side and had some fun with “The Buckin’ Song,” “Down In Mexico,” and “How Can I Be So Thirsty,” which Niemann co-wrote with John Anderson and Billy Joe Walker Jr.

After Niemann’s version of the song, he did an impressive and fun take on what the song sounds like when Anderson sings it. The song also has a bit of a George Jones influence to it – now, how’s that for country?

Also not a true “newcomer” to the industry, Niemann has had some of his songs cut by other major artists, including Garth Brooks, who cut “Good Ride Cowboy,” a tribute to the late Chris LeDoux that was released in 2005. Niemann also offered his version of the hit to the Mystic Lake crowd.

We also heard the story about his favorite teacher, Ms. Carter, in the song “For Everclear,” and he did “One More Drinkin’ Song,” closing with his first hit, “Lover, Lover,” where he had Lowenstein sing with him, along with four cute cowgirls he pulled onto the stage from the audience.

I also would have liked to have heard “Bakersfield” and “Old School,” but 40 minutes is all he was slotted to perform.

For more information: www.jerrodniemannofficial.com.