KISS Chili Cookoff review: Rascal Flatts saves the day

There's that restaurant cliche about a bite of sherbet between courses to cleanse the palate, and whether that was the goal or not, it's the effect Brantley Gilbert had for Rascal Flatts.

 Gilbert certainly is popular, as evidenced by his 2013 ACM Top New Male Artist award. But it's one of those acts with a rebel flag as the basis for his logo, songs with blaring guitars and lyrics such as "I'll be glad to stomp your ass," from "Take It Outside."

 Rascal Flatts, meanwhile, is almost mocked for all its hopeful, positive songs -- they could be the soundtrack to a Tony Robbins seminar -- and the crowd happily responded Sunday at the KISS Chili Cookoff at C.B. Smith Park in Pembroke Pines.

  For a warm day with 22,500 people and a very large percentage of them with a beer in their hand, it was a calm day at the park. I attribute this partially to Rascal Flatts' music -- I think it'd be impossible to fight during one of their songs -- which by my admittedly incomplete memory has nary a mention of getting drunk, getting naked or throwing a punch.


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 They also don't have that much country to them. The biggest reference is in "Mayberry," an ode to the days when Andy Griffith's values ruled the Earth. (Aside: I'll call them out on singing  "Sunday was a day of rest" when on this Sunday they were making a very nice living singing to tens of thousands.)

 Anyway, the point is they straddle pop and country, including with their opening song Sunday, "Life is Highway," their cover for  the movie "Cars." Disney animation, yes, that's them.

  Musically, lead singer Gary LeVox's voice sounded better live -- less nasally, which is a good thing -- and kudos to guitarist Joe Don Rooney, especially for the intro to "What Hurts the Most."

 While Rascal Flatts leans toward pop -- and could easily cut a Christian album -- Joe Nichols' show unfortunately was more easy-listening until the finale "Tequila Makes her Clothes Fall Off." Maybe I expected too much because I'm a fan, notably of the following lyrics:

I think the devil drives a Coupe de Ville.
I watched 'em drive away over the hill,
Not against her will, an' I've got time to kill,
Down in Brokenheartsville.

And from "What's a Guy Gotta Do,"

Had an old man tell me, "Boy if you were smart
You'd hit the produce aisle at the Super Walmart"
So I bumped into a pretty girl's shopping cart
But all I did was break her eggs and bruise her artichoke hearts

Still, I hope his new single, called "Yeah," which comes out Monday, does well. It has hayfields, four-wheelers, sun dresses, "a song on the radio," a river and drinkin' in it. How can it miss?

"The Voice" winner Cassadee Pope, from West Palm Beach, opened the show and was in good voice although I thought she missed on Shania Twain's "That Don't Impress Me," not as much with the singing, but the punchlines of "OK, you're a rocket scientist," and "So you're Brad Pitt." Pope toured with Rascal Flatts earlier this year, often coming out to sing "Easy" with the band, but no such luck this day. Alas, she had to hop a plane to the Grammys...

Thomas Rhett nailed his set, mainly by relying to two hits he wrote for others: "1994," an ode to Joe Diffie sung by Jason Aldean, and "Parking Lot Party," which Lee Brice charted. Rhett also reached to Garth Brooks' "Friends in Low Places," which seems like low-hanging fruit, but Rhett perked it up by bringing up a normal guy who had a few drinks in him to sing that unrecorded Garth third verse. (Give him credit for not doing the normal country-guy thing and snagging a sweet young thing.) Rhett's own finale was "Beer With Jesus," and other than calling Pembroke Pines "Miami" about five times, he's doing pretty darned good for 23.

Gilbert also has ties to Aldean, having written "My Kinda Party," and I guess that rebel flag thing is good for business, but to me, maybe the Hank Jr. era should have been the end of it. They didn't even have them in Mayberry.