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Tim McGraw, Big & Rich send WE Fest out with a bang

Big & Rich sing a song at WE Fest Saturday night. Brian Basham / DL Newspapers

The final night of WE Fest 2009 was a mix of traditional country and a new brand of the genre, as Clint Black and Tim McGraw played songs from nearly 20 years ago, and Big & Rich lit up the stage - literally.

American Idol veteran Kellie Pickler started off the national set in the after-noon with her first top-10 hit, "Best Days of Your Life," which she co-wrote with Friday-night WE Fest performer, Taylor Swift.

Pickler, 23, followed up the set with other favorites like "Things That Never Cross A Man's Mind," and "Don't You Know You're Beautiful."

She's spending time on Swift's "Fearless" tour this year, and it shows - she tells a lot of stories with her songs like Swift does, and talked quite a bit between songs, a fine line between endearing and annoying.

She finished off her set with her emotional true-to-life ballad, "I Wonder," and her first hit, "Red High Heels," opting out of an en-core performance, likely to get out of the rain.

It was another dreary afternoon at Soo Pass Ranch, but a storm headed east didn't drop too much rain on the festival - it wound to the north, allowing only a sprinkle here and there. Pickler stayed out in the rain to sign autographs well after her set ended.

Country legend Clint Black, 47, followed Pickler, with a slightly less-populated crowd, starting off with a late-'90s single, "The Shoes You're Wearing."

He rolled through plenty of his hits from over the years, including "Better Man," which he joked was from 1949, "Something That We Do," "Killing Time," and "Desperado."

A highlight was watching the WE Fest veteran play different instruments, like a harmonica, and even the drums, when a band member took the mic for a Steely Dan cover.

Black made it clear that the 20-year veteran still had it in him, able to hit the high notes and joke with the audience. He didn't give an encore, either.

Big & Rich, along with accomplices Cowboy Troy and "Two-Foot" Fred, took the stage with their usual "MusikMafia" fare, complete with drama and theatrics.

Big Kenny, in his trademark top hat, and John Rich, initially wearing a floor-length fur coat before stripping to a bedazzled all black ensemble, certainly don't always look the part of country music stars, but their songs usually do.

Opening with the raucus "Comin' To Your City," the name of their current tour, the duo played all of their hits from their debut album, "Horse of a Different Color," and many newer singles, like "Holy Water," which, appropriately, was accompanied by a smattering of rain, and "8th of November," in remembrance of the Vietnam War.

Big & Rich aren't shy about their patriotism - in fact, a new T-shirt, 500 of which were autographed by Rich, went on sale after their set with a portion of the proceeds to go to a VA hospital.

For their wedding ballad, "Lost in This Moment," the pair brought a newlywed couple on stage. The couple happened to be perfect for the moment: the song had been played at their wedding.

The pair separated for part of their act, each able to play a few of their solo songs - Rich's economically-topical "Shuttin' Detroit Down," introduced by a video of actor Mickey Rourke, who starred in the music video, was likely the most well known. The singer donned a T-shirt that read "Bail This Out" during his solo set.

Honorary Big & Rich member Cowboy Troy also took the stage briefly for his brand of country rap, an interesting change of pace.

Finally, the group reached the end of their time, capping it off with their first-ever hit: "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy," bringing the Vikings cheerleaders on stage.

The encore was one of the crazier events of the night, capping off with two guitars, reading "Loud and Proud" and "Hick Chicks" on the backs, being smashed by Rich and Cow-boy Troy and then lit on fire.

Not something you see at your everyday country show, but entertaining nonetheless.

Tim McGraw, becoming something of a legend himself at 42, kept the party going, accompanied by his band, the Dancehall Doctors.

After playing five or six songs back-to-back, McGraw finally spoke, saying he and his band "don't bull---- around. We just play the music and get right at it," which became evident as the set went on. McGraw only offered the occasional "Thank you," and once yelled, "I love my job!"

He played many a favorite, opening with "I Like It, I Love It," which was one of his first hits, and continuing with "Indian Outlaw," "Red Ragtop," "Down on the Farm," and "Real Good Man."

He and the Dancehall Doctors also tested out a few new ones on an upcoming album titled "Southern Voice," including one already on the radio, "It's A Business Doing Pleasure With You."

It will be his first studio album in two and a half years.

McGraw's encore included Steve Miller Band's "The Joker," an audience sing-along, "Last Dollar," ending with "Live Like You Were Dying," one of his biggest-ever singles.

McGraw didn't disappoint, taking advantage of his time on stage to play through as many audience favorites as possible, and capped off an eventful 2009 WE Fest, even if it was occasionally plagued by rain.