Attitude counts for a lot in country music. And Wynonna had nerve in abundance at the Hollywood Park racetrack on Sunday, declaring to a crowd of about 12,000 fans, "I'm feeling saucy tonight!"
The singer headed a rich lineup of roots-conscious mainstream country acts--Travis Tritt, Tanya Tucker and Trace Adkins--in a benefit for the Shoemaker Foundation. As couples danced near the betting windows, Wynonna crafted a big country sound with fiery elements of soul and rock.
She strutted playfully across the stage, offering endless inspirational messages to would-be musicians and other dreamers. With the help of a trio of backup singers, Wynonna movingly sang an a cappella hymn for paralyzed jockey Bill Shoemaker, who watched from the stands.
The racetrack setting was odd but effective, with the stage practically up against the bleachers, creating a fine, amphitheater-like venue. Tritt emerged there with anthem-like country music that remained deeply connected to his genre's acoustic roots.
While his band's three-guitar attack was forceful, it was when Tritt slowed things down that his songs cut the deepest.
On stage, Tritt is a more urgent presence than in his studio work, which sounds overproduced by comparison. That distinction was most telling when Tritt sat alone on Sunday to perform a trio of acoustic songs about lost love and self-determination.
Tucker's set had a surprising rock edge, and she sang with typical sass in her tough-gal's voice. But her special flair is for songs of regret, suggesting that Tucker's talents are best served by old-school honky-tonk.
Opening the show was hit-maker Adkins, who performed songs of fractured romance in his relaxed baritone just as the sun was setting behind him. Songs such as "I'll Love You the Rest of My Life" were solid, straight-ahead country, but without enough personality to be lasting.