DAYTRIPPER: HARDY at The Dome at Toyota Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford, CT
“Wall to wall and I still ain’t sold out.” Those are lyrics to the HARDY song “Sold Out” which he opened his show with on Thursday, February 23 in Wallingford, CT. The Dome at Toyota Oakdale Theatre was indeed SOLD OUT, wall to wall, front to back. I took the 152-mile drive as part of my new “DAYTRIPPER” series of concert reviews here at Nippertown.
Michael Wilson Hardy started out as a songwriter. He has penned smash hits for some of Nashville’s biggest names, including Florida-Georgia Line, Blake Shelton, Morgan Wallen, Dierks Bentley, Michael Ray, Chris Lane, Dylan Scott, Cole Swindell, and others. He has won multiple awards for his songwriting, including the 2022 BMI “Songwriter of the Year” award. Known professionally as HARDY, he has also become a star as a performer. His recent duet with Lainey Wilson, “Wait In the Truck” is a monster hit. The track is a classic country song. It is a murder ballad with a great story and a killer hook. HARDY’s most recent release “the mockingbird & THE CROW” is an ambitious seventeen-track record with a unique twist. The first half of the album is country(the mockingbird), and the second half skews toward hard rock(THE CROW), with the title track bridging the gap within the same song. HARDY wears his influences on his sleeve. His music owes as much to Taking Back Sunday as it does to George Jones. He even brought Jeremy McKinnon, singer of pop-punk legends A Day To Remember to sing on the track “Radio Song.” For all of his success, HARDY remains grounded. As he says in Sold Out, “I can buy a Maybach, but I’m still in my F-150.”
Over 2000 fans made their way to the show, braving freezing rain and snowy road conditions to see one of country music’s brightest stars within the intimate confines of The Dome. HARDY could have easily sold out the larger, 5000-seat Oakdale Theatre which is attached to The Dome. Staffers I spoke with said that HARDY specifically chose The Dome to give his fans a Rock club experience versus a seated theatre show. There is something to be said about the energy that comes with being that close to your fellow concertgoers. The tour spared no expense on production. The stage show was what you would expect to see inside of an arena. Cryo-jets billowed tall pillars of fog as moving head lighting fixtures sent beams of brightly colored light through the smoke. An enormous video wall was at the rear of the stage, behind a two-level drum riser.
As the house lights went down the crowd broke into a chant. “HARDY, HARDY, HARDY…” The video wall blinked to life as the band made their way onto the stage. The opening notes of “Sold Out” rang out as HARDY appeared from the fog and smoke on the second level of the riser. The fans lost their collective shit when he started singing. The man knows how to work a crowd. He paced the stage like a fighter approaching the ring. The band offered up a twenty-one-song set with not a single dud in the bunch. Highlights of the set included the aforementioned “Wait In the Truck” which used a video of Lainey Wilson interspersed with the band’s live performance. As sometimes happens, the singing fans threatened to overpower the band on stage during the performance. I have seen HARDY a bunch of times and my favorite moment is always when he performs “Give Heaven Some Hell.” The emotion with which he sings this song is palpable. Singer Sean Van Fleet of opening act Blame My Youth joined HARDY for “Radio Song,” holding down McKinnon’s part on the track. Jameson Rodgers came out mid-set and performed the Morgan Wallen sections of the duet “red.” The main set closed with “The Redneck Song.”
The Connecticut crowd wasn’t ready to go home yet and very loudly showed their desire for a few more songs. The band obliged, returning for a three-song encore highlighted by the performance of “God’s Country.” The song was a huge number-one hit for Blake Shelton, it was penned by HARDY. The performance on Thursday night had much more of a hard rock edge than Shelton’s version. It is refreshing to see an artist who stays true to themself. Michael Hardy may have been born and raised in the country, but he grew up on country music AND hard rock. The man is a rock star. As such, he put together a stellar live band. His drummer Harry Miree is one of the most entertaining drummers I have ever seen live. The man plays the drums with every fiber of his being. The twin guitar attack of Rhett Smith and Justin Loose nearly melted the faces of those fortunate enough to be on the rail in the front row. The show ended with the title track to the new record. I don’t think HARDY will be able to stay in small rooms for much longer. His show belongs on arena and stadium stages. This was one of those shows that people will be telling their friends about for years, “remember that time when we saw HARDY in the lobby of a theater?”
Fellow Mississippi native Jameson Rodgers played in the direct support slot. Like HARDY, Rodgers got his start as a songwriter before launching his career as a performer. He played a solid forty-five-minute set. He included his number-one hits “Some Girls,” “Cold Beer Calling My Name” and “I Don’t Know About You.” The latter was a number-one single for fellow artist Chris Lane. During the band introduction segment of his set, Rodgers had each member of his band sing a verse and chorus of their choice of songs. Songs by Thin Lizzy, Bon Jovi, and Kiss got the crowd whipped into a drunken singalong.
Chicago native Sean Van Fleet brought his new project Blame My Youth to open the show. Van Fleet had previously been the frontman of indie rock favorites Empires. Blame My Youth is high energy alt-rock. Wielding a Gibson Flying V guitar, Van Fleet led his new band through a quick thirty minute set of high-tempo rock and roll. I particularly enjoyed the energy and vibe of the track “They Only Love You When You’re Dead.”
Another road trip is in the books. The drive to Wallingford from Albany is pretty much all highway. It makes for an easy drive when you’ve got good company and a good Spotify playlist. I highly recommend The Dome at Toyota Oakdale Theatre as a concert road trip destination. They bring in a lot of great shows. You can see their upcoming event calendar here.
Miles traveled for show: 304
Miles traveled year to date: 634
Red Bulls: 2
Next up… Matt Nathanson & Stephen Kellogg at The Academy of Music in Northampton, MA