Concert Review: WGNA’s 18th Secret Star Acoustic Jam @ Proctors
Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady played host to the 18th installment of Country 107.7 WGNA’s wildly popular “Secret Star Acoustic Jam” on Wednesday night. The concept behind the concert series is pretty simple. The radio station books three or four acts to play a songwriter round. A songwriter round is where a group of singer/songwriters sit on stage together and take turns playing songs and telling stories. What sets these concerts apart is that the artists are kept secret until they are announced onto the stage. The shows sell out within minutes of going on sale, without anyone knowing who is actually going to perform.
What makes this concept so successful is that WGNA has consistently brought high-end talent in for these shows. According to WGNA’s Matty Jeff, there have been fifty-eight different artists that have participated in these shows. There are usually two shows each year, one in the spring and one in the fall. The first show was in November 2013. While the music itself is entertaining, the interaction between artists can be just as fun.
Rotterdam native David J recently signed a record deal with Sony. The twenty year old moved to Nashville and has been writing a ton of new material. When he was introduced to the stage, the applause from his hometown fans nearly blew the roof off of the historic theater. His parents didn’t even know that he was one of the performers. They were in attendance as fans. He was joined on stage by guitarist Mike Lemme of local Country favorites Big Sky Country. David played five songs including his singles “Once,” “After We Broke Up,” “Before You” and “Lost My Heartbreak.” He debuted a new, unreleased song entitled “Found A Girl.” The track is about a son telling his mother about a new love. I watched David’s parents when he performed the song. Their pride was almost palpable. He has a God given gift in his voice, but a lot of his success has to be attributed to the support of his parents, friends and family. I first heard David when he was about 13 years old. I walked into TJ’s Flightline in Glenville on an open mic night. I heard the voice before I saw who it belonged to. He was singing and playing Drake White’s “Makin’ Me Look Good Again.” His voice was soulful and powerful. When I saw that the voice was coming out of a little kid I was floored. His parents believed in him and gave him the tools to succeed. It was awesome to see them soaking in that success.
The next artist to be announced was Austin, Texas native George Birge. The singer/songwriter was half of the duo Waterloo Revival before that group parted ways in 2021. That same year Birge came across a video on TikTok that was satirizing Country music. The video “Beer, Beer, Truck, Truck” was posted by TikTok user Erynn Chambers. In the video she made fun of Country music. Birge took Chambers’ idea, flipped it and turned it into a full length single. He listed Chambers as a co-writer. The song jumpstarted Birge’s solo career. His most recent single “Mind On You” has been getting significant playing time on Country radio. His songs are full of great hooks that get stuck in your head. I call these songs “earworms.” I still listen to Waterloo Revival’s 2014 single “Hit The Road,” with its catchy chorus.
Mitchell Tenpenny was up next. Tenpenny has been churning out hits since the release of his debut single “Drunk Me” in 2018. He has a distinct, soulful voice which sets him apart from other Country artists. Tenpenny’s songs could easily be hits on the Pop or R&B charts. His songs often deal with love and heartbreak. These universal themes connect with many listeners. On Wednesday night he played the aforementioned “Drunk Me,” “Truth About You,” “We Got History,” “Alcohol You Later,” and “At The End of a Bar.” Tenpenny wrote “At The End of a Bar” with Chris Young. The song was a massive hit, climbing all the way to number one on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart.
Grand Ole Opry member Lauren Alaina rounded out the lineup. At just 29 years old, she is currently the youngest member of the Opry. Alaina is a dynamic, fun performer. She has had a series of hit records since 2011 when she came in second place to Scotty McCreery on American Idol (she should have won.) She is a joy to watch perform. On Wednesday night she playfully interacted with the crowd and her fellow performers. David J told the crowd that when he was younger he used to watch Alaina’s video for “Next Boyfriend” thinking that he wanted to be the next boyfriend. Alaina didn’t miss an opportunity to have some fun with this information. She sang a verse and chorus of that song to a visibly giddy David J. The crowd raised their cell-phone lights and sang along to her uplifting, anthemic “Road Less Traveled.” She shared a story about being asked to cut a demo with one of her school mates for his debut album. The then unknown artist would go on to become one of the biggest names in Country music. The classmate’s name? Kane Brown. That song “What Ifs” would go on to become a monster radio hit, helping to propel Brown to headliner status. Alaina has recorded duets with some of Country’s biggest stars including reigning Entertainer of The Year Lainey Wilson. Their song “Thicc As Thieves” went over really well with the Proctors crowd. She performed “One Beer” her 2020 duet with HARDY as well. She smiled ear to ear throughout the evening and it was hard not to smile along with her. Her songs are full of positivity. She is a fantastic role model for young Country music fans. I watched her interact with her fans during the meet and greet after the show. She treated each and every fan as if they were old friends.
WGNA has created something unique and memorable. I spoke with many fans as they made their way into the theater. I saw mothers and fathers bringing their kids to their first concerts. I spoke with some fans who have been to all 18 shows. If you enjoy Country music, get tickets to one of these concerts. There is nothing like them in the area.