Uncle Kracker, supporting acts, send off 46th Watermelon Festival with broad appeal, splendid performances

Uncle Kracker singing at the mic at the closing concert of the 46th Hope Watermelon Festival Saturday night.

The concert that ended the 46th Hope Watermelon Festival had performers and songs to appeal to everybody.

Uncle Kracker, the featured act, brought his melding of Motown with country-rock to the CMC Steel Products stage and put paid to any skeptics who thought a Detroit ex-rapper couldn’t appeal to the Hope masses. His blue-collar guy turned loose on the weekend persona got the audience laughing at his between songs patter and swaying in their lawn chairs to his set of wickedly humorous and catchy originals, to which he added covers of Kenny Rogers and George Jones tunes.

He made his entrance following a sound collage of past hits and influences, and from there was a dynamo as his band kept up admirably with its front man, playing bluesy country with a rhythmic bass bounce straight from Berry Gordy’s studio. They played “Follow Me,” “Drift Away,” and, as one of the encores, “Smile,” plus, as Uncle Kracker put it, “songs that ain’t mine, and probably ain’t yours.” But they all were, especially his performances of “The Gambler” and “Window Up Above,” as the crowd’s hand-waving and head bobbing attested.

Before Uncle Kracker, two Hope area performers impressed. The crowd sincerely applauded both Brady Rhodes, from Rosston, and Arnetta Bradford, from Hope.  Rhodes sang a mix of contemporary and classic country and deep Southern Gospel. He has a voice that can change its character depending on the song. He can be rollicking, good-timing and proud in Aaron Tippin’s “Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly” and Joe Diffie’s “Pickup Man,” and then become the nervous sinner in “Where No One Stands Alone,” which Elvis Presley recorded. His piano accompanist BJ Kyle put on a show of his own, giving off surprising sparks as he played.

Arnetta Bradford, who had won the Watermelon Idol talent show earlier that day, brought her powerful torch of a voice to “You Know My Name,” and showed that the phrase applied to jazz saxophonist John Coltrane’s performances, “sheets of sound,” could fit a vocalist, too. It was a superb performance, but a brief one into which she poured everything she had.

Photos by Tyler Cox (top photo) and Dillan Kelsey (gallery below)

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