From fans young and old dressed in everything from sharp leather jackets and tight hip-huggers to those who preferred worn, plaid flannel button-downs, blue jeans and black-and-white cowhide cowboy hats and boots, CMT's disciples twisted and swayed and raised arms high in unison as Lake, Mississippi's Houser took the stage promptly at 8 p.m. to the strains of AC/DC's "Highway to Hell."
The crowd was clearly gathered for a good time, as more than a few in attendance two-fisted adult hops-and-barley beverages and gulped them down them like bottles of Evian. After bellying up to the bar in the balcony or making their way through the thick main floor, boyfriends and girlfriends shot up like springs when Houser launched into enthusiastic cuts like "My Kind of Country" and "Boots On."
One well-dressed and well-to-do J. Crew affiliate even leaned on a railing and clicked his heels together mid-air in tribute while his squeeze dirty danced at his side. The most out-of-place face in the place belonged to a thirtysomething bald dude who sported hardware in his lips and ears and a Ramones tee.
Houser, wearing a black baseball cap, jeans and a black leather windbreaker and looking like a trucker who had just parked his rig out back, charged through originals like "Anything Goes" and covers like "Whiskey River," but he drew his biggest roar of approval when he slowed things down and waltzed through a cover of Willie Nelson's "Mama Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys."
Still, a few too many other plodding ballads were lost on even the most faithful, who at times had their backs turned in indifference, twitching while they sent texts to friends or snapped photos for their Facebook pages when the air was snuffed from the hall. A few young fillies and their cowpokes used the dip in energy to refill stomachs with mixed drinks and beer.
But this night proved to be a little more than your average country show, because Houser and Johnson aren't your typical genteel, plucky chicken pickers. The pair instead choose to embrace country music's darker underbelly.
Alabama-bred crooner Johnson brings quite a bit o' grit to his live act, almost bordering on rock and grunge were it not for abundant twangy pedal steel guitars reminding everyone what side of the Confederate line the singer/songwriter hails from.
Johnson has seen his fair share of hard knocks, looking a lot like Jesus Christ with a chip on his shoulder, a tattered leather jacket and an acoustic guitar strapped to his belly. Long, unkempt hair and a lengthy grizzly beard are more in tune with metal bands like Virginia's Lamb of God than your prototypical clean-shaven country star, but Johnson's music is what actually sells him.
In addition to his top 10 chart-buster "In Color," Johnson plowed through his catalog with a reserved and quiet demeanor while pixie-like waitresses with discs full of liquid courage darted between packs of peeps with glassy eyes who got louder with each passing song.
World-weary tunes like "High Cost of Living" served as potent reminders that Johnson, a former Marine, has seen it all since he started strumming chords on his trusty six string, bouncing from label to label before embarking on this latest tour in support of 2008's "That Lonesome Song."
There are purists who would argue that country music has gone too pop to be considered "down home" these days. But Houser and Johnson are going against the grain, and Saturday night in a rowdy Motown suburb a couple of good ol' boys and their loyalists proudly got their inner redneck on.
The ABC12 Listening Room staff: James Chesna, editor-in-chief; Josh Daunt, managing editor, photographer; LeeAlan Weddel, contributing editor, staff writer, photographer; Beth McEnroe, staff writer, photographer; Gwen Mikolajczak, staff writer; Chris Harris, photographer, staff writer; Eric Fletcher, chief photographer; Randy Cox, photographer; Chris Carr, photographer; Jessica Reid, contributing photographer; Bill Harris, contributing photographer; Shawn Light, contributing writer; Robin Chan, contributing writer.