Lil Wayne, The Low Anthem gave scintillating musical surprises in 2009

In 2009, Charlottesville saw stadium rockers U2 land a spacecraft on a football field, but our corner of Virginia reeled in plenty of great concert action, too. The Peninsula, in particular, had a good year. Phish awoke from a long slumber and played three celebratory shows in March at Hampton Coliseum, drawing the eyes and ears of the rock world to our area code. Legendary country singer Emmylou Harris was among the great artists who performed at the Ferguson Center for the Arts in Newport News.

Here are five other shining moments from the region's year in live pop music.

Lil Wayne, Keyshia Cole and T-Pain. Jan. 3, Hampton Coliseum. America's favorite rap rebel thrilled a crowd about 8,000 fans with the gonzo rhymes of "Got Money," "Mr. Carter" and "A Millie." Despite the bluster found in some of his lyrics, the star was surprisingly humble in his between song banter. "I ain't (nothing) without you," he told his fans. "So make some noise for what you created." T-Pain, the king of Auto-Tune, showed that he can sing well even unassisted during his free-wheeling, entertaining opening set.

George Strait. June 12, Virginia Beach Amphitheater. The tall, cool Texan played his first concert in Hampton Roads in almost two decades on this June night. Strait's elated followers were treated to an evening of big hits and bright smiles. Beginning with the one-two punch of "Write This Down" and "I Just Want to Dance With You," Strait and his 12-piece band cantered through tune after tune with care, warmth and professional efficiency. Strait did pause to acknowledge that the show was probably his first in Virginia Beach and saluted the resort town with his 1987 hit "Ocean Front Property."

Bruce Hornsby and Ricky Skaggs. Sept. 12, Bay Days, Hampton. This was the kind of show that couldn't have happened anywhere else. While Hornsby and Skaggs have played together many times, this concert featured musicians from both Hornsby's band The NoiseMakers and Skaggs' group Kentucky Thunder in a fascinating array of combinations. The fact that the show was happening on Hornsby's home turf made the whole affair seem more relaxed and spontaneous. An early highlight was a slow, mournful version of Ralph Stanley's "The Darkest Hour." Also great was an urgent, energetic version of "Black Rats of London" which saw a smiling, accordion-squeezing Hornsby climb atop his piano.

Stevie Wonder. Oct. 25, Ted Constant Center, Norfolk. Some legends create an incredible body of work early on, then spend the rest of their careers coasting. Stevie Wonder isn't one of them. While his more recent recordings aren't necessarily masterworks, his live show still sizzles. At the Constant Center, he doused the crowd with wriggling funk and pure, positive energy. The man played for 2 hours and 45 minutes and blasted hits such as "Higher Ground," "For Once In My Life," and "Sir Duke" as if he still had something to prove.

The Low Anthem. Nov. 7, Attucks Theatre, Norfolk. An unexpected burst of brilliance, this show made me wake up and realize that The Low Anthem are a band to watch. The Rhode Island trio used an unpredictable blend of instruments — Clarinet? Crotales? Cell phones? — to breathe extra vitality into the fine songs from the group's CD "Oh My God, Charlie Darwin." Best of all, the strange combinations and manic instrument shifting seemed inspired, not gimmicky.

Sam McDonald can be reached at 247-4732 or by e-mail at smcdonald@daily press.com
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