If there’s a “most valuable player” in the world of Sioux City entertainment, it’s Battery Park.
The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino’s outdoor venue had an impeccable batting average in 2018, bringing hit maker after hit maker into the hot Iowa sun. While all of the offerings had their fans, the two best were Post Malone and Old Dominion, two wildly divergent acts who knew just how to work on a warm summer night.
Malone, one of the biggest acts of the year (he’s deep in the Grammy hunt this year) surprised with an easy-going style that didn’t seem pretentious or hip. He made fun of himself, introduced new material and, for good measure, mingled with the Hard Rock crowd the night before. The songs – which stayed at the top of the charts throughout the summer – had meaning and force. Say what you will about the face tattoos, but we’re clearly in Post’s camp. He had the best concert of the year.
Also worth noting, our favorites in order:
2. “West Side Story” (Sioux City Symphony Orchestra, Orpheum Theatre) -- Mounting a show as mammoth as this and putting actors and musicians together on stage sounds like a recipe for disaster. Instead, it was one of those chilling moments that suggested theater at the Orpheum shouldn’t be left to touring groups. The inventive direction, stirring interaction and strong performances made this a keeper.
3. Steve Martin and Martin Short (Orpheum Theatre) -- While Sioux City audiences got a glimpse of Martin as a bluegrass musician several years ago, they never got the comedian folks loved in the 1970s. With friend Martin Short, he was able to bring a revue that featured a little bit of everything – including that "wild and crazy guy." The fun free-for-all production was taped for Netflix but you really had to be at the Orpheum to appreciate the timing of two comic masters.
4. “Star Wars” (Sioux City Symphony Orchestra, Orpheum Theatre) – Willing to take risks, music director Ryan Haskins married two audiences with this hybrid. The orchestra played underneath the film, giving audiences more than a little jolt of excitement. Because the partnership worked so well, it can only be a matter of time before “Harry Potter” gets the same treatment.
5. Cirque Italia (Southern Hills Mall) -- Who would have thought a circus on the Southern Hills Mall parking lot could be so much fun? If you weren’t there, you should have been. This high-tech production offered a taste of the past with techniques from the future. Even in the hot summer it was worth the sweat. And, yes, that wheel of death was every bit as scary as you think.
6. Old Dominion (Battery Park) -- The hottest band in country at this point, Old Dominion presented its musical autobiography, cruising through songs that explained how they got to this juncture. The stage, filled with more lighting effects than most summer country shows, set the mood nicely and filled in when the musicians weren’t bantering about the songs’ backgrounds. Singer Matthew Ramsey told the crowd it thrilled him that folks knew their music, had seen them in concert and could sing along. During a pseudo acoustic set, he admitted they spent a lot of years on stools “making people listen to our songs.”
7. Little Big Town (Tyson Events Center) -- A rotating stage at the back of the Tyson Events Center proved to be a real hit at Little Big Town’s “Breakers” stop.
Used to spotlight LBT and opener Kacey Musgraves during acoustic sets, it offered a more intimate vibe. It also served as Midland’s welcome wagon, giving the band a chance to catch its own groove without being swallowed by the main stage. The concert hit all the Grammy-winning group’s highlights and reminded us good people, sometimes, do finish first.
8. “Rent” (Orpheum Theatre) -- This anniversary edition of “Rent” was a good tribute to the original – a show that shifted the musical theater landscape and opened the door for “Hamilton” and “Dear Evan Hansen,” musicals that make theater a must, not a maybe. Actor Sammy Ferber served as the show’s glue, pulling us into the lives of those living hand-to-mouth existences. As Mark, the filmmaker, he had the weight of “Rent” on his shoulders and wasn’t afraid to convey its urgency to the audience.
9. Casting Crowns (Orpheum Theatre) – Boasting the best audio/visuals of any act this year, Casting Crowns made sure each message came through loud and clear. Lead singer Mark Hall’s ability to detail his faults – in catchy melodies and memorable lyrics – explained why his band has been so popular. In many ways, the concert raised the bar for other performers.
10. Kevin Hart (Tyson Events Center) – The comedian was vigilant about cellphones at his show – security guards roamed the floor looking for any hint of light – but he wasn’t afraid to open a vein and reveal plenty about his life. The audience got to know “good” Kevin (who wears khakis) and “bad” Kevin (who prefers leather) and how he handles both.
The bits were classic – just wait until you hear them – and destined to redefine how he’s viewed. He’s not a saint. But he isn’t a tough guy who needs stormtroopers to search for cellphones.