TUSCALOOSA — An eclectic and fervent audience turned out Thursday night for the Tuscaloosa Get Up 2 benefit concert at the downtown Bama Theatre, headlined by Athens band Alabama Shakes and joined by opening acts Doc Dailey & Magnolia Devil and St. Paul & The Broken Bones.
Music fans of all ages and backgrounds milled around the theatre lobby browsing items on display for the silent auction, including a gelatin mold of Alabama coach Nick Saban, and partaking in serrano-topped barbecue nachos from Jim ‘n Nick’s and draft beer from one of the concert’s sponsors, Druid City Brewing.
Nathan Gilbert, 23, and his wife, Kaitlyn, 22, stood outside the theatre to enjoy the 60-degree night air prior to seeing the Shakes for the first time. The Madison couple is living in Tuscaloosa while Nathan finishes law school and scored tickets to the sold-out show through friends.
“It’s our first time seeing the Shakes live, but a lot of our friends are big fans and have been talking about how good they are,” Nathan said. “We’re excited to see them.”
Both opening acts for the 3 1/2 hour show played six-song sets, with Shoals band Doc Dailey and Magnolia Devil opening the show with a twang. The country/rockabilly group, which included acoustic guitar, a fiddle player and pedal steel, closed their set with “She’s Going to Love Me.”
Birmingham-based St. Paul and The Broken Bones, which will play Dec. 28 at WorkPlay in Birmingham, followed with their unique blend of big-band sound, gospel and R&B influences and James Brown-style soul, complete with a trumpet section and the powerful vocals of lead singer Paul Janeway.
As Janeway grooved across the stage in a dapper suit with a jaunty pocket square, the group’s raucous performance spurred the crowd to shimmy and shake and caused one concertgoer to yell out, “Alabama Shakes better be on their game tonight — holey moley!”
Before the Shakes emerged on-stage accompanied by a dancing Christmas tree that swayed in the background, Chan Griess of Eutaw escaped to the lobby as she tucked into some nachos and talked about driving into town to see the Shakes for the second time after watching the band perform at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheatre.
“When I first heard them, I thought, ‘They’re from Alabama?’ And now they’ve been all over the world,” Griess said.
The Shakes are comprised of lead singer Brittany Howard, bassist Zac Cockrell, guitarist Heath Fogg, drummer Steve Johnson and keyboardist Ben Tanner.
The band, which spent part of this month touring in Florida, played a 90-minute, high-energy set featuring crowd favorites “Hold On,” “Rise to the Sun” and “Always Alright,” along with a few slower-paced tunes in which lead singer Brittany Howard shared her take on the ups and downs of relationships.
Howard, who was sporting a short do instead of her trademark curly hair, showcased a strong stage presence, seamlessly transitioning between playing along on her turquoise guitar to focusing on sharing songs about “her best friend” and a woman scorned.
The Shakes powered through several songs and an encore, with Howard alternating her vocal style enough for an audience member to describe her as “Janis Joplin meets Aretha Franklin meets I’m-not-sure-who-else.”
The band, which is Grammy-nominated for best rock performance for “Always Alright,” also headlined the inaugural Tuscaloosa Get Up benefit in March 2012, with more than $20,000 raised for charity.
According to event organizers, 100 percent of the money from Thursday’s show will go toward tornado relief efforts in Moore, Okla., the theatre’s restoration fund and The Red Barn Foundation.