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Randy Houser connects with crowd at UB

Those with summertime longings – specifically the season’s outdoor concert experiences – should keep the area’s newest concert venue, and the University at Buffalo Bulls football schedule, in mind. The university’s powers that be have made an easy pairing of lively concerts and home-game rowdiness. And both activities are known to involve tailgating, and traditional liquid accoutrements.

A parking lot between UB’s football stadium and Millersport Highway has been dubbed Stampede Square. It was where country music recording artist Randy Houser played with his excellent band of fellas on sweltering Saturday afternoon.

The nouveau sporty square is the site-to-be for three more outdoor concerts before mid-November: Kool & the Gang on Saturday, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy on Oct. 19 and Strictly Hip on Nov. 5. The shows are free.

UB is seeking to augment football fans’ experiences by creating this instantly-popular “Tailgate Concert Series,” ringed with tents, recreational vehicles and tables heaped with home-cooked and catered fare. The area, dominated by the large stage on its eastern end, is chock-full of family-friendly activities. All children at Saturday’s pregame festivities were handed blue and white half-sized footballs: some of these would find their way onto the concert stage later.

Among those awaiting Houser’s set with great anticipation was 8-year-old Owen, at stage side with his mother, Meegan, younger sister Lana, and father Jim. He had just blithely high-fived UB mascot Victor E. Bull and was, he said, wishing to hear Houser’s “Whistlin’ Dixie.” The family’s two mini-footballs were safely tucked away in their tote bag.

Bounding onstage to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” Houser began his trim, hour-long set with great rock-and-roll fanfare, shredding guitars gradually slowing into “Whistlin’ Dixie,” off his second recording. Nearby, Owen was beaming while his sister had her forefingers jammed into her ears.

As they would during the rest of the concert, the audience met the first notes of each song with screams of recognition before singing along with the clearly delighted singer. Houser checked in with his fans – “Y’all good?” his intermittent and seemingly unnecessary query. “Y’all ready to sing on a Saturday afternoon?” he asked before hundreds joined in on “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,” co-written with Trace Adkins.

Houser led extended riffs of most of his material with elongated solos, the rock aspects soaring mightily before tempos slowed to a more familiar country swing. This would be the formula for hits “Lowdown and Lonesome,” “Like a Cowboy” and “Runnin’ Outta Moonlight” especially. About the latter he said, “Thank you so much for making that my second No. 1 song.”

Regarding his latest release, “How Country Feels,” Houser again thanked everyone who had purchased it, noting the number of those before him who knew his newest lyrics. “I don’t care if you steal it,” he said, “as long as you love it and sing along with me at shows, that’s how I get paid.”

The tight set ended with the eponymous “How Country Feels,” listing things involved in a typical Houser kind of country day: hollers, hills, mud, hay, cornfields, and letting one’s hair down. In short, a good day-long romp.

“I know you can get louder than that, you’re going to a football game, Buffalo. Get loud and proud,” said Houser. “Have a helluva game!” he shouted. But the crowd was not done with him. Chants of “One more song!” changed to “Randy! Randy! Randy!” The band returned to play “Whistlin’ Dixie,” their opening tune. But this time the song was a sonic tornado, with more deftly layered aggressive phrasings. Owen, now on his father’s shoulders, got his set wish – times two.

Opener Josh Gallagher warmed up the Houser crowd with well-planned, rousing country covers peppered with his originals. Across the way a female singer was rehearsing The National Anthem in the football stadium.

Gallagher got great response with Darius Rucker’s “Wagon Wheel” and “Red Neck Yacht Club” by Craig Morgan. It was his job to announce not only Houser but The March of Victory, featuring a parade of Bulls captains, head coach Jeff Quinn, and Thunder of the East marching band – all led by a twirling Victor E. Bull.