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Buffalo gets a savory Taste of Country

Buffalo may never be confused with Nashville or Austin as a hotbed of country music, but for one night – Friday – the Bisons put down the bats and balls and Coca-Cola Field was transformed into a country Mecca of sorts.

On a picture-perfect evening in the Queen City, the annual Taste of Country filled the ballpark with cowboy hats, red Solo cups and thousands of fans who came to party with a five-band lineup and more than four hours of country music.

With the rush-hour traffic on the Niagara Thruway serving as a backdrop, country duo LoCash kicked things off under bright blue skies and warmed up the crowd with a 30-minute set of songs largely from their forthcoming album, “The Fighter.” With tracks like, “Drunk Drunk” and “All Day,” LoCash got the crowd rockin’, never more than when they broke out the song the duo co-wrote for country music superstar Tim McGraw, “Truck Yeah.”

LoCash ended their set with a live Facebook video as they performed their lone Top-10 hit, “I Love This Life,” offering a serviceable effort to, as they said, “get the party started.”

Jerrod Niemann kept things moving with a set including, “What Do You Want” and “Out of My Heart,” a pair of songs exploring the pitfalls of love with a country twist.

But it was Niemann’s offbeat tune “Donkey” that highlighted his set, complete with his bass player donning a donkey head.

With the crowd filling the outfield to capacity and thousands more in the stands, the buzz was building for the evening’s headliner, Billy Currington. But before the Georgia boy took the stage, country die-hards were treated to a high-octane set from Granger Smith that included his crew shooting some crowd scenes for potential inclusion in an upcoming video.

Smith’s new single, “If the Boot Fits,” might have been the highlight of his evening, had his rendition of the up-tempo “Ain’t Goin’ Down (’Til the Sun Comes Up),” a Garth Brooks tune, not stolen the show.

The Eli Young Band had the tall task of following the electric Smith to the stage, and it was a task the boys from Texas didn’t appear up for. In a listless set, in sharp contrast to Smith’s selfie-shooting, beer-guzzling, crowd-pleasing persona, lead singer Mike Eli offered a low-energy set that drew what could generously be described as a tepid response from the crowd.

Their new music, including, “Saltwater Gospel,” the first single from the band’s next album, drew almost no reaction from the fans, who seemed to either be longing for Smith to return to the stage or Currington to begin his set.

By the time Eli turned to their better-known songs like, “Drunk Last Night” and “Crazy,” the latter of which was one of the band’s three songs to reach No. 1 on the country charts, the crowed warmed a bit, but it was a case of too little too late.

With the sun long gone and the evening entering its fifth hour, headliner Currington took to the stage and closed out a memorable night of country music with a strong set highlighted by several of his nine No. 1 hits, including opening the set with a powerful rendition of “Doin’ It,” and chasing it with “That’s How Country Boys Roll,” arguably his best pure country song.

Heading into the night, fans were questioning the strength of this year’s Taste of Country lineup, but, anchored by Currington, it was a night well worth the price of admission.