‘One last round’ with Joe Diffie

By JASON WHITTINGTON,

Country music was big in the 1990s.

Sure, the genre had enjoyed moderate success from the start, but the 90s brought it to the masses.

Artists like Garth Brooks, Shania Twain and Faith Hill were transcending the genre, and their music was being played on every radio station in the country.

While I wouldn’t have called myself a big country music fan growing up, I still found myself able to sing along to most of what I heard on the radio. As I’ve gotten older, the country music of this era is what I find myself coming back to when I’m in the mood to throw on my proverbial cowboy hat.

Imagine my excitement when I found out that two powerhouses of this 90s country music renaissance, Joe Diffie and Mark Chesnutt, would be performing an acoustic set right down the road in Cleveland at the Bologna Performing Arts Center in early March.

These two artists combined to chart dozens of songs during the 90s, including 13 No.1 hits. I quickly snatched up tickets and started counting down the days.

The day of the concert finally arrived, and we found ourselves in our seats ready for the show.

The room was abuzz.

This was the third show that my wife and I had been able to take part in at the BPAC this season, and it was easily the most heavily attended.

People in the Delta were excited to hear these two guys perform.

Finally the lights went down, and our superstars and their bandmates made their way to their spots on the stage.

Diffie started the show off with a spirited rendition of his hit ”Third Rock from the Sun,” and we were off and running.

The two would take turns singing songs throughout the evening, and we ended up hearing a lot of those No. 1 hits. Highlights for me included Chesnutt’s performances of his megahits “Too Cold at Home” and “Bubba Shot the Jukebox,” along with Diffie’s heartfelt performance of his 1992 single “Ships That Don’t Come In.”

I expected to hear a lot of songs that I knew, and I did not leave disappointed.

What I didn’t expect was how entertaining the banter between the two entertainers would be.

Diffie is a natural performer; a true front man, so to speak. He was completely comfortable behind the mic, and he could have likely shared stories of his Nashville experiences all night long.

Countering this easy, conversational style was Chesnutt’s deadpan delivery, along with a very self-deprecating sense of humor.

This dynamic between the two worked perfectly and brought a lot of laughs.

It’s been almost a month since I attended the show, and I just heard the news that Diffie has passed away from complications due to COVID-19.

This has been a trying time for all of us, and things like this only bring it closer to home.

Through my sadness, I can say that I’m blessed to have been able to share a special experience with my Delta brothers and sisters that night; an experience that now feels even more special, knowing that we shared in one of Diffie’s final shows.

I’ll close this article by sharing a lyrics from Diffie’s aforementioned hit “Ships That Don’t Come In.”

And as he ordered one last round he said I guess we can't complain

God made life a gamble and we're still in the game

Here’s to remembering that as we move through however much life we have left.

In the photo below, Bologna Performing Arts Center Director Laura Howell (center) stands with Joe Diffie (left) and Mark Chesnutt (right) after their March performance in Cleveland.

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