Stage show can’t compete with Underwood’s voice

Carrie Underwood performs to a crowd of 6,600 at James Brown Arena on Sunday evening.

It took just 24 minutes to sell out James Brown Arena and not too much longer to fill it.

The fortunate few, some 6,600 strong, who managed to snatch up tickets to Sunday's Carrie Underwood concert arrived early and were prepared to stay late. Rather than wait until after the opening acts, Sons of Sylvia and Craig Morgan, had wrapped their sets, the audience had the arena fairly full by the time Sons of Sylvia opened with a raucous version of the Rolling Stones' Gimme Shelter.

For many, the event was a celebration of not just the former American Idol champ ion 's country success, but also the arena's new-found ability to attract top-tier acts to the Augusta market.

Jenifer Brown of Edgefield, S.C., was in the audience with her 12-year-old daughter, Brice. She said she attended the Jason Aldean concert in February and was ready with purchasing pointer poised when the Underwood tickets went on sale.

"I do like that we are getting big acts," she said. "Before we were always traveling - to Atlanta, to Charlotte, to Columbia - so it is really nice to see things like this in our area."

Although the crowd showed the proper measure of enthusiasm for Sons of Sylvia, hot on the heels of a recent American Idol appearance, and rose to its feet for Nashville veteran Morgan, it was eminently clear who the star of the show was.

Rising from beneath the stage on velvet chaise and bedecked in a tuxedo tailcoat, Carrie Underwood let the audience know, from the outset, that there would be more to the show than singer and songs.

Backed by a big band while platforms rose, fell and rotated, video was projected and smoke and lights established visual tone, Underwood managed to keep herself from becoming a cog in a larger, and infinitely complex, entertainment machine.

A performer who understands the ebb and flow of a dynamic performance, she managed to keep the big stage spectacular moving. She understood that success depended on her ability to serve the songs.

Whether suspended on a swing over the stage or simply sitting on steps, she let her voice - powerful and still coquettish - do the heavy lifting.

Dooley Boyles attended the concert with his wife, Emily, and their daughters. He said they took a shot at scoring tickets because they want to see James Brown Arena attract more marquee acts. His intentions, however, were not completely altruistic.

"Everyone wants to see a star," he said.