FARGO — Hat acts are back.

That message came across loud and clear Saturday night when Cody Johnson and Justin Moore played a nearly full Fargodome.

The singers extolled the virtues of country music, praised God, the men and women who serve and, of course, the red, white and blue.

“You come to my show and you’re going to get real country music and patriotism,” Johnson declared in the middle of his set.

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Cody Johnson performs with Jody Bartula on Saturday, May 18, 2024, at the Fargodome.

Alyssa Goelzer/The Forum

Johnson was high and hoarse from talking about country music all week at the Academy of Country Music events in Frisco, Texas, where he was nominated in, but did not win, the Entertainer, Male Artist, Album, Song and Visual Media of the year categories.

That didn’t seem to bother him as much as waking up with a sore throat Saturday morning. He was determined to not let that get in the way of a triumphant return to Fargo.

“By God, I’m here to put a show on,” he said before launching into “Leather,” the title track from his ninth and most recent album. The cowboy ballad was one of many in the night that had the crowd singing along.

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Justin Moore opens the show for Cody Johnson on Saturday, May 18, 2024, at the Fargodome.

Alyssa Goelzer/The Forum

Johnson said he was reminded earlier in the day that

he played to 700 people at the Sanctuary Events Center in Fargo five years ago

.

“I think we’ve got a little more than 700 people here tonight,” he said.

The crowd was estimated to be close to 15,000.

“I remember playing to 700 people in Fargo and this is a lot more fun,” he said later.

His brief time in Fargo in January 2019 at Sanctuary Events was memorable. Before that show he got a tattoo of feathers on his right forearm while waiting in the green room and realized he was playing in a former church. When he was skeptical if many people would show up with the cold weather and snow, he was told people would come. The show of 700 was a sellout.

“These people in Fargo don’t give a damn about winter. Y’all are some tough people here,” he said to great cheers from the crowd.

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Cody Johnson performs on Saturday, May 18, 2024, at the Fargodome.

Alyssa Goelzer/The Forum

Unfortunately, he didn’t mention playing to 2,000 people just across the river at Moorhead’s Bluestem Amphitheater in 2021.

Johnson repeatedly thanked his fans for coming out then and now and took his cowboy hat off in a sign of gratitude.

Despite saying he had a sore throat, Johnson talked a lot Saturday night and told a story that when he first got to Nashville and met with labels, one of the first told him they loved everything about him, but said he would need to give up the rights to his music and hang up his cowboy hat if he wanted to be a star. The Texas bull rider said, ‘Thanks, but no thanks” and went back to writing and recording his own songs.

Sticking to his guns worked out pretty well for the cowboy. He opened with a triple shot of his earlier work in “Me & My Kind,” “Dance Her Home” and “With You I Am,” from 2013 to 2016. All three songs came when Johnson was writing and releasing albums on his own label and showed a looser, fun version of the singer, a call back to country music in the 1990s before country music became so scripted and over-produced.

“I truly believe my calling was to make country music sound like country music again,” he said.

After that he kicked into “Nothin’ on You,” a soulful slow-burn that at times sounded like Chris Stapleton’s take on “Tennessee Whiskey.” From there he kicked into the thundering “People in the Back,” which called to mind Hank Williams Jr.

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Fans hold their cowboy hats up in the hair as Cody Johnson performs on Saturday, May 18, 2024, at the Fargodome.

Some of the influential sounds could be subjective, but others were straightforward. He covered The Charlie Daniels Band’s rollicking “Long Haired Country Boy” on his way to introducing his band and he closed the night with Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings’ “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.”

The most interesting cover of the night was an ode to his friend Jelly Roll, an acoustic version of “Son of a Sinner.”

Johnson may have been influenced by outlaw country acts, but he declared his appreciation for police officers, first responders, nurses and those that served in the military. He wasn’t as deferential about politicians, claiming they divide the country by emphasizing differences as he played “Human.”

He then told those in the crowd wearing hats to take them off as he performed a reverent version of “God Bless America” with just a piano backing.

He started winding down the show with his biggest hits, starting off with his latest, “Dirt Cheap” followed by his smash hit, “The Painter.” To no surprise though, it was the rousing “‘Til You Can’t” that really had fans whipped up as Johnson repeatedly let them sing lead.

Johnson is a breath of fresh air in a country landscape that can be a tangled mass of bros in baseball caps, singing about dirt roads, beaches, girls in cutoffs and pickups, inspired more by hard rock and hip-hop than the country artists that came before them. He may not be single-handedly saving country music, but he’s making it fun.

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Justin Moore opens the show for Cody Johnson on Saturday, May 18, 2024, at the Fargodome.

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Drake Milligan opens the show for Cody Johnson on Saturday, May 18, 2024, at the Fargodome.

Alyssa Goelzer/The Forum

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Drake Milligan opens the show for Cody Johnson on Saturday, May 18, 2024, at the Fargodome.

Alyssa Goelzer/The Forum

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Justin Moore opens the show for Cody Johnson on Saturday, May 18, 2024, at the Fargodome.

Alyssa Goelzer/The Forum

For almost 30 years John Lamb has been covering arts and entertainment in the Red River Valley. He started writing for the High Plains Reader in 1997 and moved to The Forum in 2002. He is an Annenberg fellow, an occasional judge for talent shows and food contestants and co-hosts the weekly “Gardening Together: The Podcast.” He’s rubbed shoulders with Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain, drank with National Book Award winner Colm McCann, had coffee with Grammy-winning classical musician Peter Schickele and interviewed countless other artists, actors, musicians, writers and assorted interesting people. Contact John at jlamb@forumcomm.com.





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