If Danny Gokey’s best days are ahead of him, he already lived one of them quite well in a little bit of a vocally challenging, but overall enjoyable and crowd-pleasing Bay Area show on Friday night.
The 19/RCA Nashville recording artist and third place finisher on last season of American Idol played a free show (Presented by 95.7 FM The Wolf) at Ex’pression College in Emeryville to a small but very enthusiastic group to promote his debut album, My Best Days, which peaked at #1 on iTunes upon its release date two weeks ago. After the promotional tour, Gokey will be touring in large venues for select dates with headliner Sugarland.
Wearing a black paisley shirt plus a pair of signature glasses that match, under dim colored lighting and with a three-piece band, plus a water bottle in his hand for almost the entire time, Gokey’s ten-song set was highlighted by his raspy, soulful voice on his original country songs and on a couple of covers and cheesy – sometimes light-hearted, sometimes serious – banter. He still talks lovingly of his wife Sophia, who passed away in July 2008 just before Gokey’s Idol audition. It is clear that she is still a motivation in his music and performances, singing about love after loss in his song “I Will Not Say Goodbye” and Rascal Flatts’ “What Hurts the Most,” which Gokey sang during the Idol competition and also the Idols Live summer tour. But he also recounts a happy moment in their lives when he speaks details of his proposal to Sophia years ago, tying it in into his romantic cover of Brian McKnight’s “Back at One,” which Gokey sang to his wife during that proposal.
The songs Gokey sang encompassed up-tempo, addictive tunes like “Get Away” and tender, substantial ballads such as “Tiny Life.” He’s a fantastic vocalist, always genuinely having fun, emoting the different vibes of the songs, and excellent at getting a crowd going. He couldn’t accomplish all of the vocal gymnastics, as his voice cracked several times throughout the show.
Another notable thing about Gokey’s stage presence and being is his sense of humor – you either love it or feel that he tries too hard. After announcing that he was going to “take y’all to church” on his track “I Still Believe,” the breakdown in the song presented Gokey with the opportunity to go “Ya, mon! Ya, mon!” and encouraged the audience to sing with his phrases. Then he proceeded to lead a mini-Battle of the Sexes with whoever could sing the best runs. Fast-forward to 3:46 in the “I Still Believe” video under the cut and think what you want about it.
Regardless of the randomness of that moment, fans left the concert satisfied, even wanting more. Gokey and his band (Minus the one poofy-haired guitar player whose name I couldn’t catch) stayed after the show to meet fans, sign autographs, take pictures, and dole out hugs. He and I have met many, many times during the last year and it’s always been a joy to be in his presence. Those stories shall be saved for another day though.
Whatever the future holds for Gokey, he proved that he can command a stage on his own, be country while still having soul, and continue to captivate his fans from the Idol days as well as impress new ones. His star power is on the rise and with all the right moves, it could shine brighter.
My Best Days Are Ahead of Me
Life on Ya
What Hurts the Most (cover)
I Still Believe
Crazy Not To
Back at One (cover)
I Will Not Say Goodbye