Country Times: Leno to put Nashville spin on final shows

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And it’s not just the number, it’s the variety that has made “The Tonight Show” a must-see for country music fans.

Most late-night shows book chart-toppers like Gary Allan, Florida Georgia Line and Brad Paisley, but “The Tonight Show” has given viewers some cutting-edge sounds, like the three-part country-soul harmonies of The Lone Bellow (from hipster haven Brooklyn, N.Y., of all places) and Shooter Jennings, who, like his father Waylon, is a country-music outlaw.

Mr. Leno also brought back old favorites like the Mavericks and the aforementioned Garth Brooks. Mr. Brooks, who was a regular on the Leno show back in the 1990s when he was not just a country music superstar but arguably the biggest act in all of music, made a surprise appearance in November, singing an astonishing acoustic cover of Bob Seger’s “Night Moves.”

Those kind of memorable performances will still happen, obviously — I would be surprised if Mr. Brooks doesn’t drop in on the Fallon show when he launches his worldwide comeback tour later this year. And Mr. Letterman seems to love the Pistol Annies — I bet those girls have a standing invitation on his show.

And with YouTube, Austin City Limits and all the other shows and cable networks, there’s no shortage of opportunities to see what Nashville is up to.

But there’s a certain communal electricity to “The Tonight Show.” The American tribe gathered, figuratively, around the electronic campfire, ready for one last story before the lights go out.

Thanks to Mr. Leno, over the last couple of decades country music has had some of its brightest moments around that fire.

He will be missed.

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