A hot country concert is the best way to bring on a new season, and Reba McEntire and Ricky Van Shelton had the Huntsman Center cooking.

The perennial Female Vocalist of the Year joined the Best New Vocalist in blending the new with the familiar in all ranges of emotion and tone. They actually like what they're doing, and the audience can feed off the singers' passion.Shelton opened the double header Wednesday night with his recent No. 1, "Crime of Passion." The Virginia native has been picking a guitar since he was 6, and the years of practice paid off.

"Wild-Eyed Dream," the title of his debut album, shows how well Shelton blends all the right elements of classic country _ rock, soul and bluegrass. Tunes from the album played before an appreciative audience (especially females who like denims, boots and fringe) included "Somebody Lied," "Life Turned Her That Way" and "Don't We All Have The Right."

Shelton is the classic country singer, strumming tearjerkers and rockabilly. "Your Freedom," written by Shelton, blends all the styles the former pipefitter drew upon including gospel.

He really knows how to make good country, although the bopping around from slow-paced music to hopping tunes and back to the slow is a little uneven.

But his range is tremendous: the mournful "Statue of A Fool" penned four days earlier while the band was in Las Vegas is a great old-style country song, slow and sorrowful. Follow that with the jumping "Hole in My Pocket" and the guy is smoking. Shelton belts out a good song.

And then there's Reba.

Four-time Country Female Vocalist of the Year, Reba McEntire is a sizzling good show. With 16 albums and dozens of awards to her name, McEntire is a gutsy performer who charms an audience.

The "hardest working singer on tour" made an entrance amid smoke and saxaphone with "So, So Long" off her latest album, "Reba." Bouncing back between the old, the new and the borrowed, McEntire made good on her reputation.

"One Promise Too Late," "What Am I Gonna Do?" and "Let the Music Lift You" set the pace for her portion of the three-hour show. The Oklahoma lady knows how to lift an audience.

As with Shelton, McEntire has a tremendous range. Her voice can cover all ends of the scale and do it with the same comfortable feeling. Her personality is genuine, a real sweetheart who'd be nice to sit and chat with for a spell. The lyrics have a commonness about them, experiences we all know.

McEntire's years on the road, both as a rodeo cowgirl and artist, show in her polished performance. The audience and band interaction, along with the costumes and lights, are professional and enjoyable.

Singing the 1947 classic, "Sunday Kind of Love," McEntire puts her own special blend into it, as with the Otis Redding tune, "R-E-S-P-E-C-T." From a cappella to western to rock to soul, the lady has class. And a lot of fans.