Making the Guinness Book of World Records is one of those pipe dreams that even the most famous musicians find irresistible. In November 2006, Jay-Z set the bar for most concerts in different cities over a 24-hour span when he flew his private plane to seven U.S. spots on his Hangar Tour. Six years later, the Flaming Lips passed that mark, playing eight Southern cities over the course of a day as part of the hoopla surrounding MTV’s O Music Awards. One of the openers on that mini-tour? An up-and-coming country polymath named Hunter Hayes.
Hayes, whose second album Storyline came out on Tuesday, decided to one-up everybody: From Friday to Saturday he and a caravan of buses traveled down the East Coast on the Hunter Hayes 24-Hour Road Race, a marathon of 10 shows over 24 hours that aimed to break the Lips’ record and raise awareness about child hunger.
The bus portion of the trip totaled 408 miles over its nine destinations — Boston, Worcester, Providence, New London, New Haven, Stamford, South Orange, Asbury Park, and Philadelphia — and the rules were firm: more than half the cities had to have a population greater than 100,000 people; each city needed to be at least 31 miles apart; speeding tickets and law-breaking were prohibited; venues have to hold at least 300 people, and tickets have to be made available to the general public; and the artist has to play for 15 minutes, not including banter, each time out.
That was not a problem for the baby-faced Hayes, who packed venues at 12:45 p.m. (stop Number Three, the drafty Palladium in Worcester, Massachussetts) to 1:30 a.m. (stop Number Eight, the warm confines of South Orange, New Jersey’s South Orange Performing Arts Center). His appeal to the gathered Hayniacs (yes, really) was easy to understand — his songs are twangily catchy, he knows how to uplift his audience, and he has a bubbly, affable charm that makes him seem simultaneously younger and more mature than his 22 years.
The strict parameters of the Road Race meant every movement was calibrated down to the millisecond. Hayes’ first notes rang out in New York’s Times Square at 8:17 a.m. Friday and lousy weather in the Big Apple nearly derailed efforts early on, but he arrived at the Paradise Theater in time to not only hit his mark, but to set a pace that would result in him being as much as an hour ahead of schedule at certain points. “It’s pretty weird to do shows that are so quick. Usually we have a lot more gear,” Hayes told the crowd in New London, Connecticut.
Hayes and his band switched things up from city to city, varying set lists and dropping in a few instrumental jams that showcased the prowess of everyone onstage. The ballad “Wanted” garnered screams from its opening chords, while Hayes’s cheeky breakthrough single “Storm Warning” got the crowd moving every time. He invited audience participation, which both revealed how intently the crowd had memorized even the new songs’ lyrics and wisely conserved his voice.
Shows eight and nine — both in New Jersey — offered acoustic takes on the material he’d been playing all day, and the South Orange Performing Arts Center’s spectacular sound design rendered the material nearly sumptuous. Each venue offered its own unique charms, too: New London, Connecticut’s Garde Arts Center is a rehabbed movie theater built in 1926, while the legendary Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey had guitars and posters from shows past hanging on the walls.
As 4 a.m. neared at the Stone Pony, Hayes’s performance of his It-Gets-Better-core anthem “Invisible” was interrupted by an air horn and a declaration from the pair of officials tracking the festivities that Hayes had, indeed, broken the record. (Later, Hayes would tell a scrum of reporters that he’d deliberately chosen “Invisible” for the award-presentation moment; its lyrical flipping of the titular word makes it nicely triumphant.)
“Let’s go home!” someone shouted giddily after the presentation was over, but Hayes and his bandmates would have nothing of it — not only did they barrel into the giddy jig “I Want Crazy,” with Hayes leading the crowd in hopping along, Hayes took the time on his way out of the venue to pose for photos with some fans who had been huddling near the stage door.
Day had broken by the time the caravan arrived in Philadelphia for the final concert. Before hitting the stage at the Trocadero — where, unconstrained by time limits and officially ahead of the Lips by two shows, he and his bandmates (and a few members of the opening acts) stretched the set to seven songs — Hayes stopped by the media bus to chat, his demeanor as effortlessly affable as it had been during the Good Morning America interview that preceded the journey 24 hours prior.
What was next? “Everybody goes to bed,” he told the assembled, laughing. But he and his bandmates couldn’t hit the snooze button too many times. A trip to Japan beckoned, and it’s hard not to think that heading overseas so shortly after breaking one record could put the spunky Hayes in mind of smashing another.