As one of country’s biggest and busiest stars, Luke Bryan has had a bit of a scheduling problem for the last two years or so – he’s been too slammed to celebrate his Number One songs in customary Nashville fashion.
Normally when a song hits the top of the charts, the organizations behind the artist and songwriters will throw a swanky party with fancy hors d’oeuvres and an open bar and invite their industry pals to come toast the well-deserved success. But when you accumulate hits at the pace of somebody like Bryan – who has been on top 16 times in his career already – it’s nearly impossible to stop and have a party each time.
That suits Bryan just fine, but lately the good-natured Georgia boy has been feeling like his songwriters got the short end of the stick. So on Monday (October 24th), Bryan found time for a special kind of Number One party – one that celebrated his last seven chart toppers all at once at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum — and invited fans to join in.
Set up to honor “Play It Again,” “Roller Coaster,” “I See You,” “Kick the Dust Up,” “Strip It Down,” “Home Alone Tonight” and “Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Everyday,” Bryan filled the triple-decked CMA Theater and then invited each one of the writers involved to come out and sing, making the whole thing a sort of mini behind-the-music special and appropriately naming it “Behind the Stadium Lights.”
Wearing his trademark black ball cap, black T-shirt and tight jeans (and toting a red solo cup full of tequila), the superstar was in a super-relaxed mood throughout, goofing around with fans and his friends onstage, calling to his wife and kids in the audience and insisting on a loose feel to the proceedings.
“My main thing is, I just want us to chill, and let’s just play some songs and celebrate some unbelievable songwriters and people who make all this stuff happen,” Bryan said as he took his seat at center stage, surrounded by empty barstools and instruments. “The way you arrive at having to have one party with seven Number Ones is certainly first of all, you’re just extremely blessed by the man upstairs. And secondly you miss the opportunity to have one Number One party and then another one happens, and the next thing you know, here we are, we’re getting to celebrate seven.”
As the lights went down Bryan thanked his band for doing one more show that wasn’t on the calendar in a year that has already included more than 110, but his main goal for the night was to salute the songwriters – and show off their skills for fans who may not know.
“I like the way this thing came about,” Bryan explained. “Most Number One parties, you just get up there and people say thank you and all this, but I’m really excited to be onstage with all these writers and showcase just how talented they are and how blessed I am to get to write with them.”
First up was “Play It Again,” which hit the top spot in the spring of 2014 and was written by Dallas Davidson and Ashley Gorley. Bryan let the songwriters sing the verses they wrote before coming in on the ear-worm chorus – enlightening folks in the crowd as to what a hit sounds like before they hear it.
“When I heard ‘Oh my god/This is my song,’ I said ‘Yup, there’s gonna be a lot of people singing that back to me one day,'” Bryan said of the first time he listened to the track.
Next came October 2014’s “Roller Coaster,” co-written by Bryan’s guitarist Michael Carter and rising star Cole Swindell. Swindell couldn’t make the party since he got a chance to play a round at the famous Augusta National Golf Club – which led to some long-distance ribbing from his buddy Bryan – but Carter was on had to explain where the “Now she’s got me twisted/Like an old beach roller coaster” line came from.
“The three of us all grew up in the same area but didn’t know each other,” Carter said. “But we all went to Panama City for vacation, and we all went to the Miracle Strip Amusement Park. There was a big roller coaster there, and that’s what we were talking about.
“It’s already gone now,” he went on with a hint of disappointment, “They tore it down …”
“They called me wanting me to actually buy that roller coaster,” Bryan butted in with Carter looking shocked. “Swear to God! Can’t even make it up! They said, ‘It will be $4.8 million.’ I said, ‘Yeah, we’re good.'”
February 2015’s “I See You” came across aggressive and modern – even played with acoustic instruments – featuring co-writers Bryan, Ashley Gorley and Luke Laird (Laird needed cue-cards to sing the track since it was written so long ago, which gave Bryan a fit of the giggles), while August 2015’s “Kick the Dust Up” found Bryan telling the song’s writers – Davidson, Gorley and Chris DeStefano – they had better thank Bryan’s son Bo for making him play it so much he had to record it.
Relishing in the loose vibe of the evening, Bryan squirmed in his stool and tried to make record-scratching noises on his guitar like a DJ, then playfully announced, “I like how everybody said that [melody] sounds Chinese.” The crowd erupted as he joked, “Did I offend anybody just there? Lord. I’m gonna be on TMZ in the morning.”
Fall of 2015’s “Strip It Down” surprised everyone, showing off co-writer Jon Nite’s smoky vocals and Copperman’s radio-ready delivery, while the four writers behind this February’s “Home Alone Tonight” (Jody Stevens, Jaida Dreyer, Cole Taylor and Tommy Cecil) came out to re-produce their writing session. It was Dreyer and Cecil’s first-ever chart topper, which Bryan admitted his wife Caroline still “worships.”
Finally, the writers behind Bryan’s latest Number One, “Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Everyday” appeared – the famous Peach Pickers writing crew of Rhett Akins and Davidson (with Ben Hayslip absent). The longtime friends joked and sang for a bit, and also came up with a new idea for a song right onstage. Keep an ear out on Bryan’s next album for a tune featuring something along the lines of, “If I weren’t here today/I’d be sitting in a deer stand.”
That last bit made Bryan especially happy, since it brought the incredible talents of his songwriting friends into focus for those in the crowd – you just never know when or how a hit will take shape, and they make it look easy.
But Bryan couldn’t keep the himself out of the spotlight for long, since Universal Music Group CEO Mike Dungan had something he wanted to say. Remarking that Bryan had played to 1.5 million fans in the last year and given away 50 scholarships during his just-wrapped eighth annual Farm Tour, he praised the superstar for always being the same old Luke, then revealed the news that his latest album, Kill the Lights, had just gone Platinum.
“Not only is he the biggest of all the artists in country music, he’s also honestly the nicest person you could ever know,” Dungan said. “What you see here is Luke Bryan all the time. There’s not two different versions, this is who he is, and that’s why all these wonderful people want to work with him all the time.”
Bryan finishes up his Kill the Lights Tour at Detroit’s Ford Field on October 29th, and he’ll be up for two awards at the CMA Awards on November 2nd: Entertainer of the Year and Musical Event of the Year with Karen Fairchild for “Home Alone Tonight.”