At one point during one of the last full days of rehearsal for his upcoming Tattoo Your Name Tour, Hunter Hayes told his half-dozen band members he wants something more “eventful” to happen during the transition from one song to the next. Holed up in a huge warehouse where the stage, a series of neon bars and squares, has been fully constructed and the lighting design is being tested, Rolling Stone Country joined Hayes and his crew just days before the trek is scheduled to kick off. (See exclusive video of Hunter’s tour rehearsal above).
One of the most buzzed about aspects of the tour are the wristbands all concertgoers will receive on their way into each venue. Synced with an app that can be downloaded before the show, the wristbands allow an interactive experience for audience members. Enter information into the app and each fan becomes an integral part of the production.
For now, 100 of the plain white bands are merely scattered on the floor, as if a flock of origami swans has landed in front of the stage. But on the night of Hayes’ shows, the wristbands will come alive, as they react to various parts of the concert: Hayes’ specific commands, for instance, or the proximity of high-tech beach balls bouncing throughout the venue. Two long aisles on each side of the stage will put the young country star right in the middle of the audience. Whether he’s playing drums at the end of one side or piano or guitar at the other, Hayes remains just one element of the entirely interactive experience.
“I want to be shaking hands, running up and down, doing the whole thing,” the musician told Rolling Stone Country at last weekend’s rehearsal in Nashville. “Not only do I get to do that but now we have something that reacts to that and spreads the energy across the room. So you’re not just creating something that’s like this four-walled box on a stage. You take something that happens and then spread it out over the entire audience. Then everybody’s immediately closer and part of the show. The show changes shape, it changes dimensions immediately.”
The changing dimensions will, Hayes says, allow the musical arrangements to be “sort of exaggerated” and hopefully more exciting and emotional.
“I like the word ’emotion’ because my favorite thing about this is sitting in the middle and seeing it all kind of come together,” he explains. “It is a pretty cool experience. Tying that to different arrangements, we’ve come up with different ways to make that happen.”
The wristbands are just one part of each stop on Hayes’ new tour, which follows the release of his Storyline album. The LP features the single after which the tour is christened, “Tattoo (Your Name).” Hayes says the jam-packed setlist for the tour will feature some 80 to 90 percent of the material from Storyline.
“We’re also doing a lot from Encore,” he teases. “One of my favorite things about the show was … the font had to be so small to fit all the songs on the setlist! I was like, ‘Finally we have a really solid, slammed show.’ So we’re doing a lot of stuff off of both records. There’s a lot of bridging one song into another, which I love doing. There’s a lot of little sneak, small surprises in the arrangements just to keep it fresh.”
Even those who have seen Hayes on tour earlier this year are bound to notice a number of minor changes in the music the band will be performing, which, he says “makes me really happy because it’s all about keeping it new, so that we don’t get comfortable with anything.”
An aspect that won’t be changing, however, is one of the acts serving as tour opener — Dan + Shay. But unlike on the last trek, the rising duo won’t be limited to performing an acoustic set.
“They’re going to be full electric, a full band,” Hayes explains, “They have a lot of energy and I think this stage is going to be quite nice for them to run and do their thing.”
He’s also looking forward to introducing fans to up-and-coming act the Railers, who, like Dan + Shay, are his Warner Music Nashville label mates.
“Everybody was raving about them,” he says. “I saw them for the first time on the Road Race for the Guinness World Record. I literally remember leaning over to my manager and I said, ‘If we do a tour in the fall, can we please take them with us?’ Because I just love their sound. I love the bluegrass element of it, I love the harmonies, I love the record. I love everything. Their live performance feels like they’ve been doing it forever. There is a tightness to the band that I love. I think it’s going to be brilliant; it’s going to be fun.”
With the tour’s tattoo theme, spotting new Hunter Hayes-inspired ink in the crowd probably won’t be too difficult. As his star has ascended, so has the number of tattooed fans Hayes has seen at his shows, especially during meet-and-greet sessions. He’s amazed and flattered by how some fans take the body art to the extreme.
“This one girl went to the show on the We’re Not Invisible Tour and at the meet-and-greet she asked me to sign her arm because she was going to get a tattoo before the show,” Hayes recalls. “I was like, ‘I don’t think you’re going to be able to do that before the show, but have fun!'” A couple of months ago, however, Hayes says he saw the girl again and she confirmed that she had been tattooed before his gig and made it back without missing more than the first couple of songs.
“She’s got this tattoo of my signature on her arm — I kind of wish it was a better signature,” he says. “We’ve had a few people come up and say, ‘Hey, will you write the lyrics to this song, I want to get it tattooed.’ You’re very flattered, you’re honored, you’re stoked and then you get nervous because you want to have good handwriting.”
Hayes’ tour begins tonight in University Park, Pennsylvania, before hitting Albany, New York, on Halloween.