While serving as hosts for the inaugural American Country Countdown Awards in December, Florida Georgia Line – the twosome of Brian Kelley from the Sunshine State and Tyler Hubbard, pride of the Peach State – turned the two-hour televised show into a party.
Seems the duo has a knack for doing that. So it was no surprise that the North Little Rock stop on Florida Georgia Line’s first concert tour as headliners turned into one big party itself. With a crowd of 12,874 Saturday night at Verizon Arena cheering, dancing and singing along, the guys delivered their upbeat, relatable music about regular life with gusto. Of course, you have to realize that by regular life, we mean one that includes beer, weekends, girls in tight jeans, pickups and a world where it always seems to be summer.
That’s the new country music, or bro country, if you will. And the fun-loving Kelley and Hubbard, along with pals like Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean and Jake Owen, are two of the torchbearers of the sound that now dominates country radio.
It’s hard not to like – even if your allegiance is to more traditional country – and certainly the crowd at Verizon, which leaned heavily toward the young side, loved it. For instance, you gotta love “Dirt,” the No. 1 hit that outlines all the things that make you wanna build a “10 percent down white picket fence house on this dirt.”
Then there’s “Get Your Shine On” (yeah, cell phones lit up the arena), the cover of Black Stone Cherry’s “Stay,” the smash hits “Round Here” and “This Is How We Roll,” and another surefire hit, the duo’s next single, “Sippin’ on Fire.”
Back to that real-life thing, Kelley and Hubbard decided it would be a great idea on their Anything Goes Tour to let fans hear snippets of songs that have influenced them along the way. And while the crowd obviously loved verses from songs like “Forgot About Dre” and “We Dem Boyz,” it was a rocking version of Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places” that just about brought the house down before a likewise boisterous, evening-ending performance of the mega-hit “Cruise.”
Maybe, just maybe, though, the most authentic country song we heard all night long was Thomas Rhett’s “Beer With Jesus.” Despite the title, the number, which Rhett wrote a few years back as a college junior, isn’t a drinking song at all. It’s about getting to ask Jesus a few questions, like “have you been there from the start?” and “how’d you change a sinner’s heart?”
Back in 2013, when Rhett, the middle performer this time around, was the opening act for a show at Verizon Arena that featured Aldean and Owen, I called the song “curiously terrific.” And each time I hear it – especially when I have the opportunity to listen to him perform it live – it reminds me of Rhett’s excellent command of ballads. In a blaring, thunderous, three-hour-plus concert filled with bro-country party anthems, driving guitars, smoke machines, intricate lasers, eye-catching visuals and roving spotlights, it was a nice change of pace to hear Rhett slow things down a bit.
His acoustical version – soothingly just him and his guitar – of “I Could Die a Happy Man” also hit the spot. It’s a poignant song he plans to include on his next album. Of course, the crowd also enjoyed the hits sprinkled throughout the affable Rhett’s 10-song set, including “It Goes Like This,” “Get Me Some of That” and “Make Me Wanna.” He shifted gears again in closing with a fun version of Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk.”
Newcomer Frankie Ballard opened the show with a tight five-song set highlighted by his hits “Sunshine & Whiskey” and “Helluva Life” and the catchy “Drinky Drink.”