The more than 16,000 people in attendance couldn’t ask for a much better evening as the Red, White & Boom music festival came to a close Sunday night at Whitaker Bank Ballpark.
After much anticipation on the festival’s most highly attended day, the hugely popular country duo Florida Georgia Line closed the three-day event out, treating the crowd to plenty of hook-heavy party anthems in Brian Kelly and Tyler Hubbard’s now signature fashion, blending hip-hop swagger and mid-tempo rock with the dueling frontmen’s tight harmonies and a few country trimmings. The Lexington fans were asked multiple times if it was ready to “rock” and this show certainly delivered stylistically thanks to a solid backing band and a stage show that featured tons of huge lights and a few added blasts of smoke for good measure.
The group managed to play most if not all of its most well-known hits, opening with “This Is How We Roll” and other crowd-pleasers like “Round Here,” “Anything Goes” and “Get Your Shine On.” But Florida Georgia Line managed to conjure up just as much excitement from the audience when it tweaked its formula slightly or got a bit more serious. The mature storytelling of “Dirt” struck a chord with the crowd while its latest hit, the piano pop ballad “H.O.L.Y.” off its just-released third album “Dig Your Roots,” has already become a crowd favorite based on the thousands who happily sung along.
... While Florida Georgia Line might not be your daddy’s country music, its anything-goes approach to the genre proves to be just fine for a lot of others.
Blake Hannon, critic
Florida Georgia Line’s encore ended with its career-making hit “Cruise” but featured something leading up to it a bit more curious: a live “Sunday mixtape” where the band took turns showing off childhood photos on the monitors and performing snippets of others hits. These included everything from Nelly’s “Ride With Me” and Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” to House Of Pain’s “Jump Around” (the crowd followed suit) and Backstreet Boys’ “Backstreet’s Back.” The fact a country act managed to somehow pull off this feat showed that while Florida Georgia Line might not be your daddy’s country music, its anything-goes approach to the genre proves to be just fine for a lot of others.
While the evening’s headliners were what most of the crowd came to see, Florida Georgia Line’s current tourmate Cole Swindell actually proved to be Sunday night’s party-starter. His appreciative and enthusiastic demeanor had energetic songs to match, also in country music’s more contemporary vein. In his Georgia roots, musical style and affability, the songwriter and Luke Bryan protege (he once served as Bryan’s merch guy and opening act) captured the crowd’s attention with the drinking, club, concert anthems “Hoppin’ In Here,” “Brought To You By Beer” and “Get Up On My Shoulders,” which served as a call the females in attendance happily answered as more than 100 climbed up for a better view of the performer.
Swindell frequently addressed the Lexington crowd and mentioned how far he’s come since he performed at one of Red, White and Boom’s original July 4th festivals as an up-and-coming artist. He managed to get the crowd popping, performing a pair of songs he wrote for other artists, including Thomas Rhett’s “Get Me Some of That” and Luke Bryan’s “Rollercoaster.” He also kept the crowd revved up with some of his own songs like the fast-driving, danceable “Flatliner,” his sincere ballad “You Should Be Here” (which he dedicated to his late father), and closing with the ex-lover kiss-off “You Ain’t Worth The Whiskey” segueing into the lyrically similar Justin Timberlake hit “Drink You Away.” It was a performance and response that would lead many to suspect his opening act status might soon be a thing of the past.
The majority of concert goers may have been there to see Florida Georgia Line and Swindell, but the first few acts did their part to get the crowd warmed up in distinctly different ways.
Opener Canaan Smith once again showed flashes of the rising star promise he displayed opening up for country rocker Brantley Gilbert at Rupp Arena back in January. His 30-minute set, which showcased a knack for occasionally groove-indebted, harder edged country rock and a solid set of arena-worthy pipes, mixed new songs with hits like “Hole in a Bottle” and his No. 1 single “Love You Like That.” He truly got the crowd on his side with the anthemic “Mad Love” and once again threw in a curveball cover in the form of Zayn Malik’s pop hit “Pillowtalk.” Throw in a few rock star antics, including swigging a bottle of bourbon in a toast with the crowd and taking a sledgehammer to a bass drum, and you’ve got a performer who literally went out swinging and possibly won over a few early arrivals.
The crowd was loosening up when California native Jon Pardi treated onlookers to a mix of more traditional country and Southern rock. With a band that featured fiddle and pedal steel, he started and ended his set with tunes worthy of a honky tonk line dance, including his charming closer and No. 1 single “Head Over Boots” that inspired the first huge sing-along of the evening. The time in between during his 40-minute performance was filled with tight musicianship, Pardi’s straightforward vocals and clever lyrics on tracks like “What I Can’t Put Down” and the blue collar romance of “Night Shift.” Aesthetically and stylistically, Pardi was the odd man out with the performers he shared the stage with, but the crowd showed some solid appreciation for the slight change of pace and songs that could easily stick around.