With the remnants of Hurricane Harvey hanging over Lexington Friday, it seemed the first day of the country music festival at Whitaker Bank Ballpark should have been re-named “Rain, Wet and Boom.”
Non-stop precipitation went into the night and combined with fall-like temperatures to force many of the 13,800 in attendance to swap out their shorts and T-shirts for rain coats and ponchos or stay dry under whatever roof, tent or awning they could find.
But thanks to hit-making country headliner Luke Bryan, the “Boom” of Red, White & Boom remained intact as he and fellow country acts Brett Eldredge, Luke Combs and Kane Brown did their parts to keep the crowd’s energy and spirits from being dampened.
Luke Bryan certainly worked to make the logistically-botched Farm Tour performance he gave at Lexington’s Talon Winery three years ago seem like ancient history during his more than 90 minutes on stage. Coming out of the floor at the top of a light-up staircase, he launched into a pair of danceable country-rock tunes, “Move” and “That’s My Kind of Night,” and he didn’t wait long to play his most fitting hit for the evening, “Rain Is A Good Thing.”
The rest of the set paired songs that fit together with similar tempos, styles or lyrics. Love and hooking up were highlighted in the pairing of “Crash My Party” and “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye.” Bryan played his very first hits back-to-back when he performed “All My Friends Say” and “Country Man” while dragging a cooler on stage and tossing cans of beer into the crowd (there were also his now standard hip gyrations, which prompted female fans to shriek accordingly).
And the Kentucky crowd was one he was happy to be playing for, saying they were the most hardcore country fans in North America for braving the weather — between last night and that Talon show, we have gone through a lot to see Luke Bryan. He also attempted to play peacemaker when he tried to find out how many University of Kentucky and University of Louisville fans were in attendance and got to hear boos and audible signs of the rivalry.
Bryan alternated between singing solo and playing either an acoustic guitar or piano (with a bottle of tequila on top for shots) on his own songs and a pair of covers that included Alabama’s “Play Me Some Mountain Music” and Eddie Rabbitt’s “I Love A Rainy Night.” What followed was Bryan hitting the crowd with some of his biggest hits: “Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Everyday,” “I Don’t Want This Night To End” and his encore of “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” that unexpectedly turned into Guns N’ Roses “Paradise City.” After a rain-soaked night, Bryan effectively brought the crowd through the storm smiling.
Every other artist braved the storm, but Brett Eldredge truly relished the rain. You could tell a sizable portion of the crowd was there to see him as he soaked up the moment, giving fans a style of polished pop-country punctuated by some soulful pipes and plenty of upbeat positivity. He mixed in recent hits like “Somethin’ I’m Good At” and “Wanna Be That Song” with some of his very first hits like “Beat of the Music” and “Don’t Ya,” which he recalled performing at his first ever Red, White & Boom appearance nearly four years ago. He gave away his pop-rock leanings more with a cover of Train’s “Drops of Jupiter.” He also finished his set by going deep into the crowd to shake hands and take a few selfies, but not before becoming even more adorable to his female fans by bringing his dog Edgar on stage to attempt a trick for the crowd.
The very first arrivals were treated to a 30-minute set from hot up-and-comer Kane Brown. The former “X-Factor” contestant from Georgia and Internet sensation played upbeat modern country tunes (“What Ifs,” “Hometown”) some slower, often tender ballads like his certified gold single “Used To Love You Sober” and his newest song “Heaven.” Brown’s songs were sufficient to get the crowd warmed up, even if they often sounded a bit generic. But when he utilized a distinctive, warm, and occasionally sensual baritone that doesn’t match his bad-boy-next-door persona, you could hear and see how Brown’s image and musical gifts add a new wrinkle to the bro-country formula.
Brown was followed by the first Luke to take the stage, singer-songwriter everyman Luke Combs. The North Carolina native won’t be pegged as a country heartthrob, but his talents as a writer and vocalist during his 40 minutes on stage hinted at a welcome stylistic versatility and depth. His opener, “Out There,” had a foundation in both hard and Southern Rock and showcased a voice with plenty of rawness and range. Several of his songs sounded like modern country with a little more attitude, more sincerity and better lyrics, like “One Number Away,” “Beer Can” and “When It Rains It Pours,” which seemed to coincide in heavier rainfall. He also showcased his longtime band members with a cover of the Eagles’ “Take It Easy” and closed with his No. 1 hit “Hurricane,” another weather-appropriate track that resulted in the festival’s first major sing-along.