Hermine blew Florida Georgia Line all the way to Kentucky, and Cole Swindell as well.
The Sunday night headliners and penultimate act at Red, White & Boom were supposed to be in Atlantic City, New Jersey Saturday night. But the East Coast tropical storm caused their show to be canceled, so they drove on into Lexington.
Saturday night’s penultimate act, Thomas Rhett, ended up being the big beneficiary of the re-routing in his set, hosting FGL frontmen Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard for a rendition of their “Round Here,” and a few minutes later, Swindell showed up on stage to sing “Get Me Some of That,” a hit he wrote for Rhett.
While the early arrivals certainly gave the crowd of more than 14,000 an extra buzz, Saturday night was headliner Jason Aldean’s party.
Early in his set, he reminded the crowd that, despite it’s good fortune this year, Red, White & Boom has been on the short end of the weather stick, recalling playing the event when he and the fest were much smaller deals.
“I think it rained about 12 inches that day,” Aldean said to the crowd, thanking the dozen people that showed up for that show.
With clear skies and 70s Saturday evening, Aldean lit up Whitaker Bank Ballpark with a 90-minute set including his ever expanding catalog of greatest hits and a few selections off his new album, “They Don’t Know,” including one of the showstoppers, “Lights Come On,” which was penned by Kelley and Hubbard.
The rousing arena- (or ballpark) star anthem was indicative of Aldean’s show at its best, with the country star exhorting an audience very happy to sing along to the relatively new hit, the same way he commanded classics such as “Joe Diffie” and “Country.” Ably aiding Aldean in this enterprise was his band, which can rock as hard as any act whose albums are filed under that category. Guitarist Kurt Allison offered numerous tasty solos and a grind that sometimes seemed straight out of metalcore.
Rhett got Aldean’s audience primed with a set that frequently felt like a Saturday night dance party, including an extended quotation of DNCE’s “Cake by the Ocean.” While he is best known for hit ballads,, which he delivered beautifully, it was up-tempo stuff like “South Side” that primed the audience for Aldean. The surprise guests only helped.
But the crowd was already primed, to an extent.
Jordan Rager, who opened Saturday’s proceedings, came to the stage with some Aldean cred, having been mentored by the headliner’s father and his first single being a duet with Aldean. That song, “Southern Boy” was part of a set that made it obvious Rager does not intend to come back to Boom as the least-known artist on the festival. Unlike Maren Morris’ tepid opening Friday, Rager lived up to the title of his first number, “Ready If You Are.” His engaging set included his new single “Now That I Know Your Name,” a modern country-cliché package he sold better live than on record. But with performances like this, Rager should be getting better material soon.
Granger Smith followed that with a crowd-engaging set that started with “Blue Collar Dollars” and touched on strong songs in his catalog such as “If the Boot Fits.” He came across as amiable and Tom Cruise charming through the first half of the set, which went a bit off the rails when he engaged his alter ego, Earl Dibbles Jr. to end with “The Country Boy Song.” If you weren’t in on the joke, it could easily have come off as a “what the heck” moment as Smith played exaggerated Southern, country sterotypes. And really, it detracted from what was a strong performance. Dibbles was conceived to help promote Smith’s music, but he may not need the second persona anymore.