The large thermometer-clock situated in the outfield of Whitaker Bank Ballpark usually reads in the mid 70s or 80s. Of course, that’s when the Lexington Legends host an evening game during the height of summer.
On Saturday night, just as Florida Georgia Line took the stage at 9:15, the thermometer registered 45 degrees. Just about everyone there counted themselves lucky, too. Had the show been held just a few hours earlier, you could have added a steady rain to the autumn mix. Needless to say, none of this in any way hampered the reception a sold out crowd gave the duo of Floridian Brian Kelley and Georgia born Tyler Hubbard. Crowd estimates varied. The ballpark box office quoted 13,000. The band, from the stage, claimed a crowd of 15,000. Regardless, it was a staggering figure – one that sent traffic to a standstill all around the park. On North Broadway alone, cars were backed up to the interstate.
Just to enforce the impressive stats, Florida Georgia Line has only one full-length album to its credit. So even if you go with the conservative crowd estimate of 13,000, the duo managed to match (and possibly surpass) the attendance Blake Shelton chalked up at Rupp Arena last month. Hubbard also remarked from the stage that the turnout marked the highest paid attendance for one of Florida Georgia Line’s headlining shows.
Musically, Kelley and Hubbard steered toward ultra contemporary country that borrowed generously from modern pop. Their songs certainly didn’t take any honors for ingenuity, from the big beat strut of Party People to the sleeker pop stride Heat of the Summer to the obligatory drinking anthem Tip It Back (a tune introduced by drum loops and metal-esque guitar stutters). Likewise, the vocals – the lion’s share of which were handled by Hubbard – didn’t reveal much distinction outside of the curious occasions when the duo incorporated hip hop into its songs.
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But the connection between this very young group and its equally young (and heavily female) audience was obvious and immediate. The turnout that didn’t care if there was hardly a trace of tradition within the band’s music. Nor did it seem bothersome that a tune seemingly designed to establish rural credentials, Country in My Soul, was essentially just a house party style rave with the co-billed Colt Ford rapping between verses.
This was a show where youth played to youth. Never was that more obvious than in the title song to Florida Georgia Line’s Here’s to the Good Times album. The tune was less of a party tune and more of an affirmation, even acknowledgement, of youthful energy of the moment and how nary a minute of it should be wasted. Not a bad sentiment, really.
Ford’s preceding set possessed more of an outlaw air – or at least, it attempted to. Ford is a clever songsmith (he introduced his hit Chicken and Biscuits as “a love song”) who also taps into hip hop for stylistic inspiration. But his performance last night hit all of the usual country pitfalls – tepid vocals, rock star-like self absorption and a ridiculous level of audience pandering. And what was with Ford’s new Hank Williams Jr. look?
Apologies to the evening’s leadoff act, Tyler Farr. A nearly two hour wait in North Broadway traffic made me miss his performance (although Farr’s cameo with Ford later in the show during Dirt Road Anthem was good fun). Judging the endless streams of cars still gridlocked when I entered the ball park, quite a few others didn’t catch it either.