The first thing that jumps out about Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard of Florida Georgia Line is that they are really tall.
Kelley is 6 feet, 3 inches, but wearing a pair of cowboy boots, he could have easily passed for a forward for the University of Toledo basketball team as he walked into a locker room at Huntington Center on Feb. 15. His buddy, Hubbard, is only an inch shorter.
The next thing that jumps out is that Kelley ends a lot of his sentences with, "man," as in "it was awesome, man." And Hubbard rarely refers to Kelley as Brian, opting instead for "BK," as in "my roommate at Belmont [University] had a class with BK, and he introduced us."
FGL — which is what most of their fans call the band — is coming off a multiweek No. 1 debut single "Cruise," and their next single, "Get Your Shine On," is one of the hottest songs on the country charts, but Hubbard and Kelley are just normal dudes.
"People look at us as real people. We want to be known as two normal guys who like writing music and having a good time," Hubbard said about an hour before FGL opened for Luke Bryan. He was sipping on hot tea, which many vocalists prefer to soothe the vocal cords before taking the stage. Of course, he added a little whiskey, possibly to soothe his nerves, possibly because he likes whiskey. "We love people. We love the Lord. We're pretty simple, pretty transparent, and wear our personalities on our sleeve."
Everyone in Nashville has a what-they- did-before-they-were-famous story, but FGL's is better than most.
"I'd put up bathroom stalls; Tyler would trick out golf carts," BK said. "Painting houses, detailing cars — whatever it took to pay the bills."
A publishing deal got the ball rolling in 2011, but their careers really took off when they landed a recording contract with Republic Nashville, a branch of the Big Machine Label, in July, 2012. An album, "Here's to the Good Times," followed in December, and ever since it sold more than 60,000 copies the first week, they've been the talk of Nashville.
"We tell people that we started last January in my Tahoe and his trailer, and we ended the year in a bus and a big, ol' trailer," Kelley said.
They need their big trailer and bus because Bryan asked them out on his 75-city tour, which has been selling out arenas across the country.
Kelley and Hubbard have been soaking up the experience. They usually take in Bryan's set from beside the stage, which they did in Toledo, and they spend downtime hanging out with the Academy of Country Music's nominee for entertainer of the year.
"Luke is cool. We're always hanging out," Kelley said. "I had an hour conversation with him last week at lunch. We were talking about relationships, girls, money, music, cars. We somehow covered all the bases. He is just a normal dude."
More than anything, the pals have been leaning on each other as their fame has exploded.
"BK is one of the only people I can call, and he knows what I'm going through," Hubbard said. "A lot of people don't get it, don't get our lifestyle or get what we're going through. I think every day we get a little closer."
Brian Dugger's column on country music appears in The Blade the last Saturday of every month. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @DuggerCountry.