When Tyler Hubbard sprinted onto the Huntington Center stage along with musical partner Brian Kelley just before 7:30 on Friday night, the tone was set for what a sold-out crowd could expect on the Toledo leg of Luke Bryan’s “Dirt Road Diaries Tour.”
Kelley and Hubbard, jointly known as Florida Georgia Line, provided the initial burst of energy, but Thompson Square kept the good vibes rolling, and Bryan more than delivered what the predominantly female crowd was expecting.
On Wednesday morning, Bryan received his first entertainer of the year nomination when the Academy of Country Music named him one of five finalists for the top honor at its April awards show.
Friday night, a packed Toledo arena witnessed what all the buzz is about as Bryan danced and crooned his way through a 21-song, 95-minute performance.
Some headliners shy away from providing much star power in their opening lineup for fear of being overshadowed, but apparently Bryan has no such fears. Florida Georgia Line and Thompson Square (consisting of husband and wife Keifer and Shawna Thompson) will be facing off in the duo of the year category at April’s ACM awards show.
If anything FGL may be the hottest act in Nashville right now. Their debut single, “Cruise,” was a multiweek No. 1 hit, and their current single, “Get Your Shine On,” is shooting up the charts.
Kelley and Hubbard, longtime friends from their days together at Belmont University, showed why the future is bright for them. They kept the crowd on its feet for their entire six-song set, stalking from one side of the stage to the other as Hubbard belted out party anthem after party anthem.
Keifer and Shawna, despite being best known for ballads “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not,” “Glass,” and “If I Didn’t Have You,” surprisingly kept the high energy flowing through their eight-song set. They earned the sentimental moment of the night by embracing and tenderly looking into each others’ eyes as they sang “If I Didn’t Have You,” which drew a loud “ahhhh” from the crowd.
But Bryan was the main man of the night, and when he rose from below the stage at 9:30 and broke into “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” the crowd let out a deafening roar.
Surprisingly, the stage setup was fairly simplistic – a main stage with a catwalk extending into the wings – and the videoboard was probably a third of the size of the screen that Brad Paisley brought to Toledo a couple of years ago. But Bryan was more than entertaining enough by himself for the overwhelmingly female crowd. It’s safe to say that the Huntington Center hasn’t seen as much hip swiveling in its history as it did Friday night, and it is easy to imagine thousands of boyfriends and husbands trying out those dance moves on their girlfriends and wives after the show. One could only hope it had the same effect as when Bryan broke out his moves.
Bigger stars such as Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, and Keith Urban have played the Huntington Center, but none of them sold it out faster than Bryan, and none of them had larger crowds than Friday night’s crowd.
“I want to tell you guys something real serious,” Bryan said during a break before “Too Damn Young.” “Never have there been more people in this building than there are tonight. I want to thank you for breaking a record in Toledo with me tonight.”
There has never been anything incredibly complicated about Bryan’s lyrics, but they always seem to have big hooks and are easy to sing along to. On “Do I,” “Drunk on You,” and “All My Friends Say,” Bryan probably could have sat back, strummed his guitar, and let the crowd do the work because most of those in the crowd seemed to know the words.
Bryan has had an impressive career, slowly building it along the lines of Kenny Chesney, and pumping out radio-friendly hits that resonate with a concert crowd. But he also prides himself on being a showman, and there were several entertaining moments on Friday night.
At the end of “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” Bryan leaned into the crowd and kissed an ecstatic young woman atop the head. He later brought Florida Georgia Line on stage to help with Maroon 5’s “One More Night,” then FGL stayed on stage and were joined by Thompson Square for Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven.” He even had a little something for the metalheads in the crowd when he broke out Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.”
Perhaps nothing summed up Bryan’s performance better than his own lyrics. In his current single “The Only Way I Know,” he sings ”Full throttle, wide, you get tired you don’t show it. … That’s the only way I know.”
And Bryan never got tired and kept that throttle open the whole night. He may not be the best vocalist in country music today, but he’s pretty darn entertaining, and that’s all that you can ask for when you pay good money for a concert. Bryan delivered for those lucky enough to be in attendance Friday night.
Contact Brian Dugger at: bdugger@theblade.