If you don’t consider yourself a country music fan, you should reconsider. Sam Hunt’s “15 in a 30 Tour” is what I call “alternative country music,” and I, along with the sold-out crowd, definitely approved. Unlike big-name artists such as Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson and George Strait, Hunt’s music is a combination of his two favorite genres: country and R&B. The Georgia native grew up listening to country music, but his older cousins first introduced him to hip hop and R&B, he told the crowd halfway through the set. That’s his musical “style.” And when he first brought it to Nashville, producers didn’t like it or think it would succeed.
We’re so glad those producers were wrong. Four years later, Hunt is on his first major tour with guest artists Ryan Follese, Chris Janson and Maren Morris. They stopped in West Palm Beach on Saturday night for one heck of a show.
Opener Ryan Follese, formerly the lead singer of rock band Hot Chelle Rae, started the night with his hit tune, “Float Your Boat” from his self-titled EP released last year. The 30-year-old, whose parents are both country songwriters, left rock and returned to his country roots in 2016. Follese continued his set with “Put a Label on It,” and “Lose a Little Sleep,” both from his EP. Although Follese’s songs are lyrical stories, they’re still heavily influenced by his rock background: lots of drums and electric guitar. Follese closed with, “Tonight, Tonight,” Hot Chelle Rae’s best-known hit. At this point, several fans around me went, “Oh I know who that is now!” Hopefully the new EP will put him further into the limelight. Or spotlight.
Chris Janson got the party going with lots of energy. He opened with “Redneck Life” from his “Fix a Drink EP” that released in June, playing both acoustic guitar and harmonica throughout. He then launched into “Everybody” from the same LP, focusing on vocals. He’s a talented, well-rounded musician and songwriter, and it shows in his performances. Janson interacted with the crowd, too, getting people up on their feet, hands clapping and singing along. He sang covers of “I Love This Life,” which he wrote for LoCash and “Truck Yeah” by Tim McGraw. He even did a three-minute drum solo on “Truck Yeah,” further proving that this country show and his talents, were anything but typical. After performing his best-known hit, “Buy Me a Boat,” he wrapped up his portion of the show with a “Ring of Fire” cover.
Cue Maren Morris next. Don’t let her petite frame underestimate you. Whoa, can she sing. I mean, SING. She’s been compared to Alicia Keys, and at a live show, I understand—the recorded versions don’t do her live performances justice. Her voice, besides the wide vocal range, is extremely powerful. She’s got soul in her music, and it really shows. Morris stuck to songs from her “Hero” album, her major label release from June 2016. “Sugar,” “Just Another Thing” and “How It’s Done,” all show off her beautifully strong voice, then she brought the country back with an acoustic version of “I Could Use a Love Song,” which she called the “first vulnerable thing I’ve put on radio waves.” Then she moved on to a couple crowd favorites, “80s Mercedes” and “My Church,” before ending with a mash up of “Second Wind” and Beyonce’s “Halo.” She and Hunt are making country/pop and country/R&B mashups a new music trend.
Finally, Sam Hunt performed, and it was worth the wait. Of all the artists, he by far had the best lights and special effects to go along with his music. Four moving panels with lights loomed above the stage, sometimes stacking to make the stage appear smaller. Other times, song lyrics would appear so that fans could sing along. For the opener “Leave the Night On,” the title appeared on each panel, moving around just as quickly as Hunt jumped around from one side of the stage to the other. He segued into “House Party,” then followed with “Raised on It.” About this time, Hunt shared some of his life with the crowd, such as the story behind his next song, “Cop Car.” This slower tune, along with the rest of the set, exemplified his unique country/R&B style. Most of the songs moving forward were a combination of singing the chorus, then chanting verses or bridges. But for Hunt, it works, giving emphasis to phrases as needed, like in “I Met A Girl” and “Speakers” or creating a build up, as in the encore “Break Up in a Small Town.” He remains true to country form through storytelling themes, yet opens this genre to a new wave of crossovers with his R&B influence. Maybe other artists will learn from his risks.
The mostly female crowd screamed when the opening beat of “Body Like a Back Road” began. This is Hunt’s most recent radio hit, and it was really cool to see it live. Despite the title, Hunt kept things classy, and the beat, as usual, was extremely catchy. Shortly after, Hunt brought Follese, Janson and Morris onstage for a cover version of “Hey Ya!” by OutKast, then closed with “Take Your Time” and “Ex to See.”
The stage went dark for a hot second before a white piano appeared onstage. Everyone waited anxiously. Hunt reappeared, playing solo and singing the opening lines of “Make You Miss Me.” The rest of the band came in after the first verse. After a quick combo of “Break Up in a Small Town”/“Drinkin’ Too Much,” the lights went down on another amazing country concert at Perfect Vodka Amphitheatre. Several people around me confirmed that this “was the best concert I’ve ever seen.” With such a memorable performance, Lady Antebellum has a hard act to follow in two weeks.
“Float Your Boat”
“Put a Label on It”
“Lose a Little Sleep”
“Tonight, Tonight/The Fresh Prince of Bel Air Intro”
“I Love This Life” LoCash cover
“Name On It”
“Fix a Drink”
“Holdin’ Her”“Truck Yeah/Drum Solo” Tim McGraw cover
“Buy Me a Boat”
“Ring of Fire” Johnny Cash cover
“Just Another Thing”
“How It’s Done”
“I Could Use a Love Song”
“Once” “80s Mercedes”
“Leave the Night On”
“Raised on It”
“I Met a Girl”
“We Are Tonight”
“Body Like a Back Road”
“Hey Ya!” OutKast cover
“Take Your Time”
“Ex to See”
“Make You Miss Me”
“Break Up in a Small Town”/“Drinkin’ Too Much”