Luke Bryan may not appeal to diehard country types, but give the guy credit — he knows how to draw a crowd. As much will be evident this evening, when the "Crash My Party" singer plays before what is sure to be a packed Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion as part of his Kill the Lights Tour: 2016. Opening will be Little Big Town and Dustin Lynch, but what if Bryan had opted to go the local route and have any number of Houston musicians — at one time or another in their careers, anyway — serve as his warmup acts? We have some candidates, a few of whom may prove surprising. (This list is in alphabetical order).
Bagwell is a shoo-in for this spot. She combines a tough-as-nails songwriting approach with a little studio shine to craft some of the best, catchiest country in Houston. A Luke Bryan crowd comes to hear catchy tunes and have a good time, and there’s no doubt Bagwell — a former contestant on CMT’s Next Superstar — could deliver both in fine fashion.
Katy’s own Clint Black is at a point in his career where he doesn’t have to open for anyone. That said, in the '90s, acts like him, Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson pretty much were Luke Bryan — country artists with major mainstream appeal. It would be cool to turn back the clock a bit and have Black showcase some of his older stuff, singles like “Nobody’s Home” and “Loving Blind,” which turned him into a multiplatinum superstar.
Cypress’s own Bradbery won season four of NBC’s The Voice in 2013; at the time, she was the youngest contestant ever to win the show. During her time on the program, she covered such pop-country acts as Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift, so you know she’s cool with the whole country-pop crossover thing. In her post-Voice life, Bradbery signed to Big Machine Records – making her labelmates with the aforementioned Swift – and released a self-titled album in 2013. It sold more than 100,000 copies, thanks to singles like “The Heart of Dixie” and “Friend Zone.” Bradbery is a familiar face, one whose sound skillfully weaves country and pop music; the same can be said for Luke Bryan.
JUNIOR GORDON BAND
Need proof that Junior Gordon Band would make a nice opener for Luke Bryan? Check out the dude’s website, which features a cover of Jason Aldean’s “Big Green Tractor.” Aldean, like Bryan, is considered one of the patriarchs of bro country, and like it or not, both have proven incredibly successful under the umbrella. Gordon isn’t a bro-country type by any means, but he’s got enough hook in his tracks to keep the early arrivers entertained until the sun sets.
Jones’s big break came through her own hard work, when she became a YouTube star covering the likes of Taylor Swift, Hunter Hayes and The Band Perry. From her cover choices alone, it’s pretty evident Jones is catering to an audience similar to Bryan's. Not that she's purely a pop-country type, though; in fact, she’s gone on record with her affinity for infusing rock into her music, as well as her belief that women can also “kick ass” like their male country counterparts. With spirit like that, it’s no wonder the Miranda Lambert comparisons get brought up early and often.
MARK JONES & TWENTY PACES
For some reason, bro country tends to produce taller types; Blake Shelton is 6-5, Sam Hunt 6-4 and even Bryan checks in at six feet even. Based on height alone, 6-7 Mark Jones would fit right in. Of course, his music isn’t exactly cut from the bro-country cloth. Rather, Jones and Twenty Paces fuse country and rock into a sort of alt-country hybrid. The band admits to playing only two types of songs, “the ones they write and the ones they like," and that sort of uncompromising attitude would likely play well with any country diehard (yes, there are some) in the crowd for a Luke Bryan show.
ROBERT EARL KEEN
Musically, it wouldn’t be much of a match at all, though it’s safe to say a number of Luke Bryan fans would also appreciate Keen’s rugged red-dirt country approach; hell, Bryan started his career out in a pop incarnation of that very genre. No, the true draw would be having the outspoken Keen open for a singer of whom it’s probably fair to say he’s not a fan. Give Robert Earl Keen a microphone and a controversial topic – bro country certainly qualifies – and the hot takes will flow.
Mary Sarah (full name Mary Sarah Gross) is yet another Houstonian to have found fame on The Voice. She participated in the show earlier this year and reached the semifinals before being eliminated. During her time on the program, Mary Sarah covered such country royalty as Carrie Underwood, Loretta Lynn and Randy Travis. She has even performed at the famed Grand Ole Opry, so opening for an act as big as Bryan wouldn’t be too big a stage for her.
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JUSTIN VAN SANT BAND
In a Q&A with the Houston Press a few years ago, Justin Van Sant was asked his biggest musical influence. “Garth Brooks,” he replied, citing Brooks’s ability to combine “singing/songwriting with a top-notch live act.” Luke Bryan, who has crossed over into pop like few country singers before him, is as close to a modern-day Brooks as you’re going to find, both in terms of commercial success and a lively stage show. Pairing Bryan and a Texas country upstart like Van Sant is a no-brainer.
True, Wild Moccasins aren’t even a country band, and no, their sound may not jibe initially with a number of bro-country types who turn out to hear Bryan sing of tan lines and tailgates. That said, headliners sometimes pair themselves with an opener of a different sound, whether to break a new artist or perhaps prevent audience fatigue with a single genre. Wild Moccasins, with their upbeat style and lovable persona, would fit such a bill perfectly.