I’ve been a Luke Bryan fan for years. I’ve been admitting it for a far shorter period of time. This is the quandary of life as a musical elitist who also finds Bryan among the catchiest, most charismatic figures in country music. What to do when facing scorn simply for enjoying music that many find loathsome?
This is a question that warrants exploration, particularly with Bryan visiting Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion on Friday as part of his Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Everyday Tour, featuring openers Brett Eldredge and Granger Smith. The show marks Bryan’s second trip to The Woodlands in less than a year, and with good reason; last year’s show sold out, and it’s a safe bet this year’s edition will do the same.
Bryan isn’t just a successful country musician. He, like Garth Brooks some 20-plus years ago, is an absolute commercial force, one whose reach extends far beyond country music. And whereas Bryan’s reach pales in comparison to Brooks’s – to be fair, pretty much every solo artist of the past 30 years, save for Michael Jackson, pales in comparison to Brooks’s commercial clout – he is unquestionably the biggest star in country music, a title he has held for quite some time.
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And yet, a lot of people really hate themselves some Luke Bryan. To be fair, most of this reasoning is at least somewhat based in truth. Of course, much of this reasoning can also be contradicted with some factual evidence. A few examples:
Point: Luke Bryan doesn’t write his own songs. This is certainly a fair notion, considering Bryan didn’t write some of his biggest hits, including “Crash My Party” and “Drink a Beer.”
Counterpoint: Arguably the two biggest and most successful artists in the history of country music – Garth Brooks and George Strait – didn’t write a number of their own hits, either. Point being, Brooks, Strait and Bryan are all immensely talented singers and performers who got a little assist from writers within the country-music community. Big deal.
Point: Luke Bryan is cheesy. No arguments here, but then again, this is country music we’re talking about here.
Counterpoint: Luke Bryan simply doesn’t take himself all that seriously, and why should he? Part of his appeal is catering to fans – many of them adoring ladies; Bryan is a very handsome man with a penchant for tight-fitting jeans – who love his fun-loving persona: someone who loves nothing more than cold beer, tailgates and tan lines. Music doesn’t always have to be so damn serious, and if you feel differently, go to a Radiohead or Morrissey show.
Point: Luke Bryan isn’t really even a country musician. We’ll go from there…
No, Bryan isn’t a traditional boots-and-hat country type in the vein of folks like Alan Jackson and Clint Black, nor more legendary figures like Hank Williams and Merle Haggard. And he sure isn’t Chris Stapleton, a grizzled, bearded type who more resembles the legends of country past (ironically enough, Stapleton penned the aforementioned “Drink a Beer,” arguably Bryan’s best single).
But why should fans have to take a side? For instance, it’s fair to say that Aerosmith and Weezer both fall under the rock and roll umbrella, despite the fact that the bands have little, if anything, in common. It's even possible to like both bands without having to devote oneself exclusively to either. Same for hip-hop in the '90s, when you could like 2Pac and Biggie.
No, Bryan isn’t a songwriter of the caliber of Stapleton, and whereas the latter often dons a customary cowboy hat, Bryan regularly rocks a backwards baseball cap. That said, both artists appeal to their respective crowds, and those crowds overlap more than one might imagine. It’s more a matter of mood; when it’s time for some up-tempo fun, put on some Luke Bryan. Itching for a little introspection from a modern-day troubadour? Cue up Stapleton or Sturgill Simpson. Fans can have the best of both worlds.
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There are others who decry Bryan as the downfall of country music, just as many said of Brooks when he took country into the pop consciousness in the 1990s. But, just as was the case then, country music was and remains a far more diverse genre than it is given credit for. And just as Brooks shared the country limelight with the more country-aligned Strait, Bryan’s pop stylings play a nice contrast to more traditional country fare like Stapleton and Drive-By Truckers, along with more rebellious types like Simpson and Eric Church.
This is the best thing about music; there is something for everyone. And whether you’re a registered member of Luke Bryan’s “Nut House” fan club or you prefer your country a bit more jaded and gritty, one must not necessarily be a fan to appreciate something’s impact. Luke Bryan is the face of country music today, and it’s a title he’s earned. And I am a Luke Bryan fan, of which I’m no longer ashamed.
Luke Bryan and special guests Brett Eldredge and Granger Smith perform Friday, September 22 at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 2005 Lake Robbins Drive, The Woodlands. Gates open at 6 p.m.