Luke Bryan is kickin’ the dust up from farm roots to world stage
Becoming a recording artist didn’t seem possible for Luke Bryan while he was coming of age in rural Georgia during the ’90s. The son of a peanut farmer could have followed in his father’s footsteps and lived a life that echoed the protagonist from John Mellencamp’s old hit “Small Town.”
However, Bryan, who will turn 42 on Tuesday (7/17), has been obsessed with music as long as he can remember.
“I always loved listening to music,” Bryan said. “But I didn’t see a ton of shows because of where I grew up (in Leesburg, Ga.). I got to see Reba (McEntire), Travis Tritt and Marty Stuart. Those shows were inspiring. It helped me visualize my future. I knew that I wanted to be a singer-songwriter. There was nothing that would make me happier. I had to express myself.”
Bryan took a chance and left for Nashville and never looked back. The charismatic entertainer connected with the country mainstream. Bryan has sold more than 10 million albums, and has 18 No. 1 hits, including “Home Alone Tonight” and “Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day.” He co-writes most of his material.
“I’ve always loved writing songs,” Bryan said. “I’ve always been passionate about it. There’s nothing like it. I enjoy writing. I enjoy collaborating. I knew what I wanted to do from an early stage. It’s a blast making music.”
But it’s not just about the studio for Bryan, whose “What Makes You Country” tour swings through the Great Jones County Fair in Monticello on July 20. The Georgia Southern University alum, who majored in business administration, is an animated performer who puts considerable thought into his shows. It’s no surprise that he earned the Entertainer of the Year award by the Country Music Association in 2013.
“I’ve always taken the shows very seriously,” he said. “I try to make it fun.”
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Bryan is adept at writing fun, lighthearted tunes. “Drink a Beer,” “I Don’t Want This Night to End” and “Drunk on You” are anthemic, feel-good songs.
You never know what’s going to happen at a Bryan show, which is uncommon for a recording artist playing the big rooms. He doesn’t like following a script. When performing earlier in the month at the CMA fest, Randy Travis was in the audience. Bryan altered the set. Bryan tipped his cap to the country legend by delivering the old chestnut, “On the Other Hand” and more Travis covers, breaking the event’s curfews.
Bryan has no problem surprising during his set or throwing his fans a curve by performing with some surprising recording artists. He jammed with classic rockers the Doobie Brothers on a 2011 episode of CMT’s “Crossroads,” and he appeared on “Crossroads” in 2016 with hip-hop artist Jason Derulo.
“I was exposed to so much when I was growing up in Georgia,” Bryan said. “I’ve always loved country, but I had friends who listened to rap and friends who loved rock. I remember my friends from back then who loved Pearl Jam. All kinds of music have inspired me. I grew up loving country but I still played the Beastie Boys and Run D.M.C. I don’t get people that are only into one genre. I’ve always believed that a good song is a good song. There’s nothing like a catchy song, regardless of the genre. I’ve always been able to see beyond the genre.”
While he doesn’t care about genre labels, he would rather not be filed under “bro-country.” He sings his share of songs about partying, but his tunes aren’t lowest common denominator feel-good cuts. His songs are warm and irreverent and also deep.
Part of the reason for the depth is that Bryan has experienced tragedy. When he was 19, his older brother died in a car accident. In 2007, his sister passed away. Her husband died in 2014, and Bryan became the guardian of his nephew and nieces.
“Nobody gets through life without dealing with pain,” Bryan said. “That’s just the way it is. You have to keep on living. There really is no other option. You have to be strong.”
Bryan is about to enter the second act of his career. After releasing seven albums, he’s ready to make more solo music and perhaps throw some sonic curves to his fans. Pop star Katy Perry recently alluded to the possibility of a duet with Bryan, her fellow judge on television’s “American Idol,” which recently crowned Iowa’s Maddie Poppe.
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“I like to take chances,” Bryan said of his music. “That’s the only way you’ll grow. I have so many more things I want to accomplish.”
The star, who resides in Nashville, has come a long way from his father’s Peach State farm.
“I wasn’t meant to be a farmer,” Bryan said. “I’m fortunate enough to be able to write songs and sing them. There’s been some bumps in the road, but I’ve been able to ride things out and have more success than I ever could have dreamed of.”
Get Out! The Great Jones County Fair
WHERE: 800 N. Maple St., Monticello
WHEN: Monday July 16 to July 22
GATE ADMISSION: $10 daily, $33 season; free ages 10 and under
MONDAY: Entry judging; 6 p.m. Open Horse Show
TUESDAY: Judging continues; 6 p.m. Sneak-A-Peek free gate admission; 6 to 11 p.m. carnival ride specials; 6:30 p.m. motocross and queen coronation
WEDNESDAY: Animal shows; 11 a.m. tractor pull; 1 to 6 p.m. carnival ride specials; 7 p.m. National Tractor Pullers Association National Summer Slide, $5 general admission
JULY 19: 11 a.m. harness racing; 1 to 6 p.m. carnival ride specials; 8 p.m. Jason Aldean and opener Luke Combs, $75 track standing-room-only, $70 amphitheater/bleachers, free on grassy hillsides; 11 p.m. fireworks
JULY 20: 1 to 6 p.m. carnival ride specials; 8 p.m. Luke Bryan with Morgan Wallen, $83 track standing-room-only and amphitheater/bleachers, free on grassy hillsides; 11 p.m. fireworks
JULY 21: 11 a.m. Mid-Summer Dirt Classic; 1 to 6 p.m. and 6 to 11 p.m. carnival ride specials; 8 p.m. Kid Rock and Ted Nugent, $65 track standing-room-only, $55 amphitheater/bleachers, free on grassy hillsides; 11 p.m. fireworks
JULY 22: 11 a.m. demolition derby; 1 to 6 p.m. carnival ride specials; 3 p.m. mutton bustin’; 7 p.m. Casting Crowns with Lauren Daigle, $35 track reserved seating, $30 amphitheater, free on grassy hillsides; 10 p.m. fireworks