Hoopla

Movin' on up: Chris Young selling out arenas in new headlining role

Jeff Johnson 

Country singer/songwriter Chris Young is coming off a year of highs and lows, entering 2018 as a headliner for sold-out arena shows, including one Feb. 24 at the U.S. Cellular Center in downtown Cedar Rapids.
Jeff Johnson Country singer/songwriter Chris Young is coming off a year of highs and lows, entering 2018 as a headliner for sold-out arena shows, including one Feb. 24 at the U.S. Cellular Center in downtown Cedar Rapids.

Chris Young is beginning his second decade in country music, and in that time he has been one of the steadiest climbers on the scene. Each of his five previous studio albums kicked out multiple top 5 singles and he has gradually scaled the ladder as a touring artist, going from small venues to opening slots for some of country’s biggest stars, most recently Jason Aldean last summer.

With his new album, “Losing Sleep,” gaining momentum, Young is beginning the year with a headlining tour that has him selling out arenas and amphitheaters, including his Feb. 24 stop at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids.

To say he’s excited about this latest step up with his career would be an understatement.

“I’m really, really pumped about this tour and this record,” Young said in a recent phone interview. “You’re obviously excited any time you can make new music and make it out there and play shows. But to be able to take it to the level we’re taking it this year and play a bunch of arenas that I’ve opened for (other acts) a lot of times in my career and some amphitheaters mixed in there as well, it’s going to be really, really special.”

Headlining arenas means Young will take out a good deal of visual production and will have control over every aspect of his show — and the responsibility to deliver the kind of performance that’s expected of a major headliner.

Young should be up to the challenge. He’s opened for a host of country headliners and been able to get advice and learn from watching them perform. He has an extensive catalog of songs and enough hits to fill a good part of his set with hit singles. Combine those selections with new material and perhaps a few deeper cuts, and Young should be able to deliver a well-rounded set for fans.

“I’m definitely not playing too many new songs,” Young said of his set list. “You don’t want to inundate people with a whole bunch of new music, but there’s going to be some cool stuff that people have never seen from me before. That’s part of what you want to do with every new tour is being able to do something that even people who have seen you in the past couple of years, that they see something they’ve never seen out of you. We’re definitely going to give them that.”

One new song figures to be the title track from “Losing Sleep,” which after a slight pause has climbed to No. 2 on Billboard magazine’s Country Airplay chart and No. 7 on the Hot Country Songs charts. The song looks likely to top at least Country Airplay and will add another accomplishment to a career that has had its share of highlights.

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Young came into the national spotlight when he won the 2006 season of “Nashville Star” on the USA Network. Signed by RCA, his 2006 self-titled debut album stiffed, but “Getting’ You Home (The Black Dress Song),” the second single from his sophomore album, 2009’s “The Man I Want To Be,” became a chart-topping breakthrough hit. Then the title song from that album and a third single, “Voices,” extended the streak of number one singles to three.

The Murfreesboro, Tenn., native has been on a roll since. His next two albums, “Neon” (2010) and “A.M.” (2013) added three more number ones to Young’s resume and “I’m Comin’ Over” took things to a new level with three more chart-toppers: the title track, “Think Of You” (a duet with Cassadee Pope), and “Sober Saturday Night.”

Going into the “Losing Sleep” project, Young, as he did with “I’m Comin’ Over,” teamed up with songwriter Corey Crowder to coproduce the new album. Stepping into the production role allowed Young once again to be involved in the project from the songwriting stage right through to the final mixes and mastering and gave him a comfort level and sense of confidence in trying to live up the popular “I’m Comin’ Over” album.

“Some people would be like ‘Hey, was there any pressure to replicate that?’ I would argue that it was the other way around,” Young said. “The pressure was off. We knew we could. It was really just getting in there and having fun, making an album that I love and it’s been cool seeing other people love it, too.”

In “Losing Sleep,” Young made an album that’s in character with his earlier releases, with a nice blend of traditional country and pop influences and a good balance between up-tempo tunes (the song “Losing Sleep”), full-bodied midtempo songs (“Hangin’ On” and “Radio and the Rain”) and ballads (“Blacked Out” and “Where I Go When I Drink”).

“There’s a lot of range on this album, there really is,” Young said. “‘Blacked Out’ is very stripped. ‘Where I Go When I Drink’ is very traditional leaning. ‘Losing Sleep’ is probably the most pop-leaning track that I’ve ever done. Obviously with my vocal on everything, it’s going to be a country song, but it was fun for me to kind of play around a little bit with some of those production things.”

Another highlight of 2017 was getting inducted into the Grand Ole Opry this past August. As an artist well-versed on country music’s history, being an Opry member holds a special place for Young.

“It’s a huge thing ... and something that is a lifelong goal for a lot of people, and definitely for me,” Young said. “So it’s an incredible thing. I’m so, so honored that it was Vince Gill that asked me to join and Brad Paisley who did the induction. I’m just incredibly lucky.”

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He also shared in the worst moment of the year in country music when he went to Las Vegas for the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival. That night, during Aldean’s headlining set, Stephen Paddock opened fire on the crowd of 22,200 from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel, killing 58 people and wounding more than 500 — the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

“Obviously, it was a very scary night in my life, the scariest night of my life, not anything you should ever have to experience at a concert,” Young said. “That’s supposed to be a safe place. I was actually just down there to see Jason and Kane (Brown). I was not playing that night. I flew in just to hang out with those guys. And it was just a really, really scary thing.”

The experience has made Young more attuned than ever with concert safety.

“I had a show, I think, four days later in California,” Young said, looking back on the immediate aftermath of the shooting. “And I debated do we play? Do we not play? What’s the right thing to do? I’ve said it a lot in interviews since then, but music is a thing that can heal. So I got back up on stage and played and have continued to play.

“The security for the rest of the year — and probably the rest of my life — is going to be a pretty heavy emphasis going forward.”

GET OUT!

WHAT: Chris Young, with openers Kane Brown and LANCO

WHERE: U.S. Cellular Center, 370 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday (2/24)

TICKETS: SOLD OUT; Uscellularcenter.com

ARTIST’S WEBSITE: Chrisyoungcountry.com

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