Hunter Hayes gave the industry a glimpse at the results of a dream nearly 18 years in the making when he offered a preview of his headlining show for the CMT On Tour: Hunter Hayes’ Let’s Be Crazy Tour on Monday (Oct. 7). The tour begins with a show in Knoxville, Tenn. on Oct. 10 with Ashley Monroe.
At 22, this multi-talented singer, songwriter, producer and musician (Hayes played every instrument on his self-titled debut Atlantic Records album) has earned three No. 1 Country singles and the title of CMA New Artist of the Year and a Teen Choice Award for Male Country artist. The afternoon kicked off with Hayes adding another honor to his list; a platinum-selling album for his self-titled deluxe edition release, Encore. Members of Warner Music Nashville staff and various industry members gathered at the James K. Polk Theater to celebrate. Warner Music Nashville President and CEO John Esposito commented, “Hunter is one of only four Country artists in the past five years to have a platinum-selling debut album.”
Prominent reasons that he has caught the ears of fans young and old is his obvious passion—some might say obsession—with music, his musical prowess, and his seemingly limitless energy. Both were equally on display as he took industry members through a 90-minute set.
“For The Love of Music,” scrawled in chalk writing, rolled across a video screen above the stage as Hayes kicked off his set with two lively love songs, “A Thing About You” and “Can’t Say Love.” The background glowed with a background reminiscent of a Pac-Man arcade game, accented with spotlights that highlighted members of his backing band. The chalk writing continued throughout the stage dressing, from the stage ramps to the drum kit to Hayes’ piano, all covered with lyrics written in chalk.
“I’m actually a shy person,” Hayes told the audience. “Onstage is where I’m most comfortable.” The latter was clear, given his energetic, confident performance.
The lighting throughout the concert is thoughtful; red lights blaze for his debut single “Storm Warning,” then turn somber shades of purple and blue (accompanied by bubbles rather than rain) for Hayes’ bluesy guitar-driven take on “Rainy Season.” The soulful ballad allowed Hayes’ R&B-influenced vocals to command the audience’s attention, drawing loud applause.
“We’ve been working on the show for quite some time and it’s nice to play it for somebody. This is our way of saying thanks, by playing music and making noise,” said Hayes. He stayed center stage for “Somebody’s Heartbreak,” crunching out guitar riffs while stage lights were lit in an array of colors.
His musicianship got a special spotlight when he took to a side stage for an acoustic take on “Only If You Told Me To.” Using a loop and his guitar as a percussion instrument, Hayes built the song layer upon layer, even adding “background vocals” by singing into the sound hole on his trusty axe.
Calling it “the most vulnerable song I’ve ever done,” and “my awkward singles anthem,” Hayes brought the full band back for “Everybody’s Got Somebody But Me,” which features Jason Mraz. Though singer-songwriter Mraz wasn’t present, his voice was featured in the song. As Hayes performed, Mraz’s image was featured via video, as live footage of Hayes performing was layered on top of Mraz’s video performance, to interesting effect.
Hayes perhaps saved the best for last, as he launched into “Loved You More Than I Should,” an angst-filled Country-rock number. Backed by appropriate red and black hues and artsy video imagery, Hayes ripped through a series of rock guitar progressions. “That’s for all the angry people,” Hayes quipped.
He brought a quieter energy to the elegant rendition of “Where We Left Off,” the track Hayes contributed to the movie Act of Valor. With Hayes commanding the piano, spotlights onstage glowed red and blue, while lasers beamed white lights to the right and left, accentuating a video image of an American flag.
He followed the sentimental, patriotic theme with his hit ballad, “Wanted.” Giving a nod to his career thus far, “Better Than This” was his musical thank you to fans and the industry. Vintage footage of Hayes reminded listeners that though Hayes is barely in his 20s, he’s been performing live and dreaming of this career for most of his life. His easygoing confidence in a live setting is hard-earned, having performed with Hank Williams, Jr. and on national television by age 5.
“Let’s keep making noise and getting crazier and crazier,” said Hayes before concluding with his signature hit “I Want Crazy.” Judging from his substantial success thus far, it seems his career only set to get crazier.
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About the AuthorJessica Nicholson is a staff writer with MusicRow Enterprises. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine, TasteofCountry.com and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]
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