When I was sixteen I was in love with a Georgia boy who lived in a town that neighbors Sam Hunt’s hometown: Cedartown, GA. For this reason, I was exposed to Sam Hunt’s music in its earliest stages during the summer of 2014: the Between the Pines acoustic mixtape.
Fortunately, I was able to see Sam Hunt live three times in 2015: his first headlining tour cleverly entitled “Lipstick Graffiti,” his festival set at Riverbend, and his opening for Lady Antebellum on their Wheels Up Tour.
It is a drizzly, cold day in September. Skies are gray and don’t seem fitting for a country music festival on Labor Day weekend. My mother, sister, and I drive in the conditions to a ballpark in Lexington, Kentucky. We arrive hours in advance in order to claim the near-stage spot that we desire.
A ballpark staff member informs us that the field is a muddy disaster due to heavy rains and the previous night of the Red, White, and Boom music festival. My sister and I both have sandals on. Given that the temperature has dropped to a chilly 55 degrees, mom walks over to the near-by dollar store and purchases ruinable shoes + socks. This would prove to be a nice save by mom.
While waiting in line, the local news station, WKYT, approaches me and asks if I would be willing to be interviewed about the sign I am holding. The reporter asks the meaning behind the sign, previous experiences at Sam Hunt concerts, and what I am most looking forward to/hoping for in the show. In the name of journalism procedures I am asked to spell my first and last name. I am apparently nervous. The interaction catches me off-guard as does the camera, mic, and reporter. As a result, I struggle to remember the spelling of my last name. True story. We laugh about this for the remainder of our wait in line.
As soon as I hear my ticket scan, I take off jogging toward the stage. If you aren’t first, you’re last in this case. As the staff member warned, the field is muddy. In fact, ankle-deep muddy in heavily worn areas.
Rainy mist is sporadic throughout the night. I stand by a man who will be attending each night of the three day festival. He jokingly comments that he saw Noah’s Arc the previous night in the rain storm while Luke Bryan performed.
Nashville’s up-and-coming singer/songwriter, Ryan Follese precedes Chris Janson.
We wear mutual smiles and laughs during Chris Janson’s set about buying boats, fixing drinks, and holding those we love.
Maren Morris brings all the sass and pop-based country music while the sky darkens and the rain falls. Crowd favorites are “80’s Mercedes,” “My Church,” and “I Could Use a Love Song.”
The tour title illuminates the stage, phones are set to video, welcoming screams fill the air.
“Leave the Night On” and “House Party” usher in the set full of songs that have changed the landscape of current country music and my own life.
Sam narrates “Cop Car” and speaks of his recent marriage to the girl in the song- in fact, the girl that the entire album Montevallo is about. What sounds like news to those in the crowd that understand “Cop Car” to be original to Keith Urban, sounds to me like a familiar backstory that I love.
Never before have I been to a Sam Hunt concert in which every song that he has written for others and released on Between the Pines makes the set list: “Cop Car” (Keith Urban), “We Are Tonight” (Billy Currington), “Come Over” (Kenny Chesney), and “I Met a Girl” (William Michael Morgan). I prefer these songs in the hands of their author; the songs are shown in their best light as Sam performs them with backstories. He introduces “I Met A Girl” by continuing to speak about how heavily Hannah Lee, his wife, has influenced his music. During the song it is almost as if you can see that he is thinking about her.
After a moment of playing acoustic guitars with band members Tyrone and “Burke,” he strips the show down to three chords and the truth. Sam asks that the crowd be illuminated by stage lights in order that he can get to know the crowd as we get to know him. In the midst of strumming and giving short covers of 90’s songs he tells portions of his life story. Within this narration, he speaks of the band’s humble beginnings and their deep friendship.
While “Saturday Night” and “Speakers” hold the moment I am thinking of the countless times I have listened to Montevallo in my car, the way I have felt about his music since the beginning, and how his music has shaped my life. There is a deep gratitude that fills my heart and mind as I am one of many in a crowd at this labor day weekend festival, yet know that my experience with Sam’s music is personal and real.
This is what country music concerts are about. It’s about the life you live with the songs prior and after the shows: the mundane days that you listen to the songs day in and day out, the ways in which they define your life personally. And then, coming together with other country music fans and artists to celebrate thankfulness + love of mutual lifestyles as told by music.
So, as I am in close proximity with the man that has created music that I feel a deep, lasting connection to I am as much there in the moment as I am thinking of all of the past moments spent with his music.
The latter half of the show encompasses the songs that define Sam Hunt’s music career: “Body Like a Backroad,” “Take Your Time,” “Ex to See,” “Breakup in a Small Town,” and “Drinkin’ Too Much.”
The stage becomes black, signaling the presence of an encore.
A white piano is present when the stage becomes illuminated again. Sam is at the piano. The crowd rallies around singing “Make You Miss Me” in unison with him.
After Sam + the band give their thanks, the show ends and the crowd disperses into the streets.
P. S. When the WKYT reporter asked me what I was looking forward to/hoping for, I replied that “Drinkin’ Too Much” would be included in the setlist. There was a portion of the song within “Break Up in a Small Town.” I was shocked and so pleased:
15 in a 30 Merch: