You know it is going to be a wild night when the opening act leaves to raucous cheers and a standing ovation and the clock has yet to strike 8.
That was the scene at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center on Saturday as country fans, undeterred by the rain, packed the house for country music heartthrob Luke Bryan.
Even the rain – which reached downpour status – couldn’t dampen the spirit of the sold-out crowd, which erupted when Cole Swindell took the stage to kick off the night. Swindell played a short set of pretty standard country fare before giving way to Lee Brice, who took it from there.
If you stumbled upon the concert without knowing who was playing, you’d have sworn Brice was the headliner, as he held the wet and wild crowd in the palm of his hand for the entirety of his hour-long set.
Brice said sing, the crowd sang. He raised his glass for the obligatory country toast, thousands followed suit. And when he broke out his hits, including “A Woman Like You,” (No. 1 on the country charts) the electricity could be felt from the front row to the last rain-soaked fan on the lawn.
While his music hit all of the country high notes from pickup trucks to beer (literally bringing the crowd to its feet with a song called, quite simply, “Beer”) it was Brice’s sincerity that seemed to hit home with his fans.
From his high-fives and fist bumps to the smile that seemed genuine as he talked about “how blessed we all are to be doing this,” Brice came across as a guy who gets paid to do what he truly loves.
But if Brice rocked the crowd, Bryan owned them. From the moment he took the stage, lowered down on a scissor lift with a wall of fire in the foreground, it was clear the man born Thomas Luther Bryan is a bona fide country music god.
While Bryan was belting out his hits, like “All My Friends Say” and the apt-for-Darien Lake hit “Rollercoaster,” his voice was the perfect blend of country twang and sweet, rich rocker.
But as strong as he is musically, it was Luke Bryan, sex symbol, that had thousands of ladies swooning. And Bryan did nothing to cool the fire, flashing his million-dollar smile and gyrating his hips so often Elvis would have been proud.
Like Brice before him, Bryan gave the genuine vibe throughout his set that he not only liked what he was doing, but he downright loved it.
While it has become trendy to grab fans’ cellphones and snap photos of the crowd, Bryan did one better, at one point lying down on the stage with a fan’s phone and snapping a selfie with her in the background.
Three songs later, as he shared the stage with Brice for a duet of “Crazy Girl,” the ladies lucky enough to score front row seats happily tossed their cellphones onto the stage in the mere hope that the affable Bryan would snap a keepsake with them.
His songs may be rich in country themes, but Luke Bryan transcended country, and was, by all measures and in every sense of the word, a rock star.