The “bro-country” phenomenon came hard to Saratoga Performing Arts Center this summer, to use a term coined to describe the current trend of young male country singers dominating the radio and sales charts with slick, genre-mashing songs about partying, pickup trucks and women.
Country star Luke Bryan, poster boy for the movement, sold out SPAC earlier in August, while Friday night saw two of the genre’s biggest acts — Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line — draw a huge crowd to the venue on the last weekend of its pop concert season.
Aldean, who of the two acts hews closest to traditional country, appeared onstage atop a large riser, video flames consuming the screen behind him as a volley of loud pyrotechnic blasts kicked off his opening track, “Hicktown,” a twangified rocker that touches upon country tropes like truck pulls, football games and off-road muddin’.
Images of scantily clad women filled the screen behind the stage during the crowd-rousing weekend anthem “My Kinda Party,” while Aldean and his youthful, black-clad backing band took things down a notch for the slide guitar-inflected “Tattoos on This Town,” the working man’s refrain “Amarillo Sky” and farm ballad “Big Green Tractor.”
At his best when he digs deeper into his subject matter, Aldean’s “Fly Over States” was a testament to the heartland and an indictment of bi-coastal snobbery, while crowd favorite “When She Says Baby” was a love song with a truly tender side. “1994” merged twang-pop with hip-hop beats; the nostalgic “Night Train” hailed from Aldean’s album of the same name; and “Don’t You Wanna Stay” offered an awkward duet between Aldean and singer Kelly Clarkson, who appeared onstage via a pre-recorded performance shown on video screens.
Each of Aldean’s five best-selling albums got some play during the night — he closed with the hip-hop, bro-country hybrid “Dirt Road Anthem,” the outlaw country ode to Nashville “Crazy Town,” and encore “She’s Country” — but fans got a peek at Aldean’s upcoming album when he debuted the smoldering new single “Burnin’ It Down,” which has an erotic theme and techno-y dance beat.
Aside from a few nods to arena rock stagecraft, Aldean is a no-frills performer, offering little in the way of stage moves or banter. In that sense, the chart-topping Florida Georgia Line could not have been more different. Their set was bombastic from start to finish, with pretty boy singers Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley — a duo backed by a six-member band — swigging from a bottle of Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey and riling the crowd with party anthems like earworm hit “Cruise” and the nonsensical “Get Your Shine On.” They broke the mold with new single “Dirt,” though, a ballad about the virtues of hard, honest work.
Tyler Farr, most known for his hit “Redneck Crazy,” looked out over a sea of baseball caps and straw cowboy hats during his well-received 15-minute opening set. Between artists, a DJ pumped up the crowd with songs that barely touched upon country at all — from Joan Jett to the Beastie Boys.
Despite the growing bro-country backlash, country music has definitely gotten hipper of late, or at least absorbed some aspect of “cool culture” in the form of hip-hop remixes, dance beats and arena rock flash — a cross-genre approach that may be why country music now dominates the pop charts.