When Luke Bryan kicked off his sold-out amphitheater show across the river from Philadelphia in late July with the catchy smash “Rain is a Good Thing,” the country star couldn’t help but smile ear to ear.
Bryan, 40, has reason to grin; the charismatic singer-songwriter is on top of the country world. Bryan has sold more than seven million albums and 27 million singles, is headlining sold-out stadiums and recently played Chicago’s iconic Wrigley Field. He can do little wrong.
“I can’t complain about a thing,” Bryan says. “I’m incredibly fortunate.”
Bryan is touring behind his latest batch of agreeable contemporary country. “Kill the Lights, ” his fifth album, is comprised of hook-laden, celebratory tunes. In addition, he has 14 No. 1 country hits to his credit.
“It helps me when it comes time to make up a set list,” Bryan says. “It’s just amazing.”
Bryan will perform those hits at shows Friday and Saturday at Raleigh’s Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek.
The son of a Georgia peanut farmer, Bryan has certainly come a long way.
“Music is what I’m passionate about,” he says. “I always loved listening to music. But I didn’t see a ton of shows because of where I grew up (in rural Leesburg, Ga.). I got to see Reba (McEntire), Travis Tritt and Marty Stuart. Those shows were inspiring. It helped me visualize my future.”
At 19, Bryan left for Nashville. He became a star in part thanks to his performances; Bryan’s concerts are a party. That should come as a no surprise considering the subject matter of some of his singles: “Drink a Beer,” “I Don’t Want This Night to End” and “Drunk on You.”
In fact, much of Bryan’s feel-good canon is reminiscent of the classic “Spinal Tap” line, “Have a Good Time All The Time” (uttered by keyboardist Viv Savage).
I’ve always believed that a good song is a good song. There’s nothing like a catchy song, regardless of the genre.
But Bryan’s latest album reveals a maturing recording artist.
The songs, in particular “Kick the Dust Up” and “Home Alone Tonight” (which is a duet with Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild), are upbeat but a bit more thoughtful.
“I love what I do,” Bryan says. “I love to write. I love music, all kinds of music.”
No wonder Bryan seemed so at home while sharing a stage with classic rockers Doobie Brothers on a 2011 episode of CMT’s “Crossroads.” Bryan also appeared on “Crossroads” in May with hip-hop artist Jason Derulo.
“I was exposed to so much when I was growing up in Georgia,” Bryan says “I’ve always loved country, but I had friends who listened to rap and friends who loved rock. I remember my friends from back then who loved Pearl Jam. All kinds of music have inspired me. I grew up loving country but I still played the Beastie Boys and Run D.M.C. I don’t get people that are only into one genre. I’ve always believed that a good song is a good song. There’s nothing like a catchy song, regardless of the genre.”
Catchy, hook-laden songs are one reason why the laid-back baritone is one of the most successful recording artists in country music. “I put a lot of work into this,” Bryan says. “But it’s a labor of love. I’m so thankful I get to do what I do.”
Even though Bryan has dominated country radio for a half-decade and experienced ridiculous success, he’s had to deal with tremendous sadness. When he was 19, his older brother died in a car accident. In 2007, his sister passed away. Her husband died in 2014.
“Nobody gets through life without dealing with pain,” Bryan says. “That’s just the way it is. You have to keep on living.”
And fans who live through Bryan’s songs, embrace the good times. There’s nothing wrong with rousing, rollicking songs, especially when those songs are well-crafted, like much of the Bryan catalog.
“I just try to do my best and I also try to have fun,” Bryan says. “I can think of a lot tougher ways to make a living.”