Luke Bryan: The King of Spring

Originally published in the March 11, 2013 issue of Country Weekly.

Kenny Chesney may own the summer, but spring belongs to Luke Bryan. Over the past five years, Luke has assumed the throne as the king of spring break, with his party-hearty songs becoming the soundtrack to the good times (and bad decisions) of vacationing college kids everywhere. 

Now, after a quartet of digital-only spring break EPs, beginning with 2009’s Spring Break With All My Friends, Luke has compiled the best songs from those four releases for the full-length CD Spring Break . . . Here to Party, released March 5. The collection boasts a pair of new songs and marks the first physical release of Luke’s spring-break anthems.

“We barely planned the first spring break album. It was all done to have fun and have a reason to put music out. And it’s progressively grown each year,” says Luke, dressed casually in a Georgia Southern football sweatshirt and sipping a bottle of water in a conference room on Music Row. He has just returned from a doctor’s appointment and his right middle finger is wrapped in a bright-blue bandage, the result of a recent procedure to fix a recurring hangnail. (Hey, even superstars can get a hangnail.)

“The main thing for spring break is to free up our mind and do some fun songs,” he continues, explaining the creative freedom the sun-and-sand album affords him. “It’s an overall young theme, a theme that you may not necessarily get away with on country radio.”

Indeed, Spring Break . . . Here to Party tracks like “Take My Drunk Ass Home” and “Sorority Girl” would be hard sells for the often homogenized radio playlists.

But “Buzzkill”—one of the two new songs, along with “Just a Sip”—could get some spins. A ballad, it’s in stark contrast to the bulk of the lighthearted Spring Break album and was recently shipped to radio, with a video to follow. 

“I love the song and I think it could be on any regular album of mine. The subject matter, the word ‘buzzkill’ is a youthful college-y term. I think so many college kids are in that part of their life where they’re going out to a bar and they have exes, and an ex walks in and is their buzzkill,” Luke says. 

The Georgia boy nearly experienced his own buzzkill, of a different sort, on his very first spring break trip with his now wife, Caroline. The young couple was in college and had just started dating when they headed south to Panama City Beach, Fla.

“Right when we got there, it was pretty chilly. But we all got in our swimsuits and ran and jumped in the water,” Luke recounts. “The next day we partied and the next day we partied, but then Caroline and I started feeling really bad.”

Uh-oh.

“The next three days, we physically could not get out of bed. We got the flu. We laid in bed with the flu for most of spring break,” Luke says. Still, the experience actually brought the couple closer together. “We looked after one another and we have a lot of fond memories.”

Panama City Beach has long been an important part of Luke’s life. Since he was a kid, he and his family would vacation on the Florida Panhandle destination. Later, as he entered high school and college, he returned with his pals.

“It was the perfect spring break scenario. We had an old cheap hotel down the beach and there were 10 of us sleeping on the floor, a tile floor. We had a few clothes and plenty to drink,” Luke says, grinning. “What’s funny is all those hotels have these quote-unquote rules, but at the end of the day, it’s all college kids. You have to be 25 to rent the room, but there certainly aren’t any 25-year-olds down there.”

Though currently on his headlining Dirt Road Diaries Tour with Thompson Square and Florida Georgia Line—“I don’t think it’s even fair to call them openers,” he raves about his tourmates—Luke is making time once again for his annual spring break shows at Spinnaker Beach Club in Panama City Beach. This year’s concerts take place March 12 and 13, and a special Dirt Road Diaries installment of the spring break show, with FGL and Thompson Square, will be held on March 14 in Orange Beach, Ala. 

“The Spinnaker shows are for me as much as my fans,” Luke admits. “It’s a day to be at the beach and be in that moment and vibe. I’m telling you, I wake up at 8:30 a.m. and start looking out the windows and watching everybody filing into Spinnaker’s. It’s a fun day for me, my wife and a bunch of our friends who come down. They party and have a great time.”

With a reported 40,000 fans flocking to the beachside bacchanal, last year’s shows provided a Buffett-like level of tropical entertainment. Luke credits the informal nature of the gigs for their continued success.

“That vibe going on there is magical. The second you sensationalize it and commercialize it and throw a big stage up on the beach, it loses a little bit of its allure. So we’re enjoying that aspect of it,” he says. “The images of last year, with 40 to 50,000 people on the beach—just knowing they’re all out there is what’s fun, too.”

Someday, when they’re older, Luke’s sons, Bo, almost 5, and Tate, 2, will make their own spring break pilgrimage. But he claims to have no reservations about his boys undergoing the often boozy rite of passage. 

“When you get in that spring break situation, there are so many things that can go wrong down there, and there are a lot of things that can go right. It can be the time of your life and you just pray that you’ve instilled everything in your kids [that] they need to negotiate all that goes on. And to be safe and use their head,” Luke says. “But me and my wife . . . we get it. We’ve been there. Obviously, as life and society does, things get crazier and crazier. You just hope you have them prepared for a crazy world down there.”

Who knows, maybe they’ll still be listening to Spring Break . . . Here to Party all those years from now. Or even seeing their father perform live at Spinnaker’s.

Luke laughs. “As long as I don’t look like Grandpa Jones up there, I’ll do it!”

Just remember, Luke: sunscreen.

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