Luke Bryan: Life of the Party (2013)

Originally published in the August 19, 2013 issue of Country Weekly, featuring Luke Bryan on the cover.

It’s an incredibly muggy day in Birmingham, Ala., where Luke Bryan’s Dirt Road Diaries Tour with guests Florida Georgia Line and Thompson Square has stopped to entertain the masses at Oak Mountain Amphitheater. Crew and band members, practically everyone in sight, seem to be weighted down by the oppressive humidity as their garments cling to their bodies in unflattering ways. But if the uncomfortable temperature is getting to the star at the center of this country universe, you’d never know it. 

Luke, whose fourth studio album, Crash My Party, arrives Aug. 13, is poised to take his current celebrity—already sky-high after being named ACM Entertainer of the Year—and boot it straight into the stratosphere. Yet he seems remarkably at ease for the guy whose previous album, Tailgates & Tanlines, was just certified double platinum. “I don’t feel much pressure,” he says, cooling off in the confines of his tour bus. “My career has by far surpassed anything I could have ever dreamed it to be. And I’m just wanting to enjoy making music and being onstage in front of fans and having a good time.”

It’s a very good encapsulation of the Luke Bryan experience, which is geared to yield maximum payoff for the fans. In the hours preceding his set, Luke flashes that radiant smile as he performs a few acoustic songs for a hundred or so eager fans crammed into a tent in the parking lot. “He just touched my hand!” screams an ecstatic girl no older than 10. Later, he amiably poses for pictures and signs autographs with a few VIPs in a stanchioned area behind stage left, hardly breaking a sweat through it all. 

First single “Crash My Party” has already followed the success of Luke’s monster hits like “Drunk on You” and “I Don’t Want This Night to End,” and the album promises plenty more where that came from. More pickup trucks, more country girls shaking it and more of the warm nostalgia that resonates so deeply with his following. “The main thing is still the same thing: Make albums where everybody can be involved,” explains Luke. “Where you got songs that talk about small towns and rural towns. Then you’ve got these country songs that have kind of a poppier beat like ‘I Don’t Want This Night to End’ but still it’s a country lyric. Having songs that talk about hunting, and having some love songs on there. Just having well-rounded albums that if somebody don’t like one song, there’s a song coming that they’ll go, ‘Well, I love this song. This song is for me.’”

Luke points out that he recorded his vocals differently for the whole of Crash My Party, and indeed it makes a compelling case for him as talented singer and not just the guy who looks good shaking his hips. He also wrote less, contributing only two of his own songs to the album. “I love being there in my career where I don’t have to have the pressure of doing the shows [and] writing the music,” he admits. “If I can write a couple songs that can really speak to who I am and say what I want to say as a writer and find some great songs in Nashville, then that’s the perfect scenario.”

The album begins on a very up-tempo note, with the aggressive strains of “That’s My Kind of Night.” Lyrically it’s well-worn territory, with lines about sitting on a diamond-plate tailgate with a lovely lady and listening to a mixtape of Conway and T-Pain, but the experimental touches (see sidebar) found here and elsewhere are quite progressive. “The original lyric was Rhino-lined tailgate,” says Luke with a laugh. “I didn’t think people would know ‘Rhino-lined’ so I said ‘diamond-plate.’” It’s one of maybe three new songs the band plays during the show, and the crowd goes bananas for it.

If the mind-boggling number of young women strolling the venue dressed to the nines are any indication, Luke is smart to play up his romantic side on “Crash My Party” as well as “Beer in the Headlights” and “Roller Coaster.” They’re songs that fondly recall the universal recklessness and fickle nature of young love, the kind of thing that makes the ladies swoon. “Everybody has those first loves,” he muses. “As long as you’re singing about love, that’s the ultimate subject for music from now ’til the end of time. If you can find a new spin on love—like ‘baby, you can crash my party anytime’ is a cool new way to say, ‘Hey, come over here and love on me.’” 

But the “good ol’ boys,” as Luke calls them, also get shout-outs on Crash My Party with “Blood Brothers” and “We Run This Town.” Both songs nod back to simpler times when friendships were innocent and honest, before the cynicism of adulthood set in. “The older you get—heck, all of my best friends are truly back in my hometown,” says Luke. “A lot of people move away from their hometowns, so anytime you’re reflecting on the glory days or the days when you were young and free, there’s no better time in people’s lives than that.”

Elsewhere, Chris Stapleton—whom Luke calls “the best singer on the planet”—sings backup on the mournful standout “Drink a Beer.” Another highlight is the album closer, “Dirt Road Diary,” which Luke co-wrote while on his Farm Tour. “Dallas Davidson had the title for about a year and we got together and wrote a pretty cool version of some of my life story,” he reveals. “We knew when we wrote it, it was money.” Luke plays it seated at the piano during a stripped-down section of his show, and it comes across as a really honest portrait of a country guy who has endured a few scrapes along the way.

According to Luke, the audience response is what he has in mind as he’s recording. “You just get that vision in your head and you record them like that, and the hits will shine.” 

Down the line, Luke also plans to continue recording his popular Spring Break series of EPs, and may want to expand it to other subjects. “We’ll try to do some other subject-based little EPs and stuff,” he says. “Write some stuff for farmers, write some stuff for troops. I love sitting down with Spring Break and having a target to write to. It’s like writing a little book, a four-song book.”

And though “That’s My Kind of Night” and “Beer in the Headlights” extol the virtues of living in the moment and partying it up, Luke’s life these days is a little more calm and measured. Considering he’s happily married to wife Caroline—who has a cameo in the video for “Crash My Party”—and father to sons Bo and Tate, it’s important for him to keep a clear head. “When you are the party, you don’t necessarily want to go party,” he says, grinning. “When I get off the road I just kind of chill. When you’ve got a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old, they’re up at 8. We like to get up with them and spend the whole day with them. I don’t want to be all tired and hungover when I’m with my family.”

Plus, Luke figures he owes it to his fans to deliver consistently good performances on his tour. “I want to be up there doing my job well, too,” he says. “That’s where my enjoyment is. If I’m inhibiting me from doing my job, then I don’t enjoy my life. Nothing’s more gratifying than walking offstage going, ‘Dang, that was an awesome show.’ I just feel like, they work 50 hours a week and spend $50 on a ticket and it’s my job to show up ready and not disappoint them.”

Looking back over his life, Luke admits he’s had enough of the wild nights to last forever. “Nobody partied more than me in college, so I’m good,” he says, chuckling. “Now I love to get out onstage, have some beers and then after the show hang with the guys, have some vodka drinks and drink a couple beers and go to bed. [But] running around and stealing police cars and stuff ain’t in my repertoire anymore.”

Wait, did it really used to be? Luke gives a sly smile, saying only, “Maybe.”

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