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From The Highway to Hallowed Ground – Florida Georgia Line Electrifies The Ryman

Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic and Think Country

It’s hard to believe it was 2012 when we first heard “Cruise” as a Highway Find on Sirius XM’s The Highway.  Florida Georgia Line was brand new to most of us and were they ever different!  If you didn’t find that song to be infectious and one that deserved more volume as you were driving down the road, you were in the minority.  This was new territory, but it sure was fun!

That Highway Find changed the lives of a couple of guys named Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley.  From the moment “Cruise” hit the airwaves, everything revved up.  They got signed to a record deal, the hits started flying out, one after another, and the world Hubbard and Kelley knew before was gone.  Suddenly, they were country stars, but they never forgot how that happened.  To this day, they both acknowledge it was Sirius XM The Highway that launched their careers.  The exclusive subscriber event at The Ryman was all about Florida Georgia Line being grateful to the radio station for playing their music, and to the subscribers that listen to it.  This was a point they mentioned several times throughout the evening, so it was clear they wanted everyone to understand how thankful they truly are.

There was no mistaking this was FGL’s night at The Ryman.   Large promotional banners of the duo that were taller than me seemed to be just about everywhere you looked.  Subscribers that attended the event all received an FGL/Sirius XM lanyard and a free t-shirt.  This was well thought out and very well organized.  There were multiple t-shirt stands which meant minimal waiting.  Grab a shirt and go!  I liked the show before it even started.

Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic and Think Country

Storme Warren, of Sirius XM’s The Highway, came out briefly to thank audience members for being Sirius XM subscribers and to tell everyone that the show would be broadcast live.  Only minutes later, Tyler Hubbard, Brian Kelly and the band that completes Florida Georgia Line bounded on stage against a backdrop of bright white strobe lights.  Opening with “Colorado” from their latest album, Can’t Say I Ain’t Country, these guys were ready to party!  A song that I’ve listened to many times before, and would normally describe as a mid-tempo jam, suddenly turned into a celebration.

Hubbard came out dressed in a denim jacket,  a blue ball cap embroidered with the word “Simple” and harem pants, often referred to as “Hammer” pants, first popularized by hip hop artist, MC Hammer, and running shoes.  Kelley wore blue jeans, a denim vest, a white cowboy hat and brown cowboy boots.  As usual, they looked about as mismatched as a duo can look, but appearances certainly can be deceiving, because as many times as I’ve seen these guys play, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen them work together quite so well as that night at The Ryman.

Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic and Think Country

It was just after “Colorado” that Tyler Hubbard made an announcement.  “Before we move any further, we need to remind everyone this is still an FGL show.”  With that, he went on to tell the audience that people don’t sit at FGL shows, they stand up and dance.  From that moment until the very last note was played and the house lights came back on, nobody sat down.  I’m telling you right now, there was magic in the air.  I have never seen any band that could do that.  One mere directive and the whole audience stood, even during the slow songs.  That blew my mind.

With the crowd on their feet, the band blasted right into “Y’all Boys”, another track from their new record.  This is one that they recorded with HARDY, and though he wasn’t there to perform it with them, they definitely kept the flavor of the recorded version alive and well.  With the lyric video looming large in the background, how could you not want to sing along?

Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic and Think Country

This night was about being thankful, and Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley of Florida Georgia Line were on board with that theme.  Immediately following the song, Hubbard spoke to the audience and thanked Sirius XM The Highway for changing their lives.  “We were just a couple of rednecks writing songs”, he said.  The game changing song, of course, was “Cruise”, which they had to play next.  When I say that auditorium became electrified, I mean it.  “Cruise” was FGL’s breakout hit and, in a sense, it was a breakout for fans too.  They had never heard anything quite like it before.  It was so different.  If you liked it, you quickly loved it.  Many of the people who loved that song from the very first time they heard it were sitting in that audience.  Yes, there was an electric vibe going on between the musicians and the audience.  “Cruise” will always be special, but it was significantly more special in the Mother Church on May 29th, 2019.

Every now and then a song with practically no bells and whistles runs away with the number one spot on Billboard’s Country Airplay Chart.  That happened with FGL’s “Simple” in October of 2018, making it their 14th number one song.  When they played that easy to sing along song at The Ryman, you can imagine that’s just what people did, sing their hearts out.  Both Hubbard and Kelley grabbed guitars for this number.

It was the first time Florida Georgia Line ever performed the title track of their new album, Can’t Say I Ain’t Country in front of an audience and you could tell they were having the time of their lives up there.  It was apparent that nobody knows better than they do that they are constantly accused of not being country, so they sang every lyric of that song with the emphasis it deserved.  These are country boys whether anyone cares to agree or not.  At the end of the song, Hubbard declared, “Man, that song felt good!”  Indeed, it did.

 

Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic and Think Country

The guitar-heavy favorite, “Round Here” followed with a whole lot of dancing and singing, shaking the balcony just enough to make one wonder how much the old gal can actually take.  I’ve been to some that were scarier, but every time, I think about it for a minute and figure if it’s going, I’m going, and well, what a way to go.

I want to jump ahead to what, for me, was the song of the night.  Not just because it’s my all-time favorite Florida Georgia Line song, but because this band takes a ton of heat.  I know because I hear it from so many artists I talk with.  They might not mention FGL specifically, but I know who they’re talking about.  They get accused of being “bro”, using click tracks, not being “country”, being “too pop” and they get called names I can’t even say here.   You name it, I think I’ve probably heard it.  Let me tell you something.  Others can bash them every which way they want, in the end, it won’t matter.  Florida Georgia Line has a huge following.  They are a very successful band, and if you go to an FGL concert and you don’t find yourself having fun, whether you care to admit it or not, maybe you need to check yourself.  These guys really are fun and their backing band is as solid as any out there.

What’s more, if you push aside some of their party songs, which, of course, they’re known for, and really listen to their deeper tunes, they really have a grip on life.  The song I’m referring to right now is “Dirt”.  Co-written by Rodney Clawson and Chris Tompkins, and released in 2014, this might be one of the best songs ever.  Granted, neither Hubbard or Kelley have a writing credit on “Dirt”, but they chose it to be on their record.  That, to me, often means just as much as being a writer.  The ability to pick a song so meaningful when you’ve been kind of pigeon-holed into a space where everyone thinks of you as not being able to think much further than the back of a pickup, that should make some of the haters pause a moment before they open their mouths too wide.  “Dirt” is, in my opinion, a masterpiece.

Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic and Think Country

If you aren’t a fan of Hubbard’s vocals, sorry, I suppose you can’t please the world, but when Hubbard dedicated “Dirt” to our military, police, firefighters and emergency medical technicians, on the most revered of all country music stages, and FGL played that song, it was intense.  The video for the song rolled behind the band and still, the crowd stood.  At the end of the song, Hubbard and Kelley asked the audience to join them in a round of the chorus.  It sounded amazing.  Perhaps it’s time for everyone to stop judging less and listening more.  If this particular song is “too bro” or “too whatever”, that’s unfortunate.  It will actually give your heart and mind a swift kick at the same time if you pay attention.  Seeing it done live amps it up to soul twisting.  Cut FGL a break already.

The band gave the crowd another familiar tune with “Anything Goes” and then Hubbard remarked, “This is our first official FGL show at The Ryman.”  They had done some things here and there, but never one complete show of their own, so again, it was a very important evening for them and they were feeling gracious.  With that crowd still on their feet, the boys broke into “May We All” and their most recent hit, “Talk You Out of It”.

Another pivotal moment came after that when Hubbard took to a beautiful, white distressed piano to sing another huge song.  This time around it was “H.O.L.Y” (busbee, Nate Cyphert, William Wilk Larsen), which again, wasn’t a song that Hubbard or Kelley had any part in writing, but they did a damned good job of selecting it for their Dig Your Roots album.  How good of a choice was it?  It debuted at number 39 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs Chart, and by its second week it took a major leap all the way to the number one spot.  I could go on and on about how it crossed over to other charts and received critical acclaim, but it isn’t necessary.  Florida Georgia Line took an extremely well-crafted song and turned it into a goldmine, both in the recording studio and on the live stage.  Everybody went to church at the FGL show and it wasn’t just because we happened to be in a building that served as one.  If I tried to find something negative to say about that performance, I couldn’t.  It was stunning.

Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic and Think Country

We were handed yet another gift by hearing the guys play “Blessings” to a live audience for the first time.  One of my picks for best track on their new album, they handled it with all the class it requires.  If you have the chance to see an FGL show soon, hope they play this, and they probably will.  It was a very cool surprise.

Off came the denim jacket, leaving Tyler Hubbard in a lime green tank top and fans in the seats with a super-charged version of “Up Down” (Michael Hardy, Brad Clawson, CJ Solar) that Morgan Wallen recorded, with Florida Georgia Line singing along on it.  Colorful video graphics added to the energy of this song that’s really just pure fun.  A fun fact, and one that maybe some artists should take note of, is Morgan Wallen actually just wanted to ask the guys in FGL for their opinion of the song.  That resulted in them joining him on the record, which in turn, resulted in the song becoming a number one hit.  Proof once again that maybe this duo isn’t all that bad.  Everything they touch seems to turn to gold. I doubt that Morgan Wallen is knocking them much these days.

Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic and Think Country

Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic and Think Country

Here’s where the cream rose to the top for me.  Now, I could be way off base and this could have been a set up, and don’t think I won’t look into it further, but for now, I’m going to believe it wasn’t.  Florida Georgia Line has yet another song that changed their lives, and that’s  “Meant to Be”, which features pop star, Bebe Rexha (something that FGL critics love to hate).  Now, Ms. Rexha was unavailable to join Hubbard and Kelley to sing the song at The Ryman, but they weren’t about to go down the road that would require them to try and sound like she does, they needed a real female voice to come up and lend her pipes to the cause.  It was Nashville, there were probably at least a few professional lady singers in the building that could have helped them out, but they decided to pick someone from the audience who looked like a real fan.  They did exactly that.  Did they pick one of those country cuties in Daisy Dukes who looked like it might be past her curfew?  No, they did not.  They chose “Miss Terry”.  They chose the best possible female fan they could have found.  She was fabulous.

Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic and Think Country

 

Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic and Think Country

“Miss Terry” was your average, everyday woman who obviously loves Florida Georgia Line and earned that chance to get up on The Ryman stage and sing with Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley and their fantastic band.  Did she know the words to “Meant to Be”?  Damned straight she did.  Did she look nervous and timid?  Oh no.  Was she fun and enthusiastic?  Absolutely!  She was instantly lovable.  My heart was so happy watching her up there having the time of her life, it made my night even better than it already was.  I think the guys in the band loved her too.  She was perfect.  She was given a signed FGL guitar as she left the stage for being a good sport too.

 

Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic and Think Country

In fact, she was so likable, that on my way out, as I was walking in back of the building, I heard a group of people shouting and cheering.  I thought they saw the band walking to their bus.  Nope.  They were excited because they caught a glimpse of “Miss Terry” in the parking lot.  She deserved  the accolades.  She was entertaining!  I would love to know more about her.  She seems like a fun person.  I give a truck load of credit to FGL for choosing her.  They didn’t go for some sweet, young thing just because she might look camera ready.  They picked someone they felt was a truly devoted fan.  That’s how it should always be.  I see award shows that select the young, beautiful people to put up in front of the stage so the camera can focus on them, leaving the older, but certainly no less devoted (especially with their wallets) fans in the back.  It sure would be nice if the playing field were more even, wouldn’t it?  At least I saw it for one shining moment.  Thank you Tyler and Brian.  That’s how it should be.

“This is How We Roll” took us home and I can’t express enough how good I felt leaving that venue.  I hear so much negativity about new country versus “real” country and it’s apparent that there are fans of both.  I think the problem lies with radio stations and labels that don’t want to give equal time to the classic country sound anymore.  If that could happen, all of the bashing might not stop totally, but at least it might level off.  Country music is, and always has been, about family, friends, storytelling, good times and a genre that people came together for.  Right now, there are people that insist on making it divisive and almost political.  Country music should never enter that realm..  I think we all need to remember one thing, life is short.  Really short.  The next time you walk outside, take a look at the ground.  “You know you came from it and one day you’ll return to it.”  Be kind.  Treat each other the way Florida Georgia Line treated “Miss Terry”.  The “Dirt” is waiting for us all.  Let’s not waste the time we have above it.

Video courtesy of Florida Georgia Line and YouTube
Florida Georgia Line can be found:
Website:  http://www.floridageorgialine.com/home/
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/floridageorgialine/
Instagram:  @floridageorgialine
Twitter:  https://twitter.com/FLAGALine
To subscribe to Sirius XM Radio:  https://www.siriusxm.com
Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic and Think Country

 

 

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Patti McClintic
I’m Patti. Rock music is my first love. My daughter, who was a country fan as a teenager, dragged me in when I'd drive her to school and we would have radio wars in the car. I'd have on my rock station and she would switch it to the country station. Guess who always won? As they say, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, so I did. patti@thinkcountrymusic.com First it was all modern country, but my parents were big Merle Haggard fans. I went along with them to a Merle Haggard/Phil Vassar show at the local fair and that was it. I was hooked on the Hag. Since that day, I've become a fan of bluegrass and I continue to explore all facets of the country genre. I guess you could say, I'm all in. When I'm not up to my neck in any kind of music, I enjoy genealogy, history, my granddaughters and my addiction, SongPop. I guess it could be worse, right? I'm a Buffalo, New York girl living in a Nashville, Tennessee world, and I'm livin' the dream with my husband, my dog and my two cats.
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