Kicking off his The Devil Don’t Sleep tour and a year of country concerts at Penn State, Brantley Gilbert performed at the Bryce Jordan Center on Friday night. Gilbert’s fourth tour began on Thursday in Reading, PA and made its way to State College for Friday’s concert — his first visit to the BJC. The southern rocker did not disappoint.
Before Gilbert took the stage shortly after 9:00 p.m., a trio of opening acts warmed up the slowly assembling BJC crowd. I arrived shortly after 7:00 p.m. so I caught the backend of the performance by Brian Davis, who has released four albums in the last decade. I did, however, get to see him throw his red Solo Cup, which he had been drinking while on stage, into the crowd. Rocking a Penn State trucker hat, Luke Combs, whose debut single “Hurricane” was a top-ten country seller on iTunes in 2015, was next and performed some songs from his debut album (set to be released this summer).
The last opener was one of the genre’s biggest up-and-coming stars, Tucker Beathard. He’s released three singles in the last year, most recently “Momma and Jesus” in January. Dressed in Johnny Cash black, Beathard was the perfect segway from Davis and Combs’ classic country sound to Gilbert’s loud, borderline rock-and-roll style. Beathard invigorated the arena with his guitar playing which resembles how Gilbert plays — it got most of the crowd on its feet.
Gilbert appropriately set the tone for the night with his first two songs, “It’s About to Get Dirty” and “My Kinda Party,” on cue to indoor fireworks and flames.
The tour’s album was just released on January 27 so Friday was pretty much my first impression of a lot of Gilbert’s new songs, but nonetheless many Central Pennsylvania fans already knew all of the words to hits “The Weekend,” “Rocking Chairs,” and “It’s About to Get Dirty.”
Gilbert’s songs were the ones that really got me into country. Given that Friday was part of the tour promoting his latest album, I wasn’t expecting a lot of those songs that got this New Jerseyan listening to country instead of Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi.
However, only three of the songs performed were from The Devil Don’t Sleep.
Right away, Gilbert began performing his classic hits such as “Country Must Be Country Wide,” “Small Town Throwdown” (which Friday indeed was), and “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do.” Another one of his early songs that he performed on Friday, “One Hell of an Amen” was particularly moving. The song was written in honor of two of Gilbert’s close friends, one who died in war and the other who died of cancer. He dedicated the performance to those in attendance who either served in the military or had been affected by cancer, then urged everyone present to remove their hats in honor of them. The crowed responded with an enthusiastic USA chant, which Gilbert conducted.
The show ended with Gilbert’s two best known songs, “Kick It in the Sticks” and “Bottoms Up,” with an encore of “Read Me My Rights.”
Although country is reportedly the least popular genre on Penn State’s campus, the BJC was filled on Friday night, a hopeful indication for the much more popular Florida Georgia Line, who will roll in on March 25 and for the highly anticipated, yet debated Happy Valley Jam on July 8 headlined by Blake Shelton.
Something unique about Gilbert as opposed to other country sensations such as Luke Bryan, Garth Brooks, and Kenny Chesney is his rock influences. In between Beathard’s wildly exhilarating guitar performance and Gilbert taking the stage, the BJC played songs by various rock groups such as Def Leppard and ACDC. Gilbert fits more into the genre of Southern Rock. His songs do regard the typical country topics such as popping a top and dropping the tailgate, yet they also rely heavily on his adept skills playing guitar and reflect what he calls “a bad boy” persona.
With the scores of fans decked out in cowboy boots and flannels, it’s safe to say country music is alive and well in Central Pennsylvania. Gilbert set a high bar for Florida-Georgia Line, Shelton, and whoever else Penn State may bring in to perform next semester.