MOOSIC — The Pavilion at Montage Mountain was sold out July 21, as some 18,000 country music fans made the slow trek up the hill to see genre-sensation Luke Bryan. At times the bumper-to-bumper traffic was stopped dead, but eager fans took it in stride, some with legs plopped lazily out passenger windows so their cowboy boots could be admired.
For 8-year-old Abigail Marra, the traffic was nothing compared to the mystery surrounding the trip.
“We came from Sussex County, New Jersey,” said her grandmother, Lisa Dunn. “She had absolutely no idea. It’s an early birthday present.”
Lips covered in blue from a half-eaten Italian ice, and showing no signs of wear from her travel, young Marra was beaming with excitement when she exclaimed, “I love Luke Bryan.”
While her grandfather, Bill, and grandmother are fans, they seemed more eager to see Little Big Town, also on the night’s bill.
Prior to seeing either of their favorites, Dustin Lynch started things rolling by telling the crowd, “It is our job to get the crowd warmed up for Luke Bryan and Little Big Town. See, Luke’s my boss and he said ‘Dustin make sure they know that even though they have seats they can get up and dance at tonight’s show.’”
There’s no wonder why Lynch earned the 2014 title as one of People and US Weekly’s “Sexist Men of Country” because the country boy has it and works it throughout his entire time in front of the crowd.
This country newcomer is reminiscent of a young Kenny Chesney, with his charm and how he moves about the stage, while his voice is more of an Alan Jackson-meets-George Strait combination. The crowd swaying and belting along to “Where It’s At” and “Cowboys and Angels” proves he has the goods and is more than just a performer, he can actually sing.
When fan-favorite Little Big Town came out, the crowd was still flocking in, but nonetheless, all eyes were forward and not a person was sitting. Covering numerous songs during their set, it’s a wonder why they’re in a number two spot.
With 13 songs, including “Pontoon,” “Front Porch Drinking” and “Pain Killer” the group did a remarkable job reminding fans what makes them one on the top selling acts in country music.
Eager fans were treated to the 2014 Grammy-award winning “Girl Crush” during their stint on the mountain.
With the stage lights dimmed, the four took a uniformed position standing side-by-side center stage. Stripped down, seemingly sans the band, the fierce foursome began a mellowed version of their hit “Boondocks,” only to have the lights blasting in with the band on the crowds vocal cue, bringing back the full rhythm that earned them their first Top 10 hit on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Songs.
For country music fans Erin Reilly and Chuck Kosciuk the night was a blast.
“We have a little boy,” Reilly said, “so it’s hard for us to get out that often, but we try to come to at least one concert a year.”
“Our son is 4,” Kosciuk added. “He’s a big Luke Bryan fan.”
Maybe Kosciuk made a good call leaving his son at home because the country-star did put on a good show, but after three songs in, this reviewer wondered how much staying power he truly has as an artist.
Sure he has the look, tight jeans, tight T-shirt, and stage swagger that would make Mick Jagger envious. But there were times when his vocal abilities, more specifically, his range, or lack thereof, was noticeable. His voice lost in the guitars, his answer to shake and sway and work the crowd instead.
While there’s nothing wrong with being a showman, which Bryan most certainly is, the lacking vocal range, combined with the song variety seem to paint a bleak picture unless he changes it up, and soon.
Songs like his opener “Rain is a Good Thing,” “Crash My Party,” “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” and “Kick the Dust Up” were played and made the crowd go crazy.
About mid-way through his act, Bryan stopped and offered thanks to the people serving in the military and also to the Country Music Association.
“I want to thank you for making me your CMA entertainer of the year,” he said flashing a flirty, beaming smile. “Thank you very much.”
Yes, Bryan puts on a good show, ask the 18,000 people who trekked to see him. It was a party to beat all parties in NEPA. There’s no doubt that the Country Music Association made a good call when they awarded him “2016 Entertainer of the Year.” He’s got the charm, the body and the swagger.
He also throws one hell of a party, the trick is to get there a little early to avoid the traffic.
Shaverton-resident Melissa Huey was one of the lucky ones there from the start. A Bryan fan, and also a fan of the venue, she knows how bad traffic can get so she made a point of getting up on the mountain earlier in the day to hangout and tailgate with friends before going through the gates.
“I like coming here because I don’t have to travel to far,” she said. “The location is great.”
Check back soon for more photos of Bryan’s July 21 performance at Montage Mountain.
Shannon Keith is a Weekender and Times Leader correspondent. Reach the arts and entertainment department at email@example.com.