By the time country giants Florida Georgia Line took the Bud Light Stage tonight, they looked out on a crowd that numbered in the tens of thousands and, according to festival organizers, was the biggest the venue had ever attracted.
Their set of a dozen songs was drawn almost exclusively from their meteorically popular debut album, “Here’s to the Good Times,” and the duo's enthusiasm and energy more than earned every decibel of adoration, every anthemic choral singalong, every pumping fist from the rabidly enthusiastic crowd.
The evening commenced with an apropos red solo cup salute from the backing band just before the downbeat of “It’s Just What We Do,” which was met with a truly overwhelming reception from the thousands whose excitement had been ratcheted several degrees higher by waiting 15 minutes past the scheduled start time of 7:45 p.m.
From the first notes, co-lead vocalists Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard's performance oozed an enthusiasm that belied the fact that they signed were signed to perform right before earning honors (and a higher expected price) as the Top New Vocal Duo or Group and New Artist of the Year from the Academy of Country Music.
Some artists might have resented being locked into a contract that only fractionally reflected their current worth, but Kelley and Hubbard gave every indication that they were as excited to be here as their legions of fans — from slapping hands and tossing T-shirts to hoisting a pair of adorable toddlers on stage to dance along during a third-quarter medley.
Maybe it was feigned sincerity, but if so, it was awfully convincing.
“This afternoon, me and BK got to go out on this river we’ve driven past about a thousand times and ... damn but we love Chattanooga,” Hubbard said after the duo finished “Tip It Back,” earning him a Tsunami of brownie points and a herd of rock horns from hundreds of upraised fists.
That goodwill only intensified as they ripped through all three singles from “Here’s to the Good Times,” “Get Your Shine On,” “Round Here” and — in a fitting close to their hourlong show — their triple-platinum-certified anthem, “Cruise.”
There are certain moments at festivals that transcend genre, when a performance becomes as much about the showmanship and investment of the artist as it is about the style of music. The Florida Georgia Line show was certainly one of those moments.
Whether you are a fan of the duo’s urban/pop-laced brand of contemporary country or you think their music a shallow celebration of the simple things in life, their concert was an absolute grand slam for Riverbend.
Talent and production coordinator Joe “Dixie” Fuller has been vocal about his sniper-accurate decision to pick up the band just before their rise to stardom, and he’s entitled to preen a bit. Florida Georgia Line could undoubtedly have kept an iron grip on crowd as a Coke Stage headliner, but fans lucked out that they were placed on a side stage because it ensured that they could get incredibly close to their idols, building an already colossal feedback loop of enthusiasm to levels I’ve rarely seen at the festival on any stage.
In short, this one was a win, Friends of the Festival. Enjoy it. Just be sure to deflate Dixie's swollen head at the end of the night so he can fit in his car.
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...