REVIEW: Hunter Hayes rocks Savannah
If you heard young girls screaming in excitement about 8:30 p.m. Friday, chances are you were near the Civic Center for the Hunter Hayes concert.
I was one of the many moms with a young daughter in tow to see the 22-year-old country/pop superstar take the stage at Johnny Mercer Theatre on Oct. 11 as part of his “Let’s Get Crazy” tour. (You can see photos from the concert by clicking here.)
Before the show, I had heard of Hunter Hayes from his top-selling song “Wanted” that gets a lot of air time on top-40 stations, but I didn’t know much about him.
I assumed he was one of those young Disney-type stars who would be running around stage singing bubblegum pop/country while doing cheesy dance moves and over-dramatized love ballads.
I was partly right.
The concert started exactly on time — bonus points. The young musician ran out on stage with his electric guitar slung over his shoulder. To my surprise, the guitar was not a prop. The kid could play.
He kicked off the show with “Storm Warning” and the crowd was on its feet. His energy was contagious and I found myself tapping my foot. Despite my Texas roots, I’m not a big fan of country music, but I’m always a sucker for well-played live music and Hayes delivered.
He kept the rhythm upbeat with “Can’t Say Love.” His stage crew came out and switched Hayes’ guitar for each number so there was no waiting around for him to tune between songs.
As much as my cynical 90s rock-loving-self wanted to believe the guy was playing to a pre-recorded track, I knew that it had to be him singing lead vocals, because that raspy voice was missing the notes. It wasn’t disastrous, but I kept waiting for him to hit those really powerful notes on his slower songs like “Rainy Season” and “Somebody’s Heartbreak,” but he just wasn’t getting there.
However, if you were one of those parents who shelled out money for tickets to the show, you should rest easy knowing you got your money’s worth. Hayes was obviously enjoying the crowd and made the announcement that since it was a Friday night, he would play every song from the “Hunter Hayes, Encore” CD.
But the songs began to blur together for me. The rhythm, bass lines and the Louisiana signature twang of the mandolin seemed to be the formula for each song. Although the girls next to me were singing every line and screaming, “Oh my gosh, I love this song,” the tunes were beginning to sound the same to me and I thought maybe I was going “Crazy.”
I leaned over and asked my daughter, “Didn’t he already sing this song?” The teenage glare told me otherwise.
About the time boredom was setting in for me, Hayes sat at the piano and played his top-selling single “Wanted.” Even though he totally missed his big note in the chorus, the energy was picking up and the crowd was jumping up and down and singing along.
After a lackluster duet with show opener Ashley Monroe, he finished up strong with “I’m on Top of the World,” and the country star started hitting every note. The final song of the night, “I Want Crazy” redeemed Hayes’ performance, The cannons on either side of the stage blasted confetti into the air signally the perfect end to a high-energy hour and a half show.
And without trying to sound like a creepy 38-year old mother of two, I became a fan of Hunter Hayes.
After the show
Reading Hayes’ bio on his website, I learned he isn’t the stereotypical boy band-type performer I had believed him to be. He’s actually an accomplished musician and songwriter who began his career at age 4 when he sang and played “Jambalaya” on the accordion on stage at a Hank Williams Jr. concert. (The YouTube video has more than 1 million hits.)
He also performed on the movie “The Apostle” with Robert Duvall when he was 6 years old. Duvall gave Hayes his first guitar, and the young musician started branching out by writing songs and playing every instrument he could get his hands on. For his debut ablum “Hunter Hayes,” he wrote or co-wrote every song, co-produced the album and played all of the 30-plus instruments heard on the album.
I had the chance to speak with Hayes on the phone the day after the concert to find out what he thought about the Savannah show and to learn a little more about this young musician.
I’m going to be honest, I didn’t know what to expect from your show and I have to admit, I really enjoyed it.
Thank you very much for checking it out. That Savannah crowd was amazing. This isn’t just something I say after a concert either. The energy in that room was something else. I cannot say thank you enough to everyone in Savannah for coming to the show.
Do you have a favorite song you like to perform?
Right now, “Crazy” is my favorite to perform. But I also like “Heartbreak.” I enjoy the new part I added with the loops and the pedals — it’s something new I’ve been playing around with and I think it’s turned out really nice.
This is your first big tour and Savannah was the second show on that tour. For a young guy from Louisiana, did you ever think you would be touring with a major record label, taking your music all over the country?
This is definitely part of a dream for me. I always wanted to go into cool theaters, like last night, and play my music. I’ve always wanted to build a show from scratch. I’ve been able to build this from the ground up and they have let me be so hands on – which may be annoying to them sometimes because I’m so passionate about every detail. (Laughs.) It’s just really special.
You hear stories about young artists having to compromise their music or themselves in order to appeal to a larger audience. Have you ever felt you had to compromise to be more marketable or to fit the image your label created for you?
No, never. My team has been so cool. Nothing is rushed. I’ve been able to stay true to myself. I have to make sure I have enough time to be myself and to find things I identify with and make my music and allow things to happen naturally. For me, it’s all about the music. I never release anything I don’t believe in.
OK, so I watched the video of you on stage when you were 4 years old playing according and singing “Jambalaya” at the Hank Williams Jr. concert. How does something like that happen for a 4 year old? Are you from a musical family that had connections to the industry?
Actually, I’m from a non-musical family. No one in my family plays music. I was told that I would walk around the house finding things to make music with from the time I could walk. … On my second birthday, my grandmother gave me a toy accordion and it just went from there. I got drums for Christmas one year. Someone gave me a guitar. I just kept learning. Plus, living in Louisiana, there is a good music culture there. It’s not a day job for most people, and they spent the day working and then go out at night and play great music. I was able to go around and witness that and be inspired. I felt like I finally found my place. That was my thing. Some people play sports, I played music. My parents didn’t know anything about music, but they gave me every opportunity possible to play music.
Speaking of sports, how hard was it to grow up in the South and be a music geek rather than play sports in junior high or high school?
My whole life, I was just trying to fit in. It was a slow realization for me that I didn’t fit in, but I was committed to music. I didn’t have a light bulb moment, it was something that just gradually became a realization and I just hoped to find a place to fit in one day. It’s already easy to feel like you don’t fit in when you are young, so I didn’t need much help with that. I still feel like a geek, but I like it. I don’t care. I know I obsess about what I’m passionate about.
What’s next for Hunter Hayes?
I’m just taking it one step at a time. I’m working on new music for the next album. I’ll have about 50 songs written when it’s time to sit down and start recording. But I don’t like to rush things. I like for it to just happen naturally.