Since he burst onto the scene in 2007 with "All My Friends Say," Luke Bryan has become among the most popular and celebrated country stars of all time. As visible as the 44-year-old Georgia native is, can there possibly be anything left untold about him?
Last week during the livestreamed Country Radio Broadcasters' convention, the four-time entertainer of the year sat down with CRB board president Kurt Johnson for a look back at his career highlights (so far), and he dropped a few fascinating morsels about his life that Luke-lovers are sure to feast on.
Here are 10 things you may not know about Luke Bryan:
1. He wept when he realized "Country Girl (Shake It for Me)" was shifting his career into overdrive. By early 2011, he'd already experienced No. 1s with "Rain Is a Good Thing" and "Someone Else Calling You Baby," but country radio stations still weren't instantly embracing Bryan's new releases by adding them into rotation right out of the gate. That all changed with the crickets and the critters and the squirrels.
When Bryan saw the single attracted twice the "adds" in its first week than his previous songs, "I started just crying and [wife] Caroline started crying," he recalled. "That was the moment that I'm like, well, radio is starting to trust."
The 6x platinum-selling song is considered perhaps his biggest and most crowd-pleasing hit, but incredibly — Bryan noted — it never topped the charts, reaching only as high as No. 4.
2. At first, no one was more shocked by the fan frenzy than Bryan. He especially recalled a 2011 Louisville concert after the release of "Country Girl."
"We just thought we were going to roll into a 15,000 state fair [crowd]," Bryan said. Instead, 26,000 were packing the stands. "When I hit the stage, it was crazy energy, crazy energy … I was like, wow, this is fixing to get …" He searched for a word. "It was amazing."
3. Bryan by now realizes he has an onstage "superpower." He described it as the ability to "roll with it," no matter what happens during a performance. "I had years of playing the honky-tonks where a bar fight happened and broke the whole show up," he said, explaining those experiences prepared him for any surprise or hiccup, even in a stadium setting.
Concert-goers, he added, "don't remember the perfectly delivered version of your massively successful radio hit. They remember the thing that they feel is the experience that only they got in that moment."
4. Bryan knows who he is at his core. "I will always be a guy," he said, "that loves to sit down and write a song, play it for people, record it, and then hear it on the radio, and then watch the people respond to that. That is the crème de la crème for Luke Bryan."
5. He didn't exactly jump at the chance to be a judge on American Idol. "I'd never really had a lot of [TV] aspirations," Bryan said. "My biggest thing with Idol is, will it affect my music career?" But conversations with pals Blake Shelton (The Voice) and Keith Urban (Idol seasons 12-15) persuaded him to go for it: "They were like, man, you're gonna enjoy learning something different."
He discovered they were right, he said, mentioning that he watched the recent premiere of the new season "with more pride than I've had" since joining the show in 2018.
6. It was his idea to put Caroline in those underwear ads. "When we got the initial opportunity to do Jockey," Bryan said, "I was like, hey, see if they would be into letting my wife be a part of it, and they were like, heck, yes! So, Caroline rolled in and became an actress." He confessed he was a little surprised by her acting chops: "I'm like, 'Where did this [come from]? You haven't been acting like you love me for all these years?!"
7. He's found the upside to the pandemic quarantine. Last summer, he loaded his 19-year-old nephew, Til, and sons Bo, 12, and Tate, 10, in his tour bus for a "bucket list" fishing trip to the Western United States, and they've been spending time hunting, as well. "Social distancing — I rock that," Bryan said. "Between fishing and hunting trips, I can go isolate pretty good with the kiddos."
8. Bryan and Eric Church shared similar reactions to singing the national anthem at the Super Bowl. Bryan took his turn in 2017 with trepidation. He'd already bobbled a performance at the 2012 Major League Baseball all-star game, "so I kind of shied away from doing the anthems," he said. But, he added, "I didn't move to Nashville and go through all this to, well — I'll just say it — puss out on those kinds of moments."
He sang the anthem a cappella, and he admits the experience was "very stressful," but in the end, he felt like he conquered the challenge. Last month, Bryan watched from the stands as his friend Church rose to the occasion. Afterward, Bryan texted his congratulations. Church's one-word response? "Stressful."
9. Bryan fully anticipates a return to pre-COVID arena crowds. His management and sponsors are busily working on plans and precautions, "and they're going to have to sign off on what this touring looks like," he said, but he added, "You can't fire up 14 tractor-trailers and put 4,000 people in a 20,000-seat arena. That just doesn't work. So, you've got to figure out how you want to re-enter Earth's atmosphere on this thing. It's going to be a good day, and it'll certainly happen."
And when it does, Bryan knows he'll have to get his voice ready. "It's a muscle," he acknowledges. "It's going to be interesting, kicking back, touring, and seeing how the voice holds up. I'll be practicing."
10. Bryan knows exactly what he'll be doing in his nineties. Though he had to skip it this year, he's been partying hearty since 2014 at the phenomenally successful "Crash My Playa," his annual music festival in Cancun, Mexico. And, he said, he never intends to stop.
"I'll be a 95-year-old dude walking around, wearing flip-flops, smoking a cigar," he said. "I hope I can do that forever because it just keeps you young."
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