While country music is hugely popular in the South, it tends to get overlooked in Washington, D.C. as genres like go-go, hip-hop and mainstream pop fill the local radio waves. However, on Wednesday night, sounds of an up-and-coming country crooner were heard coming from George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium, located just mere blocks from the Lincoln Memorial.
Newcomer Brett Young, who kept things casual wearing a simple black t-shirt, jeans, and a backward snapback, gave what I think is one of the best live performances I have ever seen in front of a small yet lively crowd.
This concert was different than any other country concert I personally had ever been to. I’m used to singing along to my favorite tunes in a variety of outdoor amphitheaters down south in the dog days of summer. These concerts tend to be full of a lot of sweaty people who have alcohol running through their bodies and are dressed to the nines in outfits completed with cowboy boots and hats. This concert featured very little of that. Most in attendance were dressed in jeans and simple shirts. Quite a few were even dressed in suits and structured dresses, clearly having come to the show straight after work. Nobody was outwardly drunk either, which was personally a nice change of pace.
But that doesn’t mean I didn’t thoroughly enjoy myself at Young’s show. The crowd, a mix of mostly college-age millennials and a few full fledged adults, was low-key but still full of energy. Young fed off it, mentioning multiple times how impressed he was with the audience despite it being a Wednesday night. He seemed to enjoy the audience so much that he added an extra song on the spot to the set list, performing “Mercy” with just his keyboardist. Young let the audience see in this performance how raw and vulnerable he can be as he sang about his pain of losing love, especially when he sings at the end of the chorus, “If you ever loved me/Have mercy.”
The production of the concert was minimal, mimicking the style used throughout Young’s debut album; there were no videos, props or gimmicks to entertain the crowd. It was simply Young, his four band mates, and their instruments on the stage. However, this left plenty of room for the rising country star to use his soft but simultaneously graveled and raspy voice to win over the crowd in a way that came off very seductive but sincere. His voice had ladies, including myself at times, wishing he was singing directly to them while the men in the room wishing they were suave enough to pull off what Young did so effortlessly.
Through his twelve-song, just-over-an-hour-long concert, Young told stories and shared personal anecdotes between each and every song. Each one was usually related somehow to the backstory behind the next song he was going to sing. When introducing “You Ain’t Here to Kiss Me,” he shared how he once broke up with girlfriend of six years on New Year’s Eve. He shared stories that were relatable to the audience and the honesty with which he told them was refreshing to hear.
Most of Young’s songs focus on romantic relationships; this topic is something everyone can relate to in one way or another as was evident by how many hands in the audience went up when he asked “How many of you have been broken up with?” before he introduced “Left Side of Leavin’.” His songs cover each aspect of relationships, from breaking up to finding the one you want to spend the rest of your life with.
What impressed me the most about the show and Young as an artist is how his content manages to stay away from the “bro country” sub-genre that tends to focus on trucks, alcohol, and objectifying women. Two of the messages he shared when introducing songs were perfect examples of this. Prior to “Beautiful Believer,” Young talked about how a strong woman is one who can be supportive and never leaves your side. He also continued with the positive messages about women before his song “Making Me Say,” saying that women deserve and need to feel pretty, loved and sexy. Both showed just how highly Young views women, which, as a woman myself, I personally loved hearing. The icing on the cake about how refreshing this point of view is, especially in country music, is that this took place on none other than International Women’s Day.
Young walked off the stage at the end of the night yelling to the crowd, “D.C., I love you!” Washington embraced Brett Young with open arms; his concert served as a reminder that while it doesn’t always seem like it, Washingtonians love country music and especially the kind that Young is creating.
Young is currently touring with Luke Bryan and will be touring with Lady Antebellum, Lee Brice and Justin Moore later this year. Check out his website to see if he will be playing a show near you soon.
Photo Credit: William Atkins/The George Washington University