The first taping for Season 45 of "Austin City Limits" kicked off with a twang on March 3, as rising country star Kane Brown brought his radio-friendly voice and talented full band to the Moody Theater stage at ACL Live. The crowd was equal parts devoted fans and curious newcomers who had never heard of Brown before, but by the end of the show, one thing was for sure, no matter who you were: Ladies love Kane Brown.
The artist had his female admirers jumping out of their seats swaying, singing, clapping, stomping and even doing a little hip thrusting, as he crooned perfect country love song after perfect country love song. What girl doesn’t want to be told she’s better than literal heaven (as Brown sings on the appropriately titled “Heaven”)?
It’s easy to understand how Brown became a self-made country star who blew up on social media and now dominates the charts: He’s a savvy, undeniably cool performer with a low, soulful voice, infusing just the right amount of edginess into songs built around strong hooks and palatable, audience-friendly themes such as respecting your mama, missing your girl, forgiving your enemies and surviving your hardships.
I took my dad to the show with me, and though he lamented that he forgot to wear his boots and cowboy hat to this taping, he could have easily replaced those clothing items with “tapered camo pants” and “a flat brim hat,” because Brown’s crowd veered in that modern sartorial direction more than the classic Western look. Billboard has called the artist “the future of country music,” and Brown’s "ACL" set confirmed that title. No question about it, the singer makes country music for millennials, integrating, pop, rock, rap and R&B elements into a traditional country formula. He even tackled the topic of school shootings in the dark, powerful standout “American Bad Dream.”
At one point in the show, Brown told stories about some of the challenges he faced growing up, including an abusive stepfather and classmates hurling racist slurs at him. He elegantly integrated social issues into personal experiences, punctuating the story with a shout out to the troops before segueing into an inspirational song called “Let It Go.” The audience stayed with him every second, booing injustice, cheering for overcoming the odds.
After slowing it down with some ballads including “Homesick,” “Work” (which accompanied a heartfelt reflection on the artist’s recent marriage), and a brief moment where he shouted out Khalid and sang a few bars of “Saturday Nights” (like I said: truly a millennial's country star!), Brown brought back the energy with the celebratory, sexy-but-respectful banger “Short Skirt Weather,” which had everyone in the crowd who had braved below-freezing temperatures thinking back fondly to balmy Austin summer nights.
Brown and his talented backing band — at several points there were five stringed instruments being played during a single song, and man that violin player can shred — proved themselves natural performers on the ACL Live stage, making eyes at screaming fans and making fans of the formerly blank-eyed. Kane Brown knows what he’s doing, and he’s deservedly poised to take the country world by storm.
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