RCA Nashville recording artist Jake Owen launched CMT On Tour: Jake Owen – The Summer Never Ends 2012 Wednesday night with a sold-out show at New York City’s Best Buy Theatre. With a roster of past acts including Luke Bryan, Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert, the tour has become a launching pad for country artists on the verge of widespread commercial success. Joined by up-and-coming duos Love and Theft and Florida Georgia Line, Jake’s first turn at headlining has already sold out a number of shows across the country.
Florida Georgia Line kicked off the show, performing from their Spring-released EP titled “It’z Just What We Do.” Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard’s infectious energy charged the crowd with their lighthearted tracks “Tip it Back” and “Get Your Shine On,” but it took only four words for the crowd to explode into a raucous uproar of recognition – Baby, you a song. And just like that, a crowd that had previously been relatively subdued became electric. Around me arose a hollering chorus, crooning every word of the duo’s debut single “Cruise,” intermittently interrupted by an onlooker gushing, “I LOVE this song!”
With that, Kelley and Hubbard retreated backstage and CMA-nominated duo Love and Theft took the lead for their first middle-slot tour performance. Providing the perfect backdrop to Owen’s country-rock flair, Stephen Barker Liles and Eric Gunderson immediately hooked the crowd with their first-ever single, the popular radio hit “Runaway.” The remainder of the performance was comprised of tracks from their recently released, critically acclaimed self-titled debut album – with the addition of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band classic “Fishin’ in the Dark.” Liles and Gunderson finished off the set with their No. 1 gold-certified single, “Angel Eyes.”
Finally, a barefoot, blue-jean clad Jake Owen stepped out onto a white shag rug grinning like a teenage boy who had just been handed the keys to his first car. Owen took off with his recent top 10 hit, “The One that Got Away” and “Surefire Feeling,” before taking a brief glimpse into the past with his first-ever hit, “Yee Haw,” and giving us all a peek at his unreleased, classic rock-infused “1972.”
Pausing a moment to allow the reality of the situation to sink in, Jake mused with the crowd about his history with CMT on Tour. “Five years ago, I played this stage.” Jake proudly proclaimed, referencing the 2007 tour. “I was the opening opening act for Sugarland. Five years later, we sold this sucker out!”
Tourmates Florida Georgia Line later joined Jake onstage for the Endless Summer country-rap joyride “Summer Jam.” Kelley and Hubbard held down the stage while Owen joined the crowd and was met with a throng of love-struck ladies.
In a subdued turn of events, the band left the stage as Owen settled onto a stool with an acoustic guitar. He tenderly reminisced about his mother, who years ago concernedly dropped her young son off in Nashville to pursue his dreams – “If she was here tonight, she would see that her son is doing just fine.” With a deep breath, Owen announced to the crowd that “we can all be one big-ass family” and dove into an acoustic rendition of Hank Williams, Jr.’s “Family Tradition,” that could hardly be classified as solo, thanks to back-up from the packed crowd. As the band rejoined the stage, the party continued with yet another from his catalogue of No. 1 singles, “Barefoot Bluejean Night,” followed by one of the most original mash-ups I’ve yet to hear – the Endless Summer track “Pass a Beer” fused with “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” theme song and Sublime’s “What I Got.”
After bringing up an enthusiastic young fan from Long Island to sing duet on “Heaven,” Jake closed out the set with “Apple Pie Moonshine,” “Nobody Feeling No Pain,” and one of his most admired hits, “Don’t Think I Can’t Love You.”
As if the preceding hours hadn’t proved his headlining chops, Owen pounced back onto the stage for his sensual rocker, “Eight Second Ride.” Bringing both Florida Georgia Line and Love and Theft back onstage, all five artists finished the evening together with a fired-up rendition of Van Halen’s 1980s classic, “Jump.” Then, in a very 80s-like move, Jake leapt headfirst into the hands of his fans – returning to the ground to sign everything that came into his possession, doling out hugs and high fives to as many eager fans as possible.
Suddenly, the whole night became very surreal. I have been crowding into small bars across Florida for years to see Jake Owen perform – and now here I was in Times Square, watching him close his first headlining tour. But as I looked around the packed venue, watching Jake enthusiastically lap up any opportunity to please his fans, I realized that Jake hasn’t changed from those early days. His music has evolved and matured – but Jake is still as devoted to his fans as ever.
The Summer Never Ends 2012 tour already has sold-out dates in Detroit (10/18), Chicago (11/29-30), and St. Louis (12/8). The full list of tour dates can be found below.