The contrast between the top- and second-billed acts at Sunday’s Bayou Country Superfest couldn’t have been more obvious.
The Zac Brown Band mixed musicianship and well-crafted songs that covered multiple genres during its festival-closing show at Tiger Stadium. Luke Bryan, a fellow country music star from Georgia, came to party.
Echoing Saturday at Superfest when swaggering Texas girl Miranda Lambert ruled the night, the wild and loose Bryan performed for the day’s largest and most enthusiastic crowd.
But in the interest of full disclosure, Saturday’s headliner, Lady Antebellum, features a co-lead singer who’s due to give birth in July. No one could expect Hillary Scott to do any guitar slinging, running up and down the catwalk or beach-ball popping.
Bryan took the stage at 8 p.m. Sunday for a show that included his sensitive love and torch songs. The cowboy boot-wearing young ladies at Superfest loved ’em. They loved Bryan’s party songs, too, the wilder the better.
The son of a peanut farmer, Bryan calls his official fan club the Nut House.
“I know we got some country girls, c’mon!” he said as he tore into his country-dance hit “Country Man.”
Shortly after the LSU Tigers baseball team won the SEC tournament title game in Hoover, Ala., Bryan ended “Country Man” by placing his balled-up fists together and swinging an imaginary baseball bat.
“Who’s getting a little bit frisky?” he asked before doing “Rain Is a Good Thing.”
Bryan knows very well that farmers need rain. The song, however, channels that appreciation of rain’s ability to grow crops into something else that a country boy needs to survive.
“Rain makes corn, corn makes whiskey,” Bryan sang. “Whiskey makes my baby feel a little frisky.”
Bryan saved his ultimate party song, “Country Girl (Shake It for Me),” for the climactic end of his 1 hour, 15-minute show. Animated video silhouettes of dirty-dancing country girls accompanied the singer’s own uninhibited gyrations on the catwalk and his nonsubtle asides of “just like Beyoncé” and “just like “Rihanna.” Bryan isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but he’s lots of people’s cup of beer.
After Bryan’s on-stage exploits, the less physically boisterous Zac Brown Band had to rely on talent alone. The burly, bearded and nearly always hat-wearing Brown isn’t exactly a country music sex symbol.
Taking the stage just before 10 p.m., singer-guitarist Brown and his band nonetheless jump-started their show with the happy, Latin-tinged “Jump Right In.” It’s one of their multiple island-y songs, a pop and country music subgenre that Brown successfully tapped in the wake of such beach-loving predecessors as Jimmy Buffett and Kenny Chesney.
The band moved from beach sand to bluegrass, another musical style that the Zac Brown Band puts its own mark upon. “As She’s Walking Away” matched an upbeat, bluegrass-y sound with cautionary lyrics about the importance of making every shot at happiness count.
In the same vein, Brown and his Georgia boys raced through the supercharged bluegrass of “Whiskey’s Gone.” Brown flashed his rapid finger-picking while Jimmy De Martini stepped out on the catwalk for a hot fiddle solo. Later in the show, “The Wind” also got the hyper-bluegrass treatment.
The presence of De Martini in the group made the inclusion of Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” a natural selection. De Martini, Brown and drummer Chris Fryar all injected speedy licks into this especially showy number. The group showcased its musicianship again during a well-received jam placed within the Santana-style Latin-rock of “Who Knows.”
Sincerity being another of the Zac Brown Band’s hallmarks, that quality, plus the group’s harmony singing, lent power to the reflective “Day That I Die,” as well as the night’s performance of Brown’s No. 1 country ballad, “Colder Weather.”
Earlier in the day, the Band Perry came out kicking. Kimberly Perry, appearing with her younger brothers Reid and Neil, was a whirl of defiance and energy. That goes for both the band’s envelope-pushing lyrics and her onstage physicality, including arms in the air and high-stepping marches over the catwalk.
Preceding the Band Perry, the well-received Rodney Atkins, like other Sunday acts at the Memorial Day weekend-timed Superfest, gave a shout out to U.S. military personnel. A video screen at the back of the stage stood ready to display an image of a waving American flag.
The 2013 Superfest drew 70,000, down from last year’s attendance of 75,000. Organizers announced that Superfest will return to Tiger Stadium in 2014.