Energetic, passionate Hayes delights Superfest crowd

A record setting 135,000 fans rolled into LSU’s Tiger Stadium this year for the three-day Bayou Country Superfest that ended Sunday, according to festival officials.

For the first time in its five-year history, an extra night was added to what has been a two-day festival — George Strait and Reba McEntire played to a sold-out audience Friday night along with well-known country stars performing on Saturday and Sunday. Until this year, the 2010, two-day festival held the record when 85,000 fans attended, said Mandy Delong, a festival spokeswoman.

Sunday’s five-act bill included headliner Jason Aldean — whose set started too late for The Advocate’s print deadline — Eric Church, Big & Rich and Louisiana’s own Hunter Hayes.

Before playing his midevening set on Superfest’s main stage, Hayes’ late afternoon arrival at the festival’s meet-and-greet area inspired screams from hundreds of mostly young, female fans who’d gathered there. The 22-year-old singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Breaux Bridge hugged and posed for pictures with his delighted admirers.

Later onstage, newly risen pop-country star Hayes turned out to be perhaps the most energetic, passionate performer of Superfest 2014. Grasping his electric guitar, he ran on stage for his opening song, the high-spirited “Wild Card,” then ran around some more during his two guitar solos.

Hayes’ youthful liveliness, not to mention his running, continued through succeeding songs “Storm Warning” and the title track of his new album, “Storyline.”

The audience’s attention lagged when he and his band performed less familiar, new material, but Hayes won them back, big time, with more of his hits, especially love song “Wanted” and the upbeat, set-capping “I Want Crazy.”

Being from nearby Acadiana, Hayes playing at Superfest effectively was a homecoming gig. Taking a moment to note the occasion, he said he’d wanted to play the festival since it began in 2010.

“It’s a bit of dream to come and get to play on this stage,” he said. “Here we are.”

Church’s set started more than 20 minutes after its announced starting time, uncharacteristically late for a Superfest act. The cheering crowd didn’t seem to mind. Church’s heavy brand of country, which include “The Outsiders” and the swampy “Creepin,’” went over big.

The genre-bending duo Big & Rich, featuring John Rich and Big Kenny, moved from country-rock to country-pop to hard rock played country style. A mischievous pair, Big & Rich played hard rock that sounded like AC/DC, then turned around and performed that same Australian rock band’s classic “You Shook Me All Night Long” as if it were an old-time country song.

As other Superfest acts did, too, Big & Rich dedicated moments of their show to recognizing Memorial Day and the nation’s military personnel. They marked the holiday in song with “8th of November,” a song inspired by a Vietnam War vet. Ironically, “8th of November” is musically modeled after the music of famously anti-Vietnam War group Crosby, Stills & Nash.

Big & Rich’s longtime cohort, country rapper Cowboy Troy, made a guest appearance with them, getting a rise out of the crowd with novelty tune “I Play Chicken with the Train.”

Joe Nichols opened Sunday’s music shortly after 5 p.m., playing a half-hour set of traditional country songs and pop-oriented country. Either way, it all went down smooth and easy.

Known as a country traditionalist early in his career, Arkansas native Nichols has a lot of country in his vocals no matter what he’s singing. That goes for his latest No. 1 song, too, a warm pop-country tune just right for summer, “Sunny and 75.”

“I grew up on traditional country music,” Nichols told his Superfest audience. “Like George Strait, Merle Haggard, George Jones. But there’s an awful lot of rap in country music these days.”

How true and, saying that he wanted to keep up with the times, Nichols put a little rap in his show. Well, sort of. Nichols sang a line from a famous rap song, doing it traditional country style. “I like big butts and I cannot lie,” he quoted Sir Mix-A-Lot, singing the words in a traditional country-style arrangement.