Hunter Hayes admirers dominate Bayou Country Fan Fest
Cowboy boots clicked across the concrete, American flags fluttered from Ford and Chevy trucks and bands belted out country twang on a stage in front of LSU’s Tiger Stadium on Sunday on the third and final day of the fifth Bayou Country Superfest.
Tailgaters guzzled beverages and played beer pong while stirring cauldrons of jambalaya and flipping burgers on fiery grills that surrounded a parking lot containing a miniature pre-festival dubbed Bayou Country Superfest’s Fan Fest.
But for 25-year-old Jen Wang and her friends, a different kind of treat marked the pre-concert agenda.
Wang, who traveled from Boston to the Superfest, along with approximately 700 other fans waited for hours in the 90-degree heat to meet Breaux Bridge-native turned Grammy Award-nominated country music singer Hunter Hayes.
Hayes’ fans wore tank tops, fanned themselves with Hayes posters and took shelter under umbrellas to cope with the sizzling weather as they waited.
Hayes played in direct support of Sunday night headliners Eric Church and Jason Aldean. Joe Nichols and Big & Rich took the stage prior to Hayes’ performance.
The line of mostly young women began with Mallorie Kooi, who arrived around 11 a.m. to begin her five-hour wait to meet Hayes. The line of girls quickly grew, snaking around the parking lot in front of Tiger Stadium. By the time Joe Nichols’ meet-and-greet began at 3:15 p.m., Hayes’ fans had outnumbered Nichols’ fans at least 10-fold.
These devoted fans have dubbed themselves “Hayniacs.”
What’s a Hayniac? Someone who supports Hayes through all his musical and personal endeavors and can relate to all of his music, according to Angie Colin, a 16-year-old high school student from Houston.
Colin traveled with her friend Haley Laughary to celebrate their 16th birthdays at the Superfest.
The two girls sat in the sun with Hunter Hayes posters for Hayes to autograph.
Posters weren’t the only items fans brought to be inked by the 22-year-old country singer.
Lauren Fontenot, an 18-year-old Lafayette native, brought two St. Genevieve Catholic School — where both she and Hayes attended grammar school — year books containing photos of Hayes in fourth and fifth grade to be signed. She frowned at a sign reading, “no autographs.”
“I’ll try anyway,” Fontenot said.
While many anticipated meeting Hayes for the first time, Sunday’s meet-and-greet served to rack up the rendezvous count between some fans and Hayes.
“Hunter (Hayes) is so talented,” said Kayla Loupe, a Houma native who lives in Slidell. “I love that he’s not from Nashville or California.”
Loupe arrived around 11:15 a.m. to hold her place in line for the meet-and-greet. She has met Hayes 13 times before Sunday, she said.
Wang said she has been “blessed” to have met Hayes nine times prior to Sunday and plans to continue an ongoing conversation she’s had with him over many meet-and-greets.
Hayes remembers his fans, she said.
“He talks to you like he’s your friend, and you can tell he appreciates you being there,” Wang said.
Her favorite time meeting Hayes was at a concert in Connecticut where she discussed the meaning of his song “Invisible,” a slow ballad with a theme of acceptance.
“I got to go to the meet-and-greet and told him what ‘Invisible’ means to me, and he was able to relate and understood,” Wang said. “When he plays it now, it means so much more to me.”
Hayes’ music has also spurred long-distance friendships among “Hayniacs.”
Emily Yates, an elementary education major at Concordia University in Portland, Oregon, waited in line with Wang, who she met at a Hayes concert in Nashville. Alongside Yates was 13-year-old Jena Najera from Fredericksburg, Texas, who Yates met at a Hayes concert in San Antonio.
The trio — Wang, Yates and Najera — traveled to Breaux Bridge last week to visit their favorite musician’s hometown.
While other “Hayniacs” shared a bond through music and meet-and-greets, one fan displayed her appreciation permanently.
Inked on 21-year-old Jodie Dantin’s back were the lyrics: “God, I don’t have to see you. I know that you’re there,” from Hayes’ song “Faith to Fall Back On.”
Dantin, a social work student at Nicholls State University, met and saw Hayes play 18 times in the two years prior to Sunday’s show. She had the lyrics scripted on her body to remind her to have faith in God even when it’s hard to believe.
She said Hayes helped her cope with her mother’s death from cancer in February.
“Hunter would make videos and send them to my mom, saying he’s praying for her when she couldn’t make it (to a concert),” she said.
When her mother died, Hayes sent flowers to her family, Dantin said.
While “Hayniacs” were out in full force, the “Hayters” — critics of Hayes’ music — seemed to be nonexistent.
Colin had two words for “Hayters”: “Their loss.”