Hunter Hayes may win over seventeen-year-old girls with his undersized shirts and oversized concert experience, but not me. Over the weekend, I headed south on I-35 to the San Antonio Rodeo. Friday night, the PRCA Rodeo was followed by a performance from Hunter Hayes. I knew I was going to write about this experience for my post, I just didn’t know exactly how. Would I compare his performing style to that of Elvis? Would I try to explain why his songs do not strike me as country? Thankfully, I found my answer hours before Hunter Hayes even took the stage in the form of the John Christopher Way Band.
Before the doors to the AT&T Center opened for the main event, I was walking through the fair grounds taking in the atmosphere of fried foods and carnival rides. No offense to anyone from the San Antonio area, but as a Dallas native, I was naturally comparing the scene to the State Fair of Texas in my hometown, and I was somewhat disappointed by the undersized rides and pop-up carnival feel. As I walked past a covered tent, however, the sound of live music in the form of Randy Rogers Bands’ “In My Arms Instead” filled the air and piqued my interest.
Even though I knew Randy Rogers Band was too big of a name to be playing on a small stage under a tent in the fair grounds, the sound was still plenty good enough for me to want to check it out. As I sat at the picnic tables right in front of the stage, I quickly learned that I was listening to a small band named the John Christopher Way Band. While their sound was not the best, as they transitioned from cover songs to their own originals, their performance was as authentic as the couples two-stepping in front of the stage. The traditional steel guitar was accompanied by lyrics that sang of mud, second chances, and a girl that got away.
After listening for about an hour, it was time to head into the arena for the main event. The actual rodeo was great entertainment full of bucking broncos and comical rodeo clowns, but once Hunter Hayes took the stage, things went downhill. As much as I tried to listen to the actual lyrical performance, the over-powering band and deafening screams of high school girls made the experience far from enjoyable. While sitting there surrounded by my 10,000 closest friends, I found a new clarity for why I love “Texas Country.”
The entire time Hunter Hayes was on stage, I couldn’t help but wish I were back in that carnival tent listening to The John Christopher Way Band or any other authentic country group. I realized that it wasn’t the incredible vocal skills, the breath taking performance, or the bright lights that attracted me to a performance. While all of these are great, I decided that the authenticity of the artists, lyrics, and venue were what drew me in. Hunter Hayes might sound great on the radio, but for me, I would choose watching couples two-step to the sound of a small country band over watching a big name artist jump on stage from afar to the screams of thousands of people. I used to think it was the sappy lyrics, Hollywood looks, and pop sound of the new country sub-genre that drove me away, and while I still think these are factors, the John Christopher Way Band/Hunter Hayes experience proved to me that it is about the authentic live experience as much as any of these.
2 Responses to Hunter Hayes Overshadowed by Authenticty
I think that while it’s true that Hunter Hayes’ music is a bit more pop than country on a the broad spectrum, its hard to draw the distinction between authentic country and country pop based off of a live music performance purely because larger, more popular artist will all tend toward a big show over a small stage. For example, I think we all agree that George Strait or Alan Jackson are great, authentic country artists. However, you will never see them perform on a small stage because their sell-out shows require massive venues. While the small, live performance from a little-known band is appealing and a much more intimate setting for a country band, its unrealistic to expect that from all artists wanting to be considered “authentic.” I think that while smaller settings lend themselves to more traditional bands, its hard to limit all groups to that ideal. The true division, in my opinion, lies in the sound of the music and message it delivers.
I also went to this performance. I have seen Hunter in concert before when he was opening to Carrie Underwood. I enjoyed him then, but not as much this time. I love going to the rodeo but this performance didn’t impress me. I think I have grown up from fawning over him, similar to the stereotypical seventeen year old’s you have mentioned. The various live bands around the grounds sounded much better. I think Hunter’s voice didn’t sound very clear in the stadium and the echo of the vocals created an unsettling atmosphere. Don’t get me wrong, I still admire him, but my taste has changed. Like yourself, I prefer the smaller venues which create a whole different experience. I will fight you on one thing though, San Antonio is my home and I will defend its greatness until the day I die.