BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana State University’s Tiger Stadium — aka Death Valley — experiences throngs of passionate football fans every fall. But months before the onslaught of Tiger mania, the first-ever Bayou Country Superfest inspired comparable excitement in the venerable stadium during Memorial Day weekend.
Featuring headliners Kenny Chesney and Taylor Swift, plus Brooks & Dunn, Keith Urban, Kellie Pickler, Jason Aldean, Jake Owen, David Nail, Justin Moore and Gloriana, Superfest’s marathon Saturday and Sunday (May 29-30) concerts drew a two-day total of 85,000 to the LSU campus.
Bayou Country Superfest producer-director Quint Davis — who also oversees the world-famous New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival — quickly issued a press release announcing the new festival’s attendance.
“We can’t wait to do it again next year,” he said.
Headlining Saturday’s lineup, 20-year-old singing star Swift gazed into the Louisiana night, seemingly awestruck by the sight of the tens of thousands of people surrounding her. Swift told the assembled masses that she’d been waiting an entire year to welcome them to the first Bayou Country Superfest.
“This is the very first time in my life that I have ever headlined a stadium,” she said. “Baton Rouge, I love you like I love sparkling dresses and burning ex-boyfriend’s pictures.”
Swift’s frequent costume changes featured many sparkling dresses. Her rapturously-received songs included that righteous indictment of lousy boyfriends, “Picture to Burn,” a big favorite among the many young women in the crowd.
Her show isn’t quite the huge spectacle that a Britney Spears or Madonna concert is, but her hug-filled sojourns into the audience — along with dancers, video segments and an artificial downpour of rain — qualify her as not far behind those pop superstars.
Swift endeared herself further to an audience that already loved her by donning an LSU jersey for her first encore. Also playing convincingly to the locals and Tiger fans everywhere, Keith Urban, who performed immediately before Swift, wore an LSU T-shirt during his high-kicking show, spicing his lyrics with references to crazy Cajuns and Louisiana Saturday nights.
A crowd at least as big as Saturday’s audience filled Tiger Stadium Sunday when Chesney capped the festival’s second and final day. Opening with the high-spirited “Beer in Mexico” and wearing his customary sleeveless T-shirt, hat and tan, Chesney instantly connected with the stadium full of standing fans, many of whom knew his songs’ lyrics nearly as well as the star himself. Along the way, he introduced some of his friends, including Uncle Kracker and New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton.
After his opening number’s climactic sax solo, Chesney struck a preacher-man stance, asking his giant congregation, “Is everybody alive tonight?! Is everybody alive tonight?!”
Like Swift the night before, Chesney expressed his delight about playing in the Tiger stronghold.
“Technically, this is a year off for me and the guys, but we’re so happy we’re here,” the amiable singer said.
As if he even needed to, Chesney encouraged crowd participation and stadium-wide sing-alongs.
As part of the Memorial Day weekend festivities, Chesney’s show was broadcast live to Louisiana National Guard members serving in Iraq. The troops’ pre-show appearance on the stage’s giant video screens inspired a chant of “U.S.A.! U.S.A!”
Memorial Day also figured in Brooks & Dunn’s Sunday show. Four uniformed servicemen marched onto the stage and up the catwalk as the duo performed a rousing version of “Only in America.” An explosion of red, white and blue streamers punctuated the patriotic music and imagery.
During the Baton Rouge stop of their farewell tour, Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn, country music’s most successful duo, played many of their dozens of hits, blasting stadium-shaking country-rock as well as such well-received softer material as the gospel-styled “Believe.”
Brooks and his soon to be ex-partner, the usually non-smiling Dunn, kept their distance early on but seemingly warmed up to each other as the night progressed.
“Hang around, Slim. I need you to sing,” Brooks said as Dunn stood and started to leave the catwalk after “Believe.” Dunn obliged, and the two of them performed “Red Dirt Road,” a celebration of rural life that had the crowd standing, singing and clapping once again.
Competing Baton Rouge country radio stations positioned themselves outside of Tiger Stadium in Superfest’s Fan Fest area. The stations’ complimentary, logo-printed hand fans were enormously popular during the weekend’s hot southeast Louisiana days. Fortunately, merciful cool breezes blew through the stadium both Saturday and Sunday evening.
Just as Superfest organizers hoped, tailgating of the kind that covers LSU’s grounds during football season sprawled across university parking lots and green spaces. Prior to the stadium music, groups of a half-dozen and more, many in purple and gold Tiger gear, lounged in their Tiger chairs under their Tiger tents, consuming crawfish and other typical game-day fare beneath the shade of the campus’ signature live oak trees.See photos from the Bayou Country Superfest.