TV

Why Luke Bryan Feels at Home on the Farm

“I Know These People, They’re My People”

Editor’s note: CMT Hot 20 Countdown will premiere its 300th episode from Bryan’s 10th annual Farm Tour on Saturday and Sunday (Oct. 6-7) at 9 a.m. ET..

You know those one-stoplight towns that country stars always sing about? Pesotum, Ill. isn’t even that big. This town has no stop light. It only has one watering hole, and it’s miles from anywhere.

And Luke Bryan feels right at home here.

Before his Farm Tour show on Friday night (Sept. 28), Bryan told me that the tiny southern Illinois town with a population of 550 is just like Leesburg, Ga., where he grew up. That’s one of the reasons he’s been bringing his show to rural, small towns for the past ten years.

Another reason? He remembers what it was like to live so far away from the big country concerts.

“Once in a while, we’d get shows in Albany. Alabama came, Reba came. And I remember just how excited everybody got when they knew Reba was coming,” Bryan told me. “And I never will forget when Trisha Yearwood did a flood benefit in Georgia in 1994, and Kenny Chesney opened for her. I was a big Chesney fan, so even though it was an hour and a half away, I still drove it to see it because it was Trisha Yearwood and Kenny Chesney. Kenny only had one album out back then, on Capricorn.” That was Chesney’s debut album, In My Wildest Dreams, which produced two charted singles: “Whatever It Takes” and “The Tin Man.”

“We would’ve never fathomed that any big artist would ever come right to Leesburg. We were such a small town that I remember when we got a Hardee’s and everybody flipped out about it,” he laughed. “And we only have two red lights there.” As Bryan looked around the 20-acres of freshly mowed fields of oats and rye grass that were filling up with roughly 10,000 fans, he couldn’t help but notice how much he had in common with the fans.

“Leesburg was a community just like this one. So the things is, I know these people. They’re my people. I know what they’re like. And it doesn’t matter if it’s in Georgia, Florida, Alabama or the Midwest. They get up, pour their coffee, go to work. So the fact that we can come in here and give them a break from that routine is what I always wanted to do.”

In 2008, when Bryan had only released one album — I’ll Stay Me — he decided that it was time to take his show out to the farm. His first farm concert was in Claxton, Ga., where he thought he might be able to sell some tickets. And he did. He estimated that about 2,200 people showed up.

“At that point in your career, you’re losing money at almost every show. Nobody’s showing up because they don’t know who I am,” Bryan recalled. “So I just decided to try a new avenue.”

Bryan knew from that very first one that he wanted to accomplish more than just country music. He wanted to give away scholarships, to bring farmers up on stage to honor them, and to put the show in a rural area. When Bryan came back again the next year, about twice as many people showed up. That was the night that he shot his “Rain Is a Good Thing” video, in the literal rain.

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