PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. -- Beach gear? Check. An arsenal of hits from your catalog as well as a slew of your favorite cover tunes? Check. A warm welcome from 80,000 of your closest spring break friends? Check!
Photo Credit: Melissa Loncaric Miller
That's the scenario for Luke Bryan this week during his sixth annual spring break party at Spinnaker Beach Club in Panama City Beach. He started the 2014 performances Tuesday (March 11) and will appear again Wednesday.
The annual trip to the Florida Panhandle has become a family reunion of sorts. Everyone from Bryan's wife and mom to University of Georgia football players and his childhood friends make the yearly excursion.
Reigning ACM songwriter of the year Dallas Davidson is a regular on the trips and has seen Bryan's career explode in recent years.
"I'm so proud of my friend," he said. "I wouldn't miss this for the world. I'm here as an observer." However, his status as a mere observer proved to be untrue.
Fans began lining up at the venue before sunrise Tuesday, hoping to score a prime position near the stage. Fifteen minutes ahead of schedule, at 3:45 p.m., Bryan casually graced the stage and immediately kicked aside the flip-flops and broke into his recent No. 1 hit, "That's My Kind of Night."
Five years had come and gone without even a drop of rain during any of Bryan's spring break shows, but Mother Nature made a few threats this time around. During the course of the two-hour performance, the wind kicked up, the temperatures dropped and the sun never made an appearance.
"If it rains, just open your mouth, and you've got a natural chaser!" Bryan offered as he naturally eased into "Rain Is a Good Thing."
Bryan's set included "She Gets Me High" and several other tracks from his new Spring Break 6 ... Like We Ain't Ever EP.
The beach shows are unlike any other of Bryan's performances. The usual set lists and staging are replaced with smiles and waves to mom (who was watching from the balcony rightfully named "Luke's Lookout") and crew members jumping on the mic for brief rap sessions. Newcomer Cole Swindell even joined the party and helped out during a performance of Florida Georgia Line's "Cruise."
Swindell, who opened last year's show as an unsigned artist and once sold merchandise at Bryan's concerts, has had an amazingly successful year, including the No. 1 single "Chillin' It." In Panama City Beach, he and Bryan took turns on the stage and the catwalk to the beach to perform hits such as Bryan's "If You Ain't Here to Party" and Jason Aldean's "She's Country."
"Ya'll ready to get real country?" Bryan asked as the opening chords began for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's "Fishin' in the Dark." A mash-up of songs continued, including "Drunk on You," Collective Soul's "Shine" and Brooks & Dunn's "Hillbilly Deluxe."
"This is my new single -- 'Play It Again'," Bryan announced. Although the track is just beginning to get radio airplay, the song was clearly known to all in attendance. Removing his sunglasses for "Drink a Beer," the only ballad of his set, he told the fans, "I need everyone on this beach to sing along." And they did.
Working both sides of the crowd -- beachside and club -- Bryan spent a lot of time dancing on top of a beer-filled cooler strategically placed at the end of the catwalk. "Crash My Party," "I Don't Want This Night to End," Alabama's "Mountain Music" and "Dixieland Delight" and Bruno Mars' "Dynamite" all proceeded, as did a joking attempt at twerking against unwilling bandmates.
"Ya'll having fun yet? Gonna get one of my best friends up here to do this one!" Bryan said proudly as Davidson arrived onstage to help sing "Boys 'Round Here," the Blake Shelton hit Davidson co-wrote.
"Shake it one last time, Panama City!" Bryan screamed as he closed the show with "Country Girl (Shake It for Me)."
View photos from Luke Bryan's spring break performance in Panama City Beach.