EXCLUSIVE: Luke Combs on the Fans in the Outskirts

And Why He May Not Read Your Concert Signs

Before Luke Combs was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry, before he played CMA Fest, and before he won a CMT Music Award, he played the kind of show that really made its mark on him. Because of all the fans they lost count of.

It was the Patriotic Festival held on Virginia Beach. Combs played it June 1 with Muscadine Bloodline and Faren Rachels. And here's what happened:

"We played this festival in Virginia, and I was like, 'Man, this is interesting. My bus is just parked by the public beach access,'" Combs told a few days after that show. "When you've never played an event before, sometimes you're like, 'How's this gonna be? Are people gonna show up?' But at this one, they lost count of the fans at 68,000. So I was like, 'Okay. This is awesome, for sure.' Because obviously the festival grounds ended somewhere, and there were just people beyond that who weren't officially in the show." The festival map even shows that "beyond," dubbing it the Free Zone on the beach anywhere north of 6th Street.

"That was really shocking for me. I've been that fan on the outskirts many times," he said, "so it was cool to be on the other side of it."

Then Combs told us about the handmade posters and signs his fans bring to the shows, and why he can't always devote as much time and attention to them as they deserve.

"People bring signs. A lot. When I'm up there on stage and I'm singing, it's like muscle memory. I don't need to think about what the next line is," he explained. "But when signs come into play, I really want to read the sign. But if I start reading the sign, it jumbles up the muscle memory thing, and then I'm like, "Oh my God. What is the next line?'

"It's tough, because if I read it, then I'm compromising and I might mess up in front of 25,000 people." (Or in the case of the Patriotic Festival, more than 68,000 people.) "So I promise I have seen the signs and I appreciate the making of the signs, and I always try to read them at the end."

Because the interview with Combs was right before the CMT Music Awards, we had to know what he considered to be the best country music video ever made. He couldn't pick one, so here are his top two:

Alan Jackson's "Chattahoochee" from 1993

Garth Brooks' "Standing Outside the Fire" from 1994

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