It was a scorcher of a Friday night when Brandon Lay and Walker Hayes played at Battery Park.
But by the time Old Dominion took the Hard Rock stage, the temperature was almost as cool as they were.
The hottest band in country at this point, Old Dominion presented what could be its musical autobiography, cruising through songs that explained how they got to this juncture.
Smooth, hip and nostalgic, their “Song for Another Time” set the scene and showed just how perfect they are for an arena or outdoor venue.
While a cut like “Wrong Turns” edged closely to Florida Georgia Line’s work, it wasn’t as hook-driven. Its detailed lyrics also let lead singer Matthew Ramsey show his deep range.
The stage, filled with more lighting effects than most summer country shows, set the mood nicely and filled in when the musicians weren’t bantering about the songs’ backgrounds. Ramsey told the crowd it thrilled him that folks knew their music, had seen them in concert and could sing along. During a pseudo acoustic set, he admitted they spent a lot of years on stools “making people listen to our songs.”
Now, of course, compositions like “Still Writing Songs About You” have deeper meaning.
If you listened closely, you could catch keys to the struggle. More than one song referenced hotel rooms.
The big hits were on the set list, too, but those intimate numbers may have been the surprise thrill of the Old Dominion night.
Brandon Lay – who could be the Brad Pitt of country – opened the show with a handful of easy-listening songs and a couple of covers. While his latest, “”Yada Yada Yada,” has a quiet charm, it’s one of his first songs, “Speakers, Bleachers and Preachers,” that resonated. Hitting all the small-town bases, the latter showed his writing skills and sincerity. A bit like Dierks Bentley, Lay brought the Friday night lites to the bill, nicely blending rock and country for a crowd that might have included fans of both.
Willing to talk about his decade-long trek from playing frat houses to opening for Kenny Chesney (sense a trend here?), he appeared grateful, thrilled and relieved as he moved from “Let It” to Alabama and Matchbox Twenty covers before wrapping with his own “Still Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
While country rap has never been a solid thing – Sam Hunt, Jason Aldean and others have dabbled in it – Walker Hayes is determined to keep it going.
His Friday starters – “Prescriptions” and “Break the Internet” – fed the “don’t mix genres” belief but then he settled into “Beautiful” and the concept started to stick.
A cross between Andy Grammer and a youth pastor, Hayes didn’t hit his groove until “Beckett,” a story about his then-4-year-old son who lives life on his own terms. The sweet, buzzy song worked on many levels and cracked those cold, old hearts, mine included.
Hayes, an easy-going good guy, brought the waterworks when he sang about “Craig,” a benefactor who helped him after a record deal went bust, a mini-van was repossessed and his six kids didn’t have the seatbelts they needed to go anywhere together. Out of nowhere, a man named Craig gave him a van and the encouragement to stick with his career. The beautifully written tribute was his real wheelhouse and a look into a very big heart.
Hayes spilled more secrets with “Halloween,” a song about his former self, then hit his stride with “You Broke Up With Me,” a number that shows how it’s possible to marry two genres in one eclectic night. By the time he was done, even I was ready to give him a mini-van.