Luke Bryan was interviewed by CRS/CRB Board President Kurt Johnson during the CRS 2021: The Virtual Experience. During the interview, Luke was presented with the Country Radio Broadcasters 2021 Artist Humanitarian Award.
Luke was honored for his humanitarian work with multiple organizations throughout his career. Bryan has contributed to ACM Lifting Lives, CMA Foundation, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, Shiners Hospital, St. Jude, TJ Martell, and others. He was also honored for his ongoing work with the Brett Boyer Foundation and Bayer’s #HeresToTheFarmer.
Luke Bryan branded himself around his special concert tours. He began playing targeted markets starting with his seven Spring Break EPs, targeting college students. Bryan accompanied the EPs with a Spring Break concert series in Panama City. “I kept it going until it just seemed like I was too old and it got weird, and Panama City said, ‘There’s 200,000 people on the beach and we can’t have you here anymore.’”
“I think there’s a lot of naiveness behind building stuff like Spring Break and Farm Tours. It was methodical, controlled, naiveness,” Bryan explained. Bryan also created the Crash My Playa concert series and drew his fellow artists to Mexico for the events. The 2020 Crash My Playa festival was in January before the pandemic was the sixth annual event. “What I’m proud about with Crash My Playa is that the artists come down and they have fun. I remember being the artist to go play festivals and I remember going, ‘They’re really not doing this properly. I mean, Hillshire Farm deli meat for your main entree probably isn’t the way this ought to go.’ The fact that we can go to Playa and I can ask, ‘Where do we knock it out the park?’”
Luke launched his annual Farm Tours in 2009 to highlight and celebrate the contributions of America’s farmers. A portion of the concert proceeds creates college scholarships for students of farming families where the concerts are performed. In 2015 Luke and his Farm Tour sponsor Bayer and launched the #HeresToTheFarmer campaign to support farmers and work to end hunger in America. Since its inception, the campaign has donated more than four million meals and thousands of dollars to food banks and local farmers in the Farm Tour cities.
It all came home
Luke loves giving back to these communities. “To grow up with a farming background and to go do the Farm Tours is great,” Bryan said. The four-time entertainer of the year never takes his career for granted but the gravity of his success still hits him. He spoke of two particular times that his success really hit home during the interview.
“When add-day came for ‘Country Girl (Shake It For Me),’ which was a crazy song, we had about 35 ads. Me and my wife sat in my room, and everyone at the label and Kerri [Edwards, Bryan’s manager] said we had 35 ads, and I was just crying. Caroline was crying. That was the moment that I knew radio was starting to trust. They had to trust me with a song ‘Country Girl (Shake It For Me).’ When they started trusting me and what me and my team were doing, I was like, ‘We’re turning a corner, radio is coming around.’”
The second time was after Bryan and his label chose to release his single “I Don’t Want This Night To End.” Luke’s dad was not happy with this decision. So he drove to Louisville, Kentucky to attend Luke’s concert and watched the audience’s reaction to the song. “When I hit the stage it was crazy energy. And when I kicked into ‘I Don’t Want This Night To End,’ they lit up [the crowd] and I looked at my dad. He’s over there drinking a beer, checking it all out. We get off stage and my dad was like, ‘Well son, you picked the right next damn single.’”
Luke Bryan challenges himself
Luke Bryan ended the decade (2011-2020) as the most played artist on country radio. He has had more than twenty-five number one songs and has ventured beyond country music for his career. Luke said of himself, “At the core of what I am, I will always be a guy that likes to sit down and write a song, play it for people, record it, hear it on the radio and watch the people respond to that.” However, part of being an artist is growing. “Every phase of your entertainment career is about pushing yourself into new little avenues and challenges.”
When Luke chose to be a judge on American Idol his biggest concerns were if this decision would affect his music career and if country radio would turn on him. Luke reached out to his friends, The Voice coach Blake Shelton and former American Idol judge Keith Urban for advice. “They were like, ‘Man, you’re just going to enjoy learning something different.’”
Bryan is now in his fourth season of American Idol and plans to release a deluxe version of his Born Here Live Here Die Here album, with six new songs on April 9, 2021.
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