Seven songs into a show that had already lobbed futuristic video content, flames edging portions of the stage, a lot of letting the fans sing along and an entrance from the top of the lighting truss, then sweeping down in a harness, Kane Brown did something truly scary. After a video transition played, the deep-voiced singer and two musicians moved front centerstage, sat on three high stools and stripped away all of it.
The naked moment was about more than just removing the three triangle lighting rigs, the candy-colored laser lights, the karaoke video screen and full-scale electric band. Beyond the more broken-down acoustic treatment of “Learning,” “Worship You” and “For My Daughter” was a star willing to talk to the audience about who he was before he signed a record deal, where he’d been as one more poor kid and how he’d grown up.
In a crowd at Miami’s FTX Arena where Blacks, Hispanics, young marrieds, teenagers, LGBTQ and full-on adults came together, the affable Nashville outlier explained he was the first Black person on his mother’s side of the family, that she lived in a car at 18 until his grandma decided to take them in. He spoke of wetting the bed from a nightmare at age 6 with such gentle charm that when he said his stepfather threw him into a wall and beat him, you felt his grandma’s fury (and cheered when he reported she had the man locked up three weeks later). Real as you can get, Brown laced his unplugged set with stories of a tough start and compassion for anyone who might be struggling. It was intimate in a way that transcended music and explained how the rarely nominated genre-blurrer has built a base that can sell out NBA arenas across the nation. And the athletic 28-year-old does it without ever playing for drama, just offering a sweetness that takes the sting out of whatever shame a kid might feel.
Yes, the guy in the Miami Heat tank top and black pants knows how to build a show with a strong electric guitar-driven presence. He understands the role of the fiddle in music that roots country. He had one of his brothers onstage serving as a DJ. With an emphasis on flow more than pure backbeat, he builds songs that carry the audience along, letting them sing whether they came for the whirling “Be Like That,” the slinky “Short Skirt Weather,” the fresh pop-inflected “Cool Again” or the double-dutch-rhythmed drinking song “One Mississippi.”
Though Brown has done collabs with Nelly, H.E.R., Khalid and Swae Lee, creating seamless pop extensions of his music, he can lean into all his influences naturally. Talking about getting his start posting a cappella videos, his verse and chorus of Blake Shelton’s “Ole Red” was raw-boned country, while his takes on blackbear’s “Hot Girl Bummer” and Soulja Boy’s “Crank That” brought the same come by it honest delivery.
That may be the Georgia-born artist’s great strength: he keeps the influences real, but understands how to weave them together for a sound that appeals beyond radio formats. After the night’s final video transition, Brown emerged from a trapdoor set in the cat walk that juts into the GA followed by Marshmello; it was an all-out extended take on their “One Thing Right.” The EDM producer and DJ, in town for Art Basel, brought an already high energy audience to a new threshold as he prowled the stage slashing at a guitar and playing to the crowd’s excitement.
Having brought tour openers Restless Road, Jordan Davis and the Miami Heat mascot out for “Famous Friends,” using the idea of collaborating to raise the roof was a theme for the night. During an extended “Rodeo,” Brown brought a young girl onstage with him; clearly overcome, he coached the 6- or 7-year old to get the crowd to throw their arms side-to-side. When the crowd kicked in and mirrored the girl, Brown looked over at her and proudly announced, “You’re killing it,” as the audience went wild.
That kind of connection, as well as the grace to lift people up, is a rare thing. More than using momentum or energy, he reaches people where they live and how they live – and suggests in his often fiddle heavy songs that we’re more alike than we are different. Whether people came for the hits they’ve heard on country, pop, AC or urban radio – or songs they’ve found through social media, they melded into one audience, who more than just being entertained* were reminded of their better selves.