The play-up music before the support acts was a certain kind of contemporary country from the ’80s and ’90s, but the tune changed as darkness settled on Fenway Park. Suddenly Tupac’s “California Love” and “Jump Around” were floating – like the anticipation – through the air.
Kane Brown, the genre-straddling country force who’s sold out every NBA basketball arena in America, was on the verge of becoming the first Black artist to headline the home of the Boston Red Sox. As comfortable recording with Khalid, Swae Lee, H.E.R. and Marshmello as he is with Chris Young, Lauren Alaina and his own wife Katelyn, this audience reflected not just the diversity, but the joy Brown imbues in his music.
Young, old, Black, white, Latin, Asian, hipster, fratty, LGBTQ+ and folks just like your uncle Buster were thigh-to-thigh on the infield; arms aloft, they often took whole chunks of Brown’s songs. Whether No. 1 songs on country radio, viral jams or hits on other genre’s streaming platforms, the crowd knew everything in his 17-song “Drunk or Dreaming Tour” set list.
Starting with a red stage, steam and fire blasts, what could’ve been a heavy-handed hard rock tableau was tempered by Brown ambling onstage in a Sox shirt, good-natured smile tempered with awe on his face. “Lose It,” the night’s opener, was the perfect note to strike. A song about being actualized by another, this show – and all that it meant – was a witness to a slow build that focused on music, going to the fans and creating a connection that transcended all the star-making hype and empty jargon that is often used to conjure superstars.
This was a moment of recognition, of being seen for who you are – and being thrilled at the prospect of what that means. For Brown, an outlier with a melted toffee voice suited to classic country, it was also a moment of reminding people to trust your music if only for the joy it provides; to lean into things that feel good and empower you.
Throughout the night – without ever lecturing or being pedantic – Brown would find ways to slip the story of his journey to this historic night into his onstage raps. Telling kids about being a fifth year senior, begging to graduate and not having to get his GED, reminding them how hard it is “so when you have a choice about doing something bad, go the other way.”
Going the other way, Brown knows, isn’t easy. He spoke of his father being incarcerated since 1996, 15 schools, a redneck kid who taunted him, shouting “Hey, N-word, you better not screw up this song…” before performing – and winning – his school’s talent show with Chris Brown’s “Little Black Dress.” He told it all, but never as a downer; more to delivered a witness for anyone in Fenway who might be struggling.
But that’s not even truly the point.
Kane Brown has come into his own as a performer. Easy, fluid, able to let the audience crest and surf on the songs he performs, he allows his shows to be a place for them to have their own magic moments. He understands people want the euphoria, something he delivers.
Whether the downhome, do-si-do twangery of “Like I Love Country Music,” the minor-keyed emo-metal of “Bury Me In Georgia,” the silky “Heaven,” which he performed walking through the crowd or the sweeping, slightly stop-start country “One Mississippi,” he wrapped the music around the crowd and brought them through all the genre-tilts without missing a moment.
Leaving room – especially with a stadium-sized show – is a tricky proposition. With a clean stage, marked by four vertical video screens used for dimension as much as live action capture, there was room to take in Brown, whichever musicians were down front soloing or the larger tableaus being presented.
That economy stretched to his band: often only one guitarist or featured musician was as likely to drive a song as his full band. Creating dynamics, there was never a teeter on the Beavis & Butthead rawk overkill meter. Everything played mattered. Rhythms, especially when they shifted, were crisp and forward. Most especially, the musical elements had a torque that stood up to the night in a way that really penetrated the conscious.
Also reflecting Brown’s own aesthetic as an engaged human, “Memory,” a trying to cope, barely hanging on ballad, provided an early highlight. For those people not sure how to get through, he delivered it with subtle passion to suggest he knows the struggle, understands futility, but believes there are always reasons to persevere, to survive long enough to thrive.
Not long after, he moved through the crowd to a satellite stage behind the sound board where he sang the pained “Used To Love You Sober,” the song that launched him. Like “Memory,” it acknowledged modern day Haggard heartbreak templates. In the middle of the outfield, it was a scale that reminded the sold-out crowd how small he was when that song happened.
More, though, Brown brought the fun. He did an homage to growing up country, as well as surrounded by a houseful of women, dropping into a frisky “Redneck Woman,” which he bookended with “Friends In Low Places.” Then he added his own “Short Skirt Weather,” which mined the basic boy-celebrates-hotties Bro Country notion, to the mix.
That interlude provided a karaoke glory opportunity for him to tell the crowd to be like his younger self, saying they’d put the words to his first No. 1 on the screens, so the fans could take over “my first No. 1.” A glorious tangle of hard rock guitar, lumbering hip-hop beats and a banjo churned the perfectly country melody of “What Ifs.” The crowd not only knew what to do, when the song was technically over, they just kept going as the Tennessee/Georgia-raised performer laughed.
That delight tempered everything. With an interlude to switch gears, new age soul music filled the air, the stage went dark and a host of boughs with leaves emerged from the lighting rig.
When Brown returned to the stage, his wife Katelyn emerged in a sparkly black mini dress and tailored Red Sox jersey, the show’s culminating songs became an act of true love that was as deep as what we’ve come to expect from those moments when Beyoncé and Jay-Z (who co-headlined Fenway with Justin Timberlake in 2013 on their “Legends of the Summer Stadium Tour”) merge their own musical realities.
But where the Carters are a high impact entertainment force, the Browns are more innocent kids finding their way. What the men share is deep love of their women, a desire to lift them up to excel and exhibit all the ways love delivers a better life. For a kid from a broken childhood marked with love, Brown’s music validates how loving the right one is like breaking free.
Starting with their duet “Thank God,” the final few songs brought that home. Adding openers Restless Road for the free-for-all “One Mississippi,” then culminating in “Good As You,” a jammy, sleek soul ballad that closed the night, the sobering moments of the “Drunk Or Dreaming Tour” stop never bogged down the good feelings. Instead, he uses those good feelings to create a reason to not stray to from where leading a good life takes you.
To that end, Brown tapped Darius Rucker, a fellow Black groundbreaker in the rock and country space, as direct support. A former arena rock headliner, Rucker knew how to move the crowd where he wanted them, deploying Hootie & the Blowfish classics as well as his own country No. 1s. But Rucker’s real gift in the space is his willingness to get truly, really, absolutely country.
While “Hold My Hand” and “I Only Wanna Be With You” had the expected effect, it was his set-closing “Wagon Wheel” that made the park explode. For one song, all were one, churning and screaming along to the country/Americana “Margaritaville.” One of the most cornpone songs in the world of roots music, Rucker had a multiple week No. 1 with it, demonstrating his willingness to be the guy who keeps hardcore country on the radio.
Like Brown, who makes music beyond genre and color lines, he delivers music true to his soul and essence. It is a testament to both performers’ willingness to use music to transcend that marks each of their highly successful careers. In doing so, they light the way for plenty – hopefully – to follow.
‘Worldwide Beautiful’: Kane Brown’s ‘Blessed & Free Tour’ Hits The Road (Cover Story)