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Partway through the first verse of “What She Wants Tonight” — a new song that, he’d just said, he and his band were performing acoustically for the first time — Luke Bryan slammed on the brakes.
“Hold up, hold up. Was that my fault?” the country-music star asked his band, with a sheepish grin. His lead guitarist smiled and nodded. “Dammit,” Bryan cursed. “See, you know what, I’m experimenting right now on how many Two Lanes I can drink while performing. Not a good idea. ... But the more you drink, the better I sound!”
And to that, the more than 100 people who were crowded into the beautiful dairy barn at the Alexander Homestead in east Charlotte cheered with their beers.
Their Two Lane American Golden Lager beers. Which literally have Bryan’s name on them.
That’s why the 43-year-old — whose 2013 album “Crash My Party” won album of the decade at last year’s Academy of Country Music Awards — was in Charlotte on Tuesday evening: to headline a private party for local and regional beer distributors that featured unlimited free Two Lanes and an acoustic mini-concert, primarily in the interest of building buzz around the beer’s March 2 release.
(There were also multiple mentions of his upcoming “Proud to Be Right Here Tour,” which comes to Charlotte’s PNC Music Pavilion on Aug. 28; and a strong secondary focus on the Brett Boyer Foundation, which honors his late niece through raising awareness for congenital heart disease and people living with Down Syndrome.)
Bryan started out with 2017 hit “What Makes You Country” and then — alluding to some early bugs in the sound mix — dropped in the first of the impromptu beer-themed jokes: “If you heard a lot of echoes, you haven’t drank too much, I promise. What was that, by the way? My sound guy has been drinking too many, too.”
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Next, after “Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day,” he flashed another grin and admitted: “I don’t have a set list, so you’re seeing me build a set list in my brain, which can be a little suspect from time to time.”
From there, he went with “What She Wants Tonight,” followed by “Drink a Beer” (before which he said, “We cannot have a beer party without doing this next song”), and closing with another more-recent track, “Knockin’ Boots.”
“We’ve had a lot of wonderful memories in Charlotte,” Bryan told the Observer in an interview before the concert. “Gosh, I mean, Charlotte through the years has just been a great market for me. It’s just always been somewhere I’ve looked forward to coming to, so now it’s pretty surreal to be here launching the beer.”
Here’s what else the two-time ACM and two-time CMA Entertainer of the Year had to say that stood out.
On performing at Coyote Joe’s — and video that lives online of him sharing the stage there with Dierks Bentley back when Bryan was new to the country scene: “Those were the days, man. In 2008, I was really, really trying to get my career up and going, so we were having some fun back then. ... There were times when I’d come to Coyote Joe’s and there’d be a couple hundred people. And then after I started having success, I sold it out for a few years. ... I’m sure there’s a lot of YouTube memories out there of me in Charlotte.”
On that YouTube video of him performing Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” at Coyote Joe’s, also in 2008: “I was a crazy-big Lionel fan, and ‘All Night Long’ was a fun party song. Anytime I’d go into a college bar or a honky-tonk atmosphere, it was fun to pull out a Lionel Richie song — it was always a little something out of left field, and I always enjoyed keeping the fans guessing. ... I mean, Lionel’s music was just common household music, so you could always get away with playing some Lionel in any type of scenario. ... And now, to go from doing covers of Lionel to sitting next to him on ‘American Idol’ is pretty surreal stuff. Lot of dreams come true, lot of boxes checked.”
On his three seasons as a judge on ABC’s “American Idol”: “The show has taught me limitless amounts of things about all forms of American society and American music. It’s been so educational for me. Gosh, I mean, to see these kids come in from so many backgrounds, so many ethnicities, religions, affluent backgrounds, poor backgrounds, and watching them compete for a dream, an American dream, to become the ‘American Idol’ — it’s been very inspiring for me, it’s been very motivating, it’s been humbling, it’s been emotional. ... I mean, I find myself seeing these 16-, 17-year-old kids coming in, playing piano and guitar and singing amazingly, to the highest level of their ability, and it makes me want to get back home and work even harder on my craft.”
On how he came to team up with Constellation Brands on Two Lane: “Well, for years, man, I’ve always incorporated beer (in my work). I mean, obviously, I’ve got a song called ‘Drink a Beer.’ It’s just part of the Southern culture that I grew up in. My dad was a farmer, and after a long day of farming, him and his farming buddies would get together in the backyard, sit around, talk about the day and have a beer. It was kind of an unwinding moment. Anyway, I met a lot of people with Constellation through playing their amphitheater (the Constellation Brands Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center) outside of Rochester, New York, and we developed a great relationship ... and so they started talking about a collaboration with me on building a great American beer. A great American lager. Certainly, my ears perked up. We started talking about how we wanted to do this thing, and now fast-forward, here we are putting Two Lane Lager out. ... And it’s one of those beers that you’re gonna want to be drinking while floating down a river and fishing, or sitting on the beach.”
On another notable attempt to get into beer-making in the past: “I had a buddy of mine that’s a doctor, and so he kind of has the scientific mind and I kind of have the — I guess the — well, we both are consummate beer drinkers. But I would go into Nashville, and there’s this little place where you can buy all your brewing supplies, and gosh, man, I got into it. We probably brewed six or seven batches of different (beers). ... A lager is very tricky. You’ve gotta refrigerate it for an extended period of time at certain degrees. So we brewed some ales, and we brewed some saisons, and I mean, they turned out great. ... Like I said, beer is something (I’ve) always been pretty passionate about, and I went through all the phases of drinking different kinds of beer. (But) I kind of burnt myself out on this type of craft beer. I just come back to, man, the beer that historically I’ve always leaned toward is just a lager, something that’s lower-calorie. I’m still trying to look good and in shape up there on stage!”
Two Lane American Golden Lager will initially be available only in Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. It’s due in stores on March 2. More info: www.drinktwolane.com.