03/11/2010

Growing up Country

— Not sure Luke Bryan’s strange, bouncy movements can be constituted as dancing, per se.

But it’s not really what he’s doing in the video that has garnered so much attention. It’s what he’s wearing: white tights and a black leotard — the first and last time he’s worn so much stretch nylon, he said.

A YouTube video with clips of Bryan dancing around in a ballet outfit is circling the Web — a sort of rallying cry to get fans to vote for him for the Academy of Country Music Top New Solo Vocalist award.

The four-minute clip also features country stars Dierks Bentley, Jason Aldean and Blake Shelton, television star Jennette McCurdy, former Major League Baseball player Mark McGwire, members of Lady Antebellum, and St. Louis Cardinals coach Tony LaRussa, among others — all of whom ask fans not to vote for Bryan. Of course, they qualify that by saying not to vote for him if you think country music is all twangy drinking songs and such. Do vote for Bryan if you respect his talent, they say.

Bryan — who opens for country star Jason Aldean at the Verizon today — has come a long way to get people to do just that, he said. His debut on Capitol Records didn’t come out until 2007, but he toiled for years writing music and performing.

“I been out on the road a long time,” he said. “But things certainly are becoming worth every tough time and every little hill you had to climb.”

Bryan performed in the college circuit, where he developed a following and learned how to interact with an audience and keep the energy going. He used to run around on stage dancing and doing back flips. But he learned to let the music take center stage and to quit distracting the audience with gimmicks.

After moving to Nashville in 2001, he landed a job as a songwriter and wrote the title track to Travis Tritt’s 2005 album “My Honky Tonk History.” Bryan was spotted by an A&R rep performing at a club and was signed to Capitol. His debut album, “I’ll Stay Me,” had several hit singles on the country charts.

Bryan was proud of the record, but hoped to top it vocally and lyrically with his sophomore release, “Doin’ My Thing.”

“We put together a much better album (this time),” he said. “It’s showing a lot more promise than the first one.”

Bryan has released 10 hit singles and won Music Row’s Breakthrough Songwriter Award. Writing his own songs is an important part of making music, he said.

“As long as I can write songs and say what I want to say and not sacrifice losing any fans — great,” he said.

Bryan’s second “Spring Break” EP was released March 2 and includes new tracks, such as “Wild Weekend,” “Cold Beer Drinker” and “I’m Hungover.”

Bryan has headlined his own shows and also toured with Kenny Chesney, Trace Adkins and now with Aldean. He’s working on material for a third album, but fans shouldn’t expect to hear those songs at the Mankato show. He’s keeping those to himself until he hits the studio. But the show will still be a good time for fans, he said.

“It’s just a fun, up-tempo show,” he said. “(We get the crowd) standing and rocking and having a good time.”

—Amanda Dyslin, The Free Press