Maren Morris, Sam Hunt Bring Cross-Genre Grooves to Nashville
The pairing of Maren Morris and Sam Hunt on the 15 in a 30 Tour is purposefully progressive. Both touted empowerment during separate sets at Nashville's Ascend Amphitheater on Friday night (Sept. 22), although of very different varieties.
The "My Church" singer's set came in direct support of Hunt's headlining 90 minutes, after openers Chris Janson and Ryan Follese played the sun down. Each song was a selection from her acclaimed Hero album, but there's been an evolution. "Sugar," "80s Mercedes" and "Rich" aren't the same songs they were 18 months ago because she's not the same artist. The evolution of her live show, while not complete, is several chapters deep. When Morris sings about a woman taking lead, she's truly in command now. A stage this large may have been overwhelming in 2016. That's certainly not true today.
The 27-year-old is on the cusp of becoming someone capable of busting down walls for a generation behind her. It started with honest songwriting and untethered, soulful vocal performances and moved on to how she dresses and moves about her stage and how she commands her band and the audience. At every level she's discovering "Yes, I can," and her fans are rising up with her. Morris is not Reba, or even Miranda Lambert in terms of kicking butt and taking names, but it's not impossible to see her getting there in five, 10 or 20 years. Her live set is full of ambition, but at its best when she's unleashing the full power of her voice. "Once" is a must-be-there event for a country fan.
Hunt is at his best telling stories, which he did often during this hometown show that could have been subtitled: The History of Sam Hunt. He too stuck to songs from his debut album while also mixing in co-writes for other famous singers and selections from the acoustic Between Two Pines album. "Cop Car" (Keith Urban) makes more sense after hearing him tell of how he and his now wife once trespassed to park alongside an airport landing strip. Planes throttled toward them on the runway before lifting for takeoff at the last second. You know the rest of the story. The song is part of his autobiography.
"I Met a Girl" (William Michael Morgan) and "Come Over" (Kenny Chesney) are two others he reinterpreted but "We've Got Tonight" was a surprising highlight. Had Hunt released this song, it would have become one of the top songs of whichever year he released it during, but he needed Billy Currington to cut it to put gas in his band's van and food in their stomachs. The then-struggling songwriter was broke at that time. Money made from "We've Got Tonight" allowed him to take the next step.
"Leave the Night On" and "House Party" opened an electric, well-rehearsed set. He was struggling for clean air after "Raised On It," a testimony to Nashville's humidity and his own enthusiasm to play back-to-back, sold-out homecoming shows. Immediately one sensed this show meant more than every previous stop on the 15 in a 30 Tour. The soft-spoken Hunt is well-spoken on stage, and that made transitions between Alan Jackson and Travis Tritt songs and R Kelly's "Ignition" easier to take. He explained that while he grew up country, he'd find other genres appealing later in life. Hunt's gift is that he recognizes the next generation doesn't care about genres.
"When this generation takes over, y'all are gonna tear down the walls," he said, likely not only speaking of music.
It's a struggle to name another artist who became a headliner after one album, and it's even more difficult to name someone who earns the status night after night like Hunt does. His live show is real and overwhelming — there's no sense of a little boy wearing a suit two sizes too big like you might expect. If anything Hunt and his tremendously tight group of friends and musicians prove he's ready for bigger stages. If he could fill a stadium, he'd leave 50,000 fans happy.
It's Sam Hunt Live!