ATLANTIC CITY - The country flavor of the month is Luke Bryan. The 37-year-old lean heartthrob has women swooning and men yee-hawing with his blend of rock, pop and country that has been dominating the country charts since he debuted on the music scene in 2007.
How big is Bryan? Well, he sold out Saturday night's Boardwalk Hall show within hours and is slated to play the 50,000-plus Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia in August for his first summer stadium tour.
So what makes Bryan so special? What separates him from other country stars of today?
Mostly it's that he is a lot of fun. In fact, he's kind of like a frat house country character when he hits the stage, thriving on his extremely likable personality and the ability to make thousands of people feel like they are joining him for a party as opposed to a concert. ... Hence the title of his latest album "Crash My Party."
As far as music talent goes, Bryan is not overly special. Possessing a good country voice and backed by a very respectable band, he didn't hit a few "wow" moments vocally and his songs play into every country stereotype.
Just reading the list of songs Bryan played Saturday night gives the idea Bryan isn't crashing any new boundaries here. He's cashing in.
"Drink a Beer," "Crash My Party," "Drinkin' Beer and Wastin' Bullets," "Drunk On You," "If You Ain't Here to Party" and the finale "Country Girl (Shake It for Me)" demonstrate Bryan's mastery of the country cliche. And country fans love it as much as their mesh camouflage hats and flannel.
Stage antics that included Bryan emerging from the bottom of a stage on a full-sized Chevy pickup surrounded by flames that thrusted to the middle of the arena - accompanied by one of the best light and video shows Boardwalk Hall has ever staged - made 13,000-plus fans very happy. Handing out cans of beer to the crowd during "Suntan City" certainly didn't hurt either.
And Bryan's party - if you can buy into the cheesiness of it all - is a fun one.
He acts more like a classic rocker than a country singer, offering pelvic thrusts and hip gyrations in skin-tight black pants that would make rock stars such as Steven Tyler and David Lee Roth proud.
The show had few down moments. This was a concert where sitting wasn't allowed. And no one did.
Bryan played all of his No. 1 hits including "Rain is a Good Thing," "Someone Else Calling You Baby," the anthem and first-set closer "I Don't Want This Night to End" and "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye." More recent hits included the title track from his new album, "Drink a Beer" and "That's My Kind of Night," which was the pop-y concert opener. He wisely stuck to the hits off of his new album, ensuring the crowd didn't even have time to go get a beer - even though that didn't stop them.
Lines for the bathrooms stretched through the Boardwalk Hall concourse by the hundreds.
The only breathers all night were when he played piano on the ballad "Do I," which even has some pep to it, and sat on a pier that popped up from the stage to play acoustic guitar on the crowd-pleasing ballad "Drink a Beer," which is currently at the top of the country charts.
There even were some surprises, including a very cool moment when he ripped into Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive" and "Bad Medicine," playing piano and scoring his best vocal moment of the night.
And fans loved when opening acts Cole Swindell and Lee Brice joined Bryan for "If You Ain't Here to Party" and a fun cover of Macklemore and Lewis' No. 1 hip-hop single "Can't Hold Us" that brought the party up another notch. He even threw in a sample of The Black Eyed Peas.
The Academy of Country Music Awards Entertainer of the Year has the kind of crossover appeal that could convert a few non-country fans, if they can get over lyrics focusing on trucks and getting drunk. Men were singing, women were singing and there were even kids in the audience, including one lucky boy who Bryan pulled on stage to help him sing "Someone Else Calling You Baby."
This guy is like the Jimmy Buffett of country.
Although Bryan is a great entertainer, his biggest asset is sex appeal. When his face debuted on the massive video screen Saturday night, grown women screamed like teenage girls used to scream for The Jonas Brothers.
Although Bryan seemed to enjoy playing in Atlantic City - he called the crowd the wildest on tour - the city may not see him return soon as he plays ever-bigger venues. That's too bad because Atlantic City needs more country acts like Bryan, who single-handedly energized the whole town.
Luke Bryan might be the country flavor of the month, but he has the goods - and business sense - to make a long and lasting impression on the country music scene.