A sticky 73°F at 8:21 p.m., that’s where it’s at — to lift a line from his 2014 single — on the last Friday of summer 2019.
And with his signature cowboy hat secured snugly around his head, Mr. Lynch is commanding a packed crowd at Madison Square Garden, opening for Thomas Rhett during the last of his aptly named Very Hot Summer Tour dates. Blazing through hits like “Seein’ Red,” “Hell of a Night,” and “Cowboys and Angels,” the 34-year-old singer is equal parts pep and poignancy, heartbreaks and hangovers.
He’s about 10 minutes and an unconfirmed number of red Solo cups off-stage when PEOPLE arrives in his dressing room to ask what it’s like to play America’s most-hyped arena. “Magical,” he instantly retorts. “And the crowd tonight was just on fire. It was really cool, the energy in there. It’s always a question mark in New York City. I just feel like you never know who’s gonna be in the crowd.”
But feeding off of the crowd’s tremendous adrenaline rush has happily been the case all tour. “The crowd is just so energetic. They come, and they sing and they dance. Just to feel that joy in the room every night is really cool.”
With the summer tour wrapping up, Lynch has also taken time to reflect on all he’s learned from Thomas Rhett on his zig-zag across North America. Chief amongst those lessons?
“Young women scream really loud!” he jokes, before quickly adding, “I’m inspired. That’s what I hope for whenever I tour, to be inspired to learn from [the headliner] and how they operate. Because our goal is what he’s achieved this year, to headline spaces like the Garden. We just take a lot of notes. He’s a hard-working guy, and it’s great to be around that energy. His dad, Rhett’s been out here, working his tail off, too. You can’t help but create around those guys. A lot of this next chapter of music is their fault because I’ve written a few songs out here on this tour.”
As for what’s inspired him to get writing, it’s simple: “Just doing life and living. I looked at my photo album flying home the other day and I was like, ‘Man, I’ve got a lot of new pictures,’ to me that means I’m doing something right. If I’m doing life where I want to take my phone out of my pocket and capture that, whether it’s videos, photos, whatever that is. I feel like I’ve done that more this year than I ever have in my life. What’s inspired this album is really just connecting with myself and why I am who I am, and it all goes back to who raised me and where I was raised. I’ve got such a strong family around me still. They’re my biggest fans,” Lynch concedes.
“I think that would be a lot of what this album is about — discovering who I am and why I am who I am. And then just falling in love with that is really what has inspired these songs.”
At this point, a lot of who Lynch is is a road warrior, traveling countless miles across the country on tour. “I don’t know how not to be on the road now, which is kind of bizarre,” he says. “I get stir-crazy. Even on my off-time we gotta be going and doing. I get that from my granddad, and my dad, he’s the same way. I think doing stuff is very important, to take advantage of what touring is. And that’s a free freaking vacation all over the world.”
While he admits that alone time to recharge is vital, it’s the bonds he’s created on the road that mean the most. “I can say we’ve made friends on every city on this tour. It’s just crazy to think our friend-and-family base is that big. I’ve been saying the most tiring thing about touring is not the shows, it’s not the travel, it’s the friends you haven’t seen in a year that want to throw down a party on a Thursday,” he says.
In addition to focusing on friendships and as much time on the water and outdoors as possible, Lynch is all about manifesting his own future. “I’m very big on picturing things that I want to set as goals in life. So I’ve been making a lot of mental notes this year, when I’m on stage just taking snapshots and saying, ‘We’re going to be back.’ I’d love to see this room filled for us. I want to come back and do what so many in front of me have allowed me to do, and that’s headline this thing.”
Based on the crowd’s roar when Lynch erupted into his 2018 single, “Good Girl,” that dream isn’t far from reality. “Our biggest reacting song this tour has been ‘Good Girl,’ I would say it’s because of [Thomas Rhett’s] demographic. There’s a lot of girls in the crowd,” he trails off, with a smile.
Speaking of which, this mind reader can tell a certain reporter is eyeing the bar set up in the back of his dressing room. Two minutes later, I am presented with a shot of tequila — meticulously double-strained by Lynch himself — with a perfectly cut lime wedge. It’s one hell of a night, and Lynch is only getting started.