When I interviewed Kane Brown a couple months ago, I spent a fair portion of the 15 minutes I had with him asking for his thoughts on being named to Time magazine’s 2021 list of its most influential people.
It was wasted time. I could have easily guessed the answers.
How did I think a guy who already has a rep for being humble was going to respond in that case?
Anyway ... now that I’ve seen his new show — part of the “Blessed & Free” tour that the 28-year-old country music phenom brought to Charlotte’s Spectrum Center on Saturday night — I wish I had a do-over. Because now I know there’s a subject that’d be way more interesting to hear him reflect on.
I’m not talking about his upbringing. Not talking about him being alienated by members of his own family and bullied by classmates at the schools he attended in his hometown of Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., because of his biracial background, or about the fact that his Black father was in prison and his white mother lived in her car for a time. That’s all common knowledge to his fans, stuff he’s covered in interviews a million times ever since he broke big as a singer of country covers on social media in 2014.
Rather, there was another, rather unexpected theme running throughout Saturday’s show in Charlotte that struck me, at least, as an intriguing one to consider.
And I started noticing it long before Brown even made his first appearance of the night.
Toward the tail end of DJ Jevity’s set — which was sandwiched between opening acts Restless Road and Jordan Davis — Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s 1992 gangsta-rap anthem “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” started playing over the loudspeakers. But anyone who’d brought kids and was bracing for a blizzard of explicit language could quickly relax. Because Jevity was cranking the clean version of the song.
It was then that it occurred to me that nothing from his hip-hop- and R&B-heavy playlist was R-rated, or even PG-13-rated.
It was later that I learned, along with the rest of the audience (perhaps the hardest-core Kane Brown fans excluded), that DJ Jevity is in fact Brown’s brother.
So they’ve almost certainly had a conversation about content.
Stay with me on this tangent here for another minute, and know that any italics you see in the next couple of quotes are mine.
I did a quick Google search and found this, from an almost-three-year-old story in The Commercial Appeal of Memphis, Tenn.: “It was striking to hear Brown’s pre-concert music choices over the PA, a mix featuring almost exclusively throwback hip-hop and rap: Snoop Dogg, Notorious B.I.G., Tupac, etc. (although, worth noting, the versions played were the ‘clean’ edits).”
OK, moving on. Six songs in, Brown was setting up his acoustic mini-set’s first song, the autobiographical “Learning,” and he was just wrapping up the story he’s told a million times before, about his difficult childhood. He explained that he grew up in a trailer park. That he had to wear high-waters and “could never afford American Eagle or Abercrombie or Hollister.”
Then came the kicker.
“All the kids that are here tonight, I just want to let you know: It doesn’t matter what you wear, it doesn’t matter where you come from. If you have dreams, you can do whatever you want to do. So just know that.”
Jumping ahead a few more songs ... Brown was in the middle of an exuberant rendition of his most recent country-radio hit, “One Mississippi,” when a young girl was hoisted on the stage. After he hugged her, at his gently affable urging, she first led the crowd in a mass one-handed wave-along, then put her mouth to the mic to sing the chorus.
When she finished, he hugged her again, and gave her a high-five before she was helped back down from the stage.
Now, yeah, “One Mississippi” is about getting drunk and having sex, but its lyrics aren’t crass, and it’s worth noting that Brown didn’t rely on a classic country-music concert cliche at this or any other point in the show. That is, he didn’t loudly announce that he was drinking alcohol (though opener Jordan Davis did, right before taking a shot of tequila). Brown also didn’t include references to drinking in his between-song banter. It’s fairly rare for a mainstream country artist not to do that during a show these days.
So my question is — or I should say, it would have been, if I could have that interview back — is he intentionally trying to make his shows as family-friendly as possible? Then, if it is indeed all at least somewhat calculated, can he talk about what’s driving it?
Could it be that he’s already trying to set a good example for his 2-year-old daughter Kingsley Rose, who’s often on the road with him these days?
Maybe it’s not as interesting a topic to you as it is to me, but again, it’s just not something you see every day from artists in this genre ... and at least seems like an attempt at wholesomeness that, dare I say, feels quite refreshing.
More questions for my hypothetical do-over
I’d also ask Brown now, having seen his dazzlingly produced, solidly sung (and sometimes-rapped), highly entertaining show:
Did he have to conquer a fear of heights in order to pull off his set-opening stunt, which saw him step off of a plank 30 feet above the stage before being lowered to the ground via a wire attached to a harness?
He’s admitted to being a huge LaMelo Ball fan, yet on Saturday night he wore a Charlotte Hornets jersey emblazoned with star guard Terry Rozier’s No. 3. Any particular reason?
Then later, when Davis and the members of Restless Road came out to join Brown for a performance of his “Famous Friends,” all four of them wore Ball’s No. 2. And Hornet mascot Hugo joined them. I know the team is on the road, but did he/his tour manager shoot for any other Charlotte celebrities before settling on Hugo?
Despite prominently placed signs at Spectrum Center entrances saying masks would be required at all times, I barely saw anyone wearing a mask all night. Meanwhile, he gave a LOT of high-fives to people in the pit in front of the stage, signed hats and other articles of clothing for even more fans, and even grabbed phones from a couple to take selfies. I love the connection he tries to make with his fans, but are those kinds of gestures a little weirder given COVID? (That’s a real question, not rhetorical. In other words, I’m not passing judgment at all; I’m legitimately curious.)
When he did the cover of Soulja Boy’s “Crank That,” he did the hand gestures from the dance but not the footwork associated with cranking. Can he crank?
Kind of a minor detail question, but — again, just curious — after “Homesick,” he just kind of walked off and the stage went dark. There was no “Thank you, Charlotte, good night!” fake-out of the type that typically cues a crowd to scream for an encore. Then he came back a couple minutes later and did three more songs. It felt like an encore and didn’t feel like an encore at the same time. In his mind, was he giving an encore, or would he classify what he gave us as a full 22-song set with no encore?
And last but not least, there’s this: After he finally did say “Thank you, Charlotte, good night!,” and meant it, he did a big autographing session for a bunch more folks in the pit, then turned to leave and suddenly peeled his upper body out of the Hornets jersey before tossing it into the crowd.
How does he feel about the fact that the sight of him going shirtless produced one of the loudest roars of the night?
Kane Brown’s setlist
1. “Pull It Off”
2. “Be Like That”
3. “Short Skirt Weather”
4. “Cool Again”
6. “Lose It”
7. “Learning” (acoustic)
8. “Worship You” (acoustic)
9. “For My Daughter” (acoustic)
10. “Good as You”
11. “One Mississippi”
12. “Ol’ Red” (Blake Shelton cover)
13. “Beautiful Girls” (Sean Kingston cover) /“Stand By Me” (Ben E. King cover)
14. “Crank That (Soulja Boy)“ (Soulja Boy cover)
15. “Hot Girl Bummer” (blackbear cover)
17. “Famous Friends”
18. “Like a Rodeo”
20. “One Thing Right”
22. “What Ifs”