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Luke Bryan’s brand of country music fun is contagious

DARIEN – Country superstar Luke Bryan showed fans there was more than One Direction to go Thursday night for an evening of high-energy music. While the British boy band was rockin’ the Ralph, Bryan was doing his thing, and doing it well, as he kicked off a two-day return trip to Darien Lake Performing Arts Center.

For Bryan, Western New York is the latest stop on his “Kick The Dust Up” tour that has seen the heartthrob selling out venues across the country and he wasted no time in showing why.

Launching into the title track of his latest album, 2015’s “Kick the Dust Up,” Bryan, clad in a tight-fitting tee and black jeans, ascended from the sky on a scissor-lift, evoking a heavenly image, at least in the eyes of his faithful fans, who rose in unison and never sat back down.

Country music is a funny genre. People tend to love it or hate it with little in between, but Luke Bryan has the unique ability to draw in even the most ardent nonbelievers and win them over. How? Because when this good ’ol boy from Leesburg, Ga., is on stage, he looks like he is having so much fun, it’s contagious.

Take, “All My Friends Say,” Bryan’s party anthem from his debut album, “I’ll Stay With Me.” While plenty of artists put on a strong show, how many of them toss beers into the crowd as they sing? Or catch a fan’s cellphone mid-song, snap a selfie and toss it back without missing a note? Bryan did it all, including rounding up his talented band and pouring tequila shots on top of his piano to toast the crowd.

Make no mistake about it, Bryan is a showman, but he is more than just another pretty face in the new world of “bro-country.” His ability to go from bouncing across the stage electrifying the crowd with “Crash My Party” to slowing down and strumming a guitar to the mellow “Rollercoaster,” or sitting at the piano and tickling the ivories to his latest hit, “Strip it Down,” Bryan delivered an evening of entertainment second to none.

But if his reputation is that of a rocker masquerading as a country boy, Bryan showed he can still take it back to his roots, asking the crowd, “Are y’all ready to country this thing up a little bit?” before bringing down the house with the unmistakably country, “Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Everyday.” It doesn’t get much more country than that, and his fans ate it up.

It’s impossible to deem any moment the highlight of the evening because it was, in fact, an evening of highlights, but, “This is How We Roll,” really showcased Bryan’s powerful voice and command of the crowd. Likewise when the band went dark and he went a capella with the crowd joning in on several songs, it was one of those moments that makes going to a show live an unmatched experience.

At the end of a summer that saw a robust concert calendar that included the Rolling Stones, Van Halen, Kid Rock, Chris Brown and the aforementioned One Direction, Luke Bryan put on as strong a show as any of them.

If you’re holding tickets for Friday night’s encore show, pull on your cowboy boots and denim and get ready to kick the dust up.

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