DARIEN CENTER — What a difference a day can make.
Less than 24 hours earlier before Sunday night’s show, the Darien Lake Performing Arts Center was awash in Jesus as Kingdom Bound, the annual Christian music and arts festival, drew to a close. Thousands of attendees participated in altar calls, communion, prayer tents and worship.
But on Sunday evening, when country superstar Brantley Gilbert rode into town, the scene was considerably different.
There can be no doubt that the multiplatinum-selling Gilbert is one of the hardest-working men in country music. His area stop was the midway point in a 50-city tour that kicked off Feb. 2 to showcase the singer’s fourth studio album, “The Devil Don’t Sleep.”
After sets by openers Luke Combs and Tyler Farr got the crowd amped up (not that they needed it, based on the condition of the parking lot, pre-concert), it was show time. Gilbert wasted precious little time in giving his fans what they came for — a night of pure, unapologetic “bro-country.”
Backed by a five-piece band of talented musicians and rockin’ a white tee, black jeans and passing on the cowboy hat in favor of a baseball cap, Gilbert opened his set with “It’s About to Get Dirty,” fitting for a capacity crowd that came ready to party. From there he never slowed down.
It was a night filled with songs from across his catalog, the highlight being “Dirt Road Anthem,” his country/rap mash-up that inspired the most spirited sing-along you’ll ever hear.
Though he didn’t need them to hold the audience, Gilbert was backed by plenty of pyrotechnics, dazzling videos and even a marriage proposal he oversaw in the front row (she said yes).
In an earlier interview with The Buffalo News, Gilbert talked about his sobriety (the singer is nearing six years since his last drink). In an era where hoisting a beer, a shot, or, in some cases an entire bottle of Jack from the stage has become a way to connect with the fans en masse, kudos to Gilbert for finding the balance between his own sobriety and a fan base that, in a generous understatement, enjoys imbibing.
But don’t let the lack of adult beverages on stage fool you. Gilbert brought down the house with a hard-rockin’ night that managed to be wild, spiritual and introspective all in one.
Whether he was sharing his love for his wife (dedicating “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do,”) or praising the men and women of the armed forces (“One Hell of an Amen”), Gilbert never took his foot off the gas.
Best of all, he enjoyed himself all night — smiling, joking and praising his legions of fans.
In the end, concertgoers on Sunday night were closer to the Kingdom Bound crowd then they may have realized. Gilbert, with a cross tattooed on his chest, a psalm covering his knuckles and the strength of his faith keeping him sober, delivered an evening of country music that was as much an inspiration as it was a celebration.
With Luke Combs and Tyler Farr on Sunday night in Darien Lake Performing Arts Center