Exclusive: Luke Bryan Uses Expanding Empire To Elevate Newcomer Artists
Luke Bryan may have cultivated an image as a fun-loving, light-hearted songwriter and entertainer, with a persona that is equal parts farm boy and frat boy thanks to megahits like “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” and “Play It Again,” but over the past few years, the Georgia native has steadily added several more titles to his resume—American Idol judge, restaurant owner, and most recently, an owner of a new label imprint, 32 Bridge Entertainment, in partnership with UMG Nashville.
Newcomer Jon Langston is the flagship artist for Bryan’s 32 Bridge Entertainment.
“It’s funny, good good things just keep happening,” Bryan tells MusicRow. “I’m just taking opportunities and having fun with them. It’s amazing to see an artist like Jon, and believe in it and want to sign it and hopefully make a lot of ol’ Langston’s dreams come true.”
Langston was part of Bryan’s popular Farm Tour last year, and Bryan watched as the newcomer continued trying to earn a label deal, with little success. “He’s just such a talent, and finally I said, ‘We’ll just start a label and get you a record deal.'”
Bryan, who went from newcomer himself to a bona fide headlining superstar in less than five years, knows plenty about how to build a career.
Eleven years ago, Bryan notched his first Top 5 single with his debut song, “All My Friends Say,” though his first No. 1 single wouldn’t come until 2009’s “Do I,” which would also become his first RIAA-certified Platinum song. His 2011 album, the 4x Platinum Tailgates & Tanlines, drove Bryan to headliner status, fueled by hit singles including “Country Girl (Shake It For Me),” “I Don’t Want This Night To End,” “Drunk On You,” and “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye.” 2013’s Crash My Party would replicate his previous album’s 4x Platinum sales numbers, and generate five more No. 1 singles. With his 2017 album Kill The Lights Bryan made history as the only country artist to earn six No. 1 singles from a single album.
Currently, Bryan is celebrating his fifth nomination in the Country Music Association’s (CMA) Entertainer of the Year category, an award he’s previously won in 2014 and 2015.
This year, he earned his 21st No. 1 single with “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset.” His single “Most People Are Good” earned MusicRow Magazine’s Song of the Year honor earlier this year (tied with Chris Janson’s “Drunk Girl”).
Along the way, Bryan diversified his headlining shows, bringing fans to farms and beaches, by launching his popular Crash My Playa event in Riviera Maya, Mexico, which will celebrate its fifth year in 2019. Meanwhile, this year marks his 10th annual Farm Tour, an annual series of concerts to benefit farming communities by awarding more than 50 college scholarships to date to students from farming families. After performing for 1.5 million fans in 2017, Bryan embarked on this year’s What Makes You Country Tour XL Stadium Sized, visiting 40 cities, and along the way, 13 of the country’s largest stadiums, including Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium and Chicago’s Wrigley Field.
Bryan also became the first artist to headline all three of Minneapolis’ stadiums. The tour’s stadium shows wrap later this month at Detroit’s Ford Field, and have featured much buzzed-about newcomers Jon Pardi and Carly Pearce.
“With all the people on my tour, my stage is their stage and I want to showcase their artistry the best way I can,” Bryan says.
Between tour dates, Bryan is filming episodes for his second season at American Idol’s judges table, which will air in 2019.
“We are in a situation currently where we don’t have to do them on the same day, but either way it’s still a dadgum busy schedule and you have to hold on and just do your best to stay healthy and try to make some fun tv.”
As with his tour and label imprint, Bryan sees Idol as another way to support new artists looking to launch their careers. He says he hopes to eventually see some of the Idol contestants he’s coached on his own tours.
“I always keep those options open. It’s something me and Katy [Perry] and Lionel [Richie] talked about in meetings,” he says. “We want to help these kids any way we can. I brought Gabby [Barrett] out at my Pittsburgh show. That’s the main thing with us, we just want to make sure these kids are given every chance possible. We feel like if they win Idol they are certainly worthy of getting record deals and tours.”
In September, Bryan performed a free concert to celebrate his latest venture, the opening of his Luke’s 32 Bridge Food + Drink, bringing 30,000 fans to party in the heart of downtown Nashville.
“I talked to nearly everybody in the bar scene when I was looking at opening this,” he says. “I talked to [Whiskey Row owner and entertainer Dierks Bentley] and he was like, ‘You are going to love it.’ It’s amazing to know while we are out touring and doing stuff, people can come to Nashville and support us as artists and have fun. [Ole Red owner Blake Shelton] told me the same thing. I hope to roll in there one day with my guitar and play some new songs.
“I think it will be amazing through the years to let artists like Jon Pardi hopefully have an album launch at the bar, or someone can use it for things like that to promote other artists. Up and comers hopefully will come and play my bar and go on to be the next country star.”
Fans could see Luke’s 32 Bridge Food + Drink venues open in other cities.
“Hopefully the sky’s the limit on where we can take it,” he says. “As this bar grows and evolves we will see how it does. If it feels like something we can take to a different city or town, we will definitely entertain that.”
In the most immediate future, Bryan hopes to culminate a year rich in accolades by earning a third win as CMA’s Entertainer of the Year.
“I feel like an Entertainer of the Year is somebody who has checked all the boxes in that year, when it comes to touring and radio and streaming success,” Bryan says. “I feel like how you represent country music is a big part of it and how you try to move the needle as an artist. I approach every year trying to write the best songs we can and give fans the best concerts and the best album. Everybody nominated in that category certainly does that at the highest level possible.
Any time I get nominated I am very honored. It means I’m still doing some things right.”
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