After ten years, countless shows and 12 trips to the top of the country charts, Cole Swindell made his triumphant Ryman debut with a pair of sold out, back-to-back shows on Nov. 2 and 3 as part of his “Back Down To The Bar Tour.”
Preceded by rising singer-songwriter Dylan Marlowe and Big Loud newcomer Ashley Cooke, Swindell hit the stage hard on Wednesday night (Nov. 2), which had all the trimmings of a real bar, including an everglowing open sign, a set of taps and barstools and a full-size pool table which the bass player took up his residency on.
Opening with an explosive performance of his Dierks Bentley-graced “Flatliner” from 2017, the crowd was quickly sent reeling when Bentley appeared seemingly out of thin air to carry his parts of the tune. Promising the Nashville crowd a special night, Swindell ripped into his 2014 debut single, “Chillin’ It,” noting that he could’ve never dreamed that he would be singing the song to a sold out crowd at the Ryman on the day he wrote it.
From there it was off to the races as the south Georgia native fired off into many of his dozen No. 1s and obvious fan-favorites, like “Love You Too Late,” “Single Saturday Night,” “I Hope You Get Lonely Tonight” and more, all of which the crowd roared back with deafening eagerness. He also took a moment to play “How Is She,” one of the radio-ready tracks from his recently released fourth studio album, Stereotype, as well as the project’s title track.
After a swaying rendition of “Middle Of A Memory,” Swindell explained that the night was a full circle moment for him, seeing as he used to play in every bar on always-bustling Broadway street just outside the walls of the Ryman. On the note of bars, Swindell took the opportunity to rip off into some of party songs from over the years, which included a medley of “Brought To You By Beer,” “No Can Left Behind” and “Reason To Drink” before taking a shot with the Nashville crowd.
The Warner Music Nashville recording artist later recounted his journey to Nashville and how he fell in love with songwriting, explaining that he “wouldn’t be here without the songs [he’s] written,” and crediting them with getting his name out there and more than likely landing him his record deal. Giving the audience bits of some of his biggest hits as a songwriter, the multi-Platinum wordsmith shot into Thomas Rhett‘s “Get Me Some Of That,” which earned him his first No. 1 and with whom he’ll be hitting the road with in 2023; Luke Bryan‘s “Roller Coaster;” and Florida Georgia Line‘s “This Is How We Roll.”
To pile on the special moments of the show, Swindell offered up an unreleased track called “Sad Ass Country Song” that is sure to be one of his next big hits seeing as the crowd was eating up every second of the “walkin’, ‘talkin’, honky tonkin'” tune.
However, no moment could top what was to come as Swindell took a second to address the crowd, as well as put a spotlight on the many familiar faces in the audience, including friends, family, his team and more. One person who he noted who not there, though, was his mother who passed away in September of 2021.
“Tonight every song that we’re singing means something and I can promise you that no one here has heard this one. I debated whether or not to do it because I don’t know if I can get through it,” he offered. “If I’m going to sing a song for the very first time ever, I want to sing it right here at the Ryman.”
Written alongside Chase McGill and Bobby Pinson, the gut-wrenching track gives a light-hearted warning of what the man upstairs should expect as Swindell’s mom makes her way there. Aptly titled “Heads Up Heaven,” the piano-backed track ends with the touching “She’s always wanted to meet you face to face / Heads up heaven, there’s a good one headed your way.”
After tearfully making it through the vulnerable song, Swindell gave the Mother Church of Country Music a one-two punch, going straight into the 2016 weeper “You Should Be Here,” which he wrote in honor of his late father. The packed house carried Swindell through the final chorus, armed with their phone flashlights and singing it back to him without missing a beat.
“People ask, ‘How do you get through those songs every night?’ Honestly, it’s because of you guys. You all need to hear it just as much as I do. I know I’m not the only one who’s lost someone I love.” He continued, “For me, country music has always reminded me that I’m not alone. There’s people out there that feel just like I do… I’ve got your back because you’ve had mine for the last ten years.”
Leading in to the last stretch of the setlist, Swindell popped back on stage for his fiery duet “Never Say Never,” with American Idol alum Lauren Alaina filling in for Lainey Wilson. He followed it with a pair of hits from his debut, self-titled album, “Ain’t Worth The Whiskey” and “Let Me See You Girl.”
The avid ’90s country fan broke out into a medley of greatest hits from the celebrated decade of country music, including “Neon Moon” (Brooks & Dunn), “Carrying Your Love With Me” (George Strait), “Pickup Man” (Joe Diffie), “Should’ve Been A Cowboy” (Toby Keith), “Be My Baby Tonight” (John Michael Montgomery) and “Ain’t Going Down (Til The Sun Comes Up)” (Garth Brooks), all leading up to the night’s big finale.
After the stage went dark for a moment, the all too familiar sound of Jo Dee Messina‘s “Heads Carolina, Tails California” came through the speakers, earning a shriek of excitement from the crowd. Swindell blasted off into his 12th No. 1 hit, “She Had Me At Heads Carolina,” which also marks his fastest trip to the top spot at country radio at just 12 weeks. The five-week No. 1 has racked up more than 250 million streams, and was certified Platinum by the RIAA just before the sold out show.
Ahead of the show, the Warner Nashville team also surprised Swindell with a plethora of certifications, including “Single Saturday Night” (Platinum), “Break Up In The End” (2x Platinum), “You Should Be Here” (3x Platinum), his sophomore project You Should Be Here (Platinum) and his third album All of It (Gold).
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