Hunter Hayes gets played on country radio, but his songs have little in common with traditional country music. A talented singer, songwriter and musician, at 22 he appears ready to navigate one of the toughest of crossovers: getting played on country and Top 40/pop radio.
Friday night, Hayes performed before a nearly full Midland theater, the first night of a two-show stand in Kansas City and the final two shows of this tour. He confessed he was a bit under the weather, with vocal fatigue, but that barely showed during a set that lasted close to two hours.
He played almost all of his album, the platinum-selling “Hunter Hayes,” starting with “Storm Warning,” his first country hit. Many of Hayes’ fans are female. His looks have something to do with that, especially his thick mop of hair, but so does his music. He writes catchy songs about romance and love, the kinds that woo young girls and young women and their mothers, too. (There were several families in the crowd.)
One of those catchy songs is “Rainy Season,” a pretty ballad about a relationship sailing through rough waters. Rendered on guitar and piano, it sounds like something from John Mayer. Or the Fray.
So did much of the rest of his material, songs like “Cry With You.” It’s a midtempo ballad about being there when your partner is down and out, much like Coldplay’s “Fix You,” which it resembles: “You’re not alone/I’ll listen ’till your tears give out/You’re safe and sound/I swear that I won’t let you down.”
Hayes can write a fetching pop tune, like “Everybody’s Got Somebody But Me,” a catchy song with a bright mood that defies its message: “I miss you / Without you I don’t fit in.” (That one sounds a bit like “Haven’t Met You Yet” by Michael Buble, whose voice Hayes can approximate once in a while.) And he can veer into pop/R, as on “A Thing About You,” which sounds pulled from Maroon 5’s catalog.
Part of his set was delivered unplugged, including “If You Told Me To,” during which two of his bandmates accompanied him on mandolin and resonator guitar, giving it a country-blues feel. He mashed that with “Somebody Like You,” by Keith Urban, another country star whose music ignores boundaries.
Hayes is a polished, energetic performer, yet his act doesn’t feel canned. All night he engaged a crowd that was in the mood for a good time.
For his encore, he brought out his opener, the equally young and talented Ashley Monroe, and they sang “What You Gonna Do,” their duet on the “Hunter Hayes” album. And he closed with “I Want Crazy,” another sweet pop tune with a hard groove.
Before the encore, he sang the piano ballad “Wanted,” an ode to love and commitment: “I wanna to make you feel wanted / I wanna call you mine.” Last year, that song cracked charts outside country music (pop, adult-contemporary) — a first for Hayes. No doubt it won’t be the last.Set list
Storm Warning; Can’t Say Love; Faith to Fall Back On; Rainy Season; I’m Yours; Somebody’s Heartbreak; A Thing About You; Love Makes Me; Cry With You; All You Ever; In a Song; If You Told Me To / Somebody Like You; Everybody’s Got Somebody But Me; More Than I Should; Where We Left Off; Wanted; Light Me Up; Better Than This.Encore: What You Gonna Do (with Ashley Monroe); I Want Crazy.