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Luke Bryan talks love, acceptance and his growing depth before Tampa stop

Artist Luke Bryan performs at the 2018 CMA Music Festival at Nissan Stadium on Sunday, June 10, 2018 in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Laura Roberts/Invision/AP)
Artist Luke Bryan performs at the 2018 CMA Music Festival at Nissan Stadium on Sunday, June 10, 2018 in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Laura Roberts/Invision/AP)
Published Jun. 20, 2018

It's been awhile since Luke Bryan crashed our party. The country music superstar who has racked up awards hasn't blessed us 'round these parts in awhile. Bryan last played Tampa back in 2015.

"We played many multiple nights at the (MidFlorida Credit Union) Amphitheatre. So we decided to take a year or two off and come back in a big way, and play the football stadium," said Bryan.

Saturday marks the 41-year-old's biggest show here, this time at Raymond James Stadium, and he's playing 10 more stadiums during his 40-plus-stop tour. And he's sure earned it. With 20 No. 1 hits, the opportunity to sing the National Anthem at this year's Superbowl, and a judging gig on ABC's American Idol reboot, Bryan is ready to show Tampa a good time.

Because that's what Bryan is all about.

Pop music found its way into country over the last few years, mostly thanks to this guy. With charming swagger, he blended rap and R&B into his party anthems. He bonded with bros over brewskies, and made all the country girls shake it.

But the family man and father of two who also cares for the children of his late sister and brother-in-law has an emotional side, too. His new song Most People Are Good, his second single off his new album What Makes You Country, reminds fans to see the beauty in humanity.

Before his concert, we talked with the country hunk, who was chillin' at his beach house in the Florida panhandle.

Kenny Chesney just played Raymond James Stadium in April. He even filmed his music video with tailgaters. Any plans to mingle?

You never know where I may show up! You know I've always gotta try to one up Kenny. Nah, I'm playin'!

How was your Father's Day?

We were at our beach house. We got a bunch of oysters and shucked and ate them on the beach. We had a great day.

You're the king of Bro Country, but your newer stuff leans a little more wholesome Dad Country. You were one of the first to blend other genres into country, and now more artists, like your tourmate Sam Hunt, are proving that categories don't matter to fans. Why do you think that is?

As music and society evolve, the ways we are able to access entertainment is in the palm of our hands. Country music is in the mix with all forms of music. I think my generation grew up listening to every type of music possible. … I listened to all forms, and I think that's showing up in modern country. I think a lot of boundaries are going away. ... I get up there each night and sing songs, and I see my fans smiling. That's what I always said I would do, however you want to classify it. As I grow older, my music will evolve, too. That doesn't mean I won't do the party songs. I don't think Jimmy Buffett chugs margaritas like he used to in his 30s, but that doesn't mean he's going to stop doing Margaritaville. The thing for me is just to try to go with my gut on my music. And at the end of my career, hopefully I'll have a diverse well-rounded body of work. You know, I didn't flip out over every George Strait song he put out. But I was always a fan of his. And when he put out one I really, really loved, I couldn't get enough of it. I think that's kind of the way country music is. Sometimes you have to experiment with other sounds. If the fans don't like it, they're still your fans and they're loyal. And you just gotta keep the fans happy, and keep yourself as an artist happy.

You're competing with Pride weekend here. Your song Most People Are Good has a nod to LGBTQ acceptance: "I believe you love who you love / Ain't nothing you should ever be ashamed of." Is it important to open up to that audience?

That line in that song certainly insinuates that. But in my opinion, it insinuates many levels of acceptance of relationships. The beauty of that line in that song is that it can be taken however you want to. With me, I don't separate any groups from enjoying themselves at a concert of mine. I don't get wrapped up in the side of judging people. My opinion is, don't hurt children and be a good person. I want you to come to my show and have the best time of your life. … It's a broad line (in Most People Are Good) with a huge, huge meaning, which is always very important in making, hopefully, great music.

That song definitely has a message. Drink A Beer got me a little teary. You're the party dude, but you've got some depth, too.

I think if you're a one-dimensional artist who just puts out love songs, then you're going to hit your ceiling as an artist. I want to be the party guy, the guy that guys want to drink beers with, and that the girls think he's good lookin'. It would be silly for me to try to be just one-dimensional. Certainly I've talked about trucks and hunting, but then I've talked about loss and death, and humanity with Most People Are Good. My current single Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset is obviously about the summer, but also about nostalgic young love. When you get into your career, and been blessed with 20-plus No. 1's, you've had to be diverse or you wouldn't have gotten to this point. You have to keep surprising people with your abilities and talents.

Music is cathartic. What are your favorite sad songs?

I've always got songs. When you look at a song like When He Stopped Loving Her Today (by George Jones) ... Everybody loves a good sad song that you can put on late at night, maybe have a drink of whiskey. But like I said, people don't want to hear three hours of that. I mean, how many times can you watch Marley & Me?

I'm a newbie to country. It was banned in my house growing up, but now I'm all in. I have a lot to catch up on. Who are some classics?

With me, I'm always going to steer you to Conway Twitty, Ronny Milsap, Earl Thomas Conley, Alabama, Shenandoah, Alan Jackson.

I just saw Alan Jackson a couple months ago. Didn't know any of the songs, but I sure had fun!

The beauty of country music is that it evolves with its listeners. But Alan Jackson is the only Alan Jackson and I'm the only me. And hopefully I can continue this ride as long as I can. And let people have a blast.

Contact Brittany Volk at bvolk@tampabay.com. Follow @bevolk.