The concert, which was streamed live on CMT, MTV and VH1, was part of MTV’s Artist to Watch series, and Hayes gave good indication just why we should all pay attention.
Even before he took the stage, the entire room was clapping and chanting his name. As he and his band kicked off their nearly two-hour set with “A Thing About You,” one of several new songs on Encore, the balcony floor was shaking profusely. The screams and foot stomps only grew louder as he played hit single after hit single.
“I’m speechless right now,” Hayes confessed midway through the show. “We’re filling up balconies now. This is really cool. This may sound a bit cheesy, but happy Encore day! You don’t know how special it is to spend this night with you.”
The minute the opening chords were played to his debut single “Storm Warning,” the entire venue erupted in screams. This happened each and every time he played a single he released to radio, with No. 1 hit “Wanted” having the most deafening yells.
Related: Hunter Hayes talks “Wanted”
While the energetic tracks kept the crowd on their feet it was the slower ballads that showcased the 21-year-old’s musicianship. Bluesy ballad “Rainy Season” demonstrated Hayes’ impressive guitar skills and brought to mind John Mayer with his soaring guitar interlude at the track’s close.
Gearing up for his second headlining tour, Hayes told the audience he was happy that the longer sets allowed him to play fan favorites that he has put on hold, like “If You Told Me To.”
“Dear heavens I miss playing this song,” he admitted. “I’ve gotten a few requests for this one, and I’d be stoked if you sing along.”
And the crowd did, word for word.
“I’m naturally very shy, very awkward. It happens,” he confessed before explaining his next song, “Everybody’s Got Somebody But Me.” A track written after his circle of friends grew bigger as they started bringing their significant others around, he got his point across with lyrics like, “Sitting here lonely at a table for two, watching lovers being lovers in the corner booth/Seems like Cupid doesn’t even know what to do/Everybody’s got somebody but me.”
Some have cited Hayes as the Justin Bieber of country, and it was easy to see why. The venue was filled to capacity with girls who were decked out in Hunter Hayes T-shirts, cowboy boots, and hats and who continuously screamed, “I love you Hunter!” Hunter would then reply, “I love you more. I promise.”
Hayes’ talent is undeniable, though. He wrote and played every instrument on Encore, which is an expanded version of his self-titled major-label debut, released in 2011. He’s also written for Rascal Flatts, not to mention having shared the stage with Stevie Wonder during the ACM Awards.
Tracks like the powerful “In A Song”–another of the new ones on Encore–struck a chord as Hayes explained that he wrote it at 11pm one night in the back of his tour bus when he was feeling depressed. With sweeping piano parts and heartfelt lyrics, he showed his sensitive side. The fitting “Faith to Fall Back On” followed suit, before the show’s opening act, Ashley Monroe of the Pistol Annies, shared the mic on beautiful ballad “What You Gonna Do” (the two are also featured on a new duet version of the song on Encore).
While the night was full of screams, it was set closer and crowd favorites “Wanted,” “Love Makes Me,” and current single “I Want Crazy” that hinted at Hayes’ star power. As he climbed the stairs to the piano at the top of the stage, the energy in the room skyrocketed. Between his musical talent and the passion of his growing fanbase, Hayes is without a doubt a young artist well worth watching.
Encore is available now on iTunes.
– Annie Reuter, Radio.com