Kane Brown with Walker Hayes and RaeLynn
Blessed & Free Tour
Mohegan Sun Arena
June 4, 2022
Kane Brown’s Blessed & Free Tour came to Uncasville last night for the first of two consecutive shows. Brown’s high-energy, engaging set included most of his big hits, with the newer material providing the most memorable and impactful moments of the very entertaining show.
Brown is unique in and essential to mainstream country music because he can alternate between traditional country, pop, rock, and hip-hop with complete authority and authenticity. This was evident right from the start of the show, which began with a musical interlude no other country artist could pull off. Brown opened with a video montage soundtracked by Drake’s classic hit, “Started From the Bottom,” which works both as a shout-out to Brown’s hard-knocks path to the top and his comfortability with genres beyond country music. The Drake track then shifted into a lonesome whistle from an old school spaghetti western, which served as the opening of “Riot,” one of several unreleased songs performed during the show.
Brown then effortlessly delivered recent hits “Be Like That” and “Cool Again,” and in one of the first big audience participation moments, performed the underrated album cut “Short Skirt Weather” Karaoke-style, with the lyrics projected on a big screen behind him so everyone could sing along. Brown’s fiddle player and lead guitar player were featured prominently throughout the evening, and Brown used the latter to support a stripped-down rendition of “Good as You,” which Brown then escalated into a full arena rock performance that showcased the power of his entire band.
Too often, country artists who draw on multiple influences produce a sound that is watered down. Brown’s musical instincts are stronger than this, and he takes the opposite approach. Country, rock, pop, and hip-hop sounds are presented in their purest form, creating a distinctive contrast that preserves all of the unique elements of each style and presenting them simultaneously. As was shown on stage repeatedly last night, a fiery fiddle solo is just as cool as a ruthless electric guitar solo, and they sound even cooler together.
Brown noted that this was his first time headlining this arena, having been an opening act on previous visits to the venue. He’s still growing into this bigger platform, which was evident in his movement on stage, as he tried to recreate the intimate connection of smaller venues by getting as close to each part of the crowd as he possibly could. He gave birthday shout-outs in response to audience signs, and prefaced “Homesick” by recognizing various attendees who have served in the military.
Brown referenced his own eclectic musical upbringing with a stunning collection of covers in the middle of the show. An a cappella rendition of Blake Shelton’s “Ol’ Red” was followed by a brilliant mashup of Sean Kingston’s “Beautiful Girls” and Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” the latter of which is a perfect fit for Brown’s rich and expressive baritone. As only a child of the nineties and early noughts could do, he seamlessly segued into “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” and “Hot Girl Bummer,” and for all five songs, the entire arena sang along.
At times, Brown’s show felt like a throwback to Shania Twain’s Come On Over tour or the Chicks’ Fly tour, where the biggest and best material was still too new to close out the show. “Like I Love Country Music,” “One Mississippi,” and “Bury Me in Georgia” got the strongest audience reception of the night,” and “Georgia” in particular seems like a signature song just waiting for its breakout moment.
His current single, “Like I Love Country Music,” was another highlight of the evening, with his infectious enthusiasm carrying over to the audience. Hearing this incredibly diverse crowd sing “I love country music!” in united callback to Brown was a moment of transcendent inclusivity, creating a sense of belonging that has felt so absent in mainstream country music over the past twenty years.
Another emotional high point was “Memory,” which he dedicated to anyone who might be suffering from anxiety or depression. The blackbear collaboration shows not only his ability to deliver a pure pop song, but also the increasing depth of his songwriting: “Help me now, I’m running on empty, and I don’t want to be a memory.”
The show closed with “What Ifs,” and during its extended musical outro, Brown spent a significant amount of time signing autographs and taking selfies with audience members lining the stage. The audience was hungry for an encore that didn’t come, so he may want to consider reintroducing the acoustic part of the show as an encore. Brown demonstrated the ability to hold the audience in rapt attention as he sang a cappella or with just one instrument backing him. An encore acoustic set of “Worship You,” “Learning,” and “Whiskey Sour” would’ve been the perfect ending to an already excellent show.
What was evident more than anything else last night is that Kane Brown is an enduring superstar of the genre who is growing exponentially as as singer, performer, and ultimately as an ambassador for all that country music is and what it can potentially be, if the genre is smart enough to follow his lead.
Walker Hayes and RaeLynn opened for Brown, each of them navigating transitional moments in their career. For RaeLynn, “God Made Girls” was the audience highlight, though the crowd was respectful and supportive as she performed less familiar material. Walker Hayes saved his two big hits for the end of his set, frontloading his older singles and giving a lengthy testimonial about finding Jesus through “Craig.” Hayes was clearly an audience draw, but they didn’t fully get on board until “AA,” followed by “Fancy Like” bringing the house down as his closing number.
Kane Brown Set List
- Pull it Off
- Be Like That
- Short Skirt Weather
- Cool Again
- Like I Love Country Music
- Lose It
- Good as You
- One Mississippi
- Ol’ Red (A Cappella)
- Beautiful Girls/Stand By Me
- Crank That (Soulja Boy)
- Hot Girl Bummer
- Famous Friends (with Walker Hayes and RaeLynn)
- Like a Rodeo
- Bury Me in Georgia
- One Thing Right
- What Ifs
There are several videos on YouTube of Kane doing “Hot Girl Bummer” (by blackbear); none of him doing “Hot Girl Summer” (by Megan Thee Stallion). Should that be “Bummer” in the set list above?
Yes, I had that originally but was corrected that it was “Summer,” so now I’m correcting it again back to “Bummer!”
I’m sure I would enjoy a Kane Brown show as he obviously has far more talent than most of his singles have demonstrated (“What Ifs” is a guilty pleasure, and “Like I Love Country Music” is fine except it really needs a faster drum feel in the chorus, but that’s more on the producers). And “Be Like That” was a well-constructed and well-performed pop/R&B single.
But I’m sorry, you’d never catch me at a Walker Hayes performance. “Fancy Like” and “AA” are terrible, and thank goodness his label never treated “Country Stuff” as anything more than a YouTube single because it’s even worse.
I’ve been to a lot of concerts. The crowd reaction to “Fancy Like” was as intense as anything I’ve seen over the years. Some songs are just like that, where they don’t make much sense to people who don’t like them, but the people who do, go crazy over them.
The interesting thing about the Brown show, which I alluded to in my review, is that the newer material is the strongest, but it hasn’t been out long enough yet to close out the show. “Heaven”/”One Thing Right”/”What If” aren’t going to be closing out his shows for much longer, though I understand why they’re in that slot right now. It reminds me of when “You’re Still the One” was in the early part of Shania’s Come On Over tour but was the encore the next time she was on the road.
“Be Like That” is great, but the best pop moment of the night for me was “Memory,” which is a flat out brilliant song. I would’ve enjoyed “Whiskey Sour,” “Leave You Alone,” and “Blessed & Free” being in the setlist too. He’s getting to the point where he has too much good stuff to cover in one set.
He puts on a fantastic show. Though if I hadn’t been reviewing it, I would’ve just shown up for his set, which is why I didn’t write much about Walker Hayes and RaeLynn. Hayes went down very well with the crowd, though, especially with “AA” and “Fancy Like.” He’s going to be mining that vein until it’s completely tapped out.