By Lora Kaelber Special to Published Jul 27, 2015 at 9:26 AM

I know. I like country music. I am a fan of country music. Heck, I’m a huge fan of Luke Bryan’s. So it might not seem to carry a lot of weight when I say Luke Bryan killed it at Country Thunder in Twin Lakes on Sunday. But man, he just totally did.

It’s so much more than the fact that he’s an outstanding performer. Or that he’s an extremely talented musician (tonight he played the piano and the guitar). Or that his voice is genuine, sweet, raunchy, deep, rich and washes over you no matter what he’s singing. Luke Bryan not only knows his stuff; he knows his audience.

His opening was a crazy mix of lights and sound with a pre-recorded song which was straight up hip-hop with absolutely no country in it, but the crowd still went nuts. The second pre-record was heavy on the metal-ish side of rock. When he finally took the stage, the crowd was so ready for his brand of country, the cheers were deafening.

He took my breath away. And that was just the first song. By all accounts, Luke Bryan’s on fire. He’s certainly kickin’ up the dust with his current tour of the same name. Still, coming into his concert on Sunday night at Country Thunder, I was totally curious whether this dude who’s selling out stadiums across the country would be able to get people into the Thunder Bowl after four straight days of partying and a bro-country heavy lineup. And if did, could keep them there?

Me of little faith.

It took a little while for the dusty, Thunder Bowl to fill up on Sunday. Lots of campers rolled out in the morning. But by the time Bryan took the stage, it was absolutely packed – a loose estimate of at least 30,000 people turned out. It’s a coveted spot to close the festival, but still, you have to be, well, you have to be Luke Bryan to do it and do it right.

How did he do it right? Well, to start with, he played his hits. He gave the crowd what they wanted to hear. He grooved (that boy has hips that just won’t quit). He put his party on, at one point bringing a girl on stage to do a tequila shot with Dustin Lynch and himself.

Oh right, did I mention he had Dustin Lynch come back on stage and do a mind-blowing version of Maroon 5’s "Sugar"? No? Well, he did.

What else? He was silly. He’s not a guy who’s afraid to laugh at himself. He ate dirt in the middle of the concert trying to get down the embankment from stage to the front row. And you could hear him laughing the whole time. In that same moment, he found a cowboy hat with a GIANT raccoon tail attached. He ran up on stage with the hat on his head and the coon tail flying out behind him. Bryan just started running in circles and laughing hysterically. Okay, once again, there’s probably missing something in the telling. But at the very least, you can see why it’s funny: a hot, 30-something dude who isn’t afraid to let out his inner silly, wild child. That’s hot.

I’m not sure why I’ve been amazed by the number of songs the headliners at Country Thunder have put in their set lists, but I have been. Tonight, Luke Bryan gave his audience 22 songs – some of them extended versions. One hour and 50 minutes later, the crowd still wanted more. It felt like Bryan still wanted to give it. But all good things must always come to an end.

But. Before the stage went dark, Bryan pulled a rabbit out of his hat. He walked out the runway, halfway body surfed his way to the sound board, climbed up the lighting tower and sang "Country Girl Shake It for Me" to the thousands outside of reserved seating. After that, he came back to the runway, shook up beers and sprayed the audience. (I got hit in the forehead and almost died. I mean, Luke Bryan’s beer hit me in the forehead. I may never wash again!).

It wouldn’t be a complete review without mentioning Bryan’s band. What a phenomenally talented group of guys. Sweet, sweet fiddle. Exceptional drummer. Dazzling guitars. Excellent keyboards. Plus Bryan himself, who played both guitar and piano, giving him the ability to go acoustical on-call.

How can you not love a guy who’s sponsored by Miller Lite and Cabela’s? It’s like he’s a Wisconsinite. He gets us.

At age 19, Bryan was on his way to a career in country music when his brother Chris died. After that, Luke Bryan stayed home, went to college in Georgia, met his bride to be and started working for the family business. It was only after his dad stepped in and told Luke he was going to fire him if he didn’t go to Nashville that Luke went.

He started out writing songs for greats like Travis Tritt. He picked up his record contract in 2006 and dropped his first album in 2007. After that the hits have kept on coming: two double platinum albums, one platinum album, two gold albums and a dozen or so number one singles. Plus, he’s the ACM and CMA Entertainer of the Year.

He realizes, though, that success is fickle. Recently, Luke told Billboard that "[s]o many people get record deals in Nashville and they don’t ever get an album. So I just hang on to the positive and wake up every day grinding."

Bryan’s life hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. In 2007, Bryan also lost his older sister, Kelly. In November 2014, his brother-in-law died unexpectedly. Bryan and his wife, Caroline have lovingly taken in their nephew, Til and welcomed his two older sisters whenever they need a place to land.

Seriously, I wish Luke Bryan could have played all night. He was just freaking great. And he’s a nice guy to boot.




Set list:
"Kick the Dust Up"
"All My Friends Say"
"Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye"
"Roller Coaster"
"Play It Again"
"Sugar" (Maroon 5 cover with Dustin Lynch)
"Mountain Music" (Alabama cover)
"I'm Much Too Young" (Garth Brooks cover)
"My Next Broken Heart" (Brooks & Dunn cover)
"Faithfully" (Journey cover)
"Crash My Party"
"Someone Else Calling You Baby"
"This Is How We Roll"
"Do I"
"Drink a Beer"
Drunk on You"
Rain Is a Good Thing"
I See You"
I Don’t Want This Night to End/Dynamite" (opened with a country-fied version of Daft Punk's "Get Lucky")

"That’s My Kind of Night"
"Country Girl Shake It For Me"

Lora Kaelber Special to
Moving to Milwaukee in 1998, Lora quickly adapted to and embraced big city living. A graduate of Carthage College and Marquette University Law School, Lora clerked for the Hon. Diane Sykes at the Wisconsin Supreme Court, worked as a litigator in private practice, and most recently was employed as a development officer for the MACC Fund.

In all of her experiences, time was focused on writing which has been a passion since junior high school. A series of food service industry jobs both before and after law school taught her that bringing out the human side in any story is key to great storytelling and good writing.

A die-hard east side girl, you'll usually find Lora down by the lake or on the Oakleaf. She's an avid photographer, and sometimes storm chaser.

Hobbies include biking, gardening, cross country skiing, swimming, blogging, and of course working on her fictionalized autobiography--fictionalized, because whose life is really interesting enough to fill 400 pages?

She's in IMDb. Look her up.