By Jimmy Carlton Sportswriter Published Jun 30, 2017 at 5:17 AM Photography: David Bernacchi

Four songs into his grinning, stomping, hip-shaking, beer-drinking, high-energy bumping set at the American Family Insurance Amphitheater on Thursday night, a sweaty, smiling, fist-pumping and endearingly fratty Luke Bryan took off his ball cap, looked out on the smitten crowd and said, "Summerfest, Milwaukee! What is this, my fourth year in a row? I need a damn street named after me!"

Indeed, the country music superstar has become a Summerfest staple, selling out all three of his previous headlining acts. He hasn’t released a new album since 2015’s "Kill the Lights" and evidently understands that audiences will turn out simply to see him play his hits and charismatically control the stage. I attended and covered last year’s Luke Bryan amphitheater show, and, well, let's just say he followed the same blueprint this time around.

But why fix it if it ain’t broke, Bryan would probably say in his Georgia twang. He knows why people come to his concerts – and they’ve come loyally, and in droves, in Milwaukee – and he gives them all they could want as a fun-loving, entertaining showman.

At 9:10 p.m., following a funky and upbeat performance by opener Brothers Osborne, Bryan went on stage and began in trademark style. Before the curtain was even lifted, as the beating bass of "Move" started pounding, a silhouetted figure could be seen behind a screen gyrating, swaying and wiggling his hips, to the raucous delight of the crowd (especially those in cowboy boots). Following "Move," a beaming Bryan, wearing a black hat, black T-shirt and tight light-wash jeans, purred loudly into the mic – a sound effect that would be a theme throughout the night – and asked how Milwaukee was doing.

"It means the world to me that I get to come up here and party with you guys," he said. "Thank you so much."

After declaring that this was his kind of night, Bryan launched into "That’s My Kind of Night," which included discharges of fire from the stage he pretended to warm his hands with and that noticeably heated the amphitheater.

Next was one of Bryan’s signature country anthems, "Kick the Dust Up," the lead single off his 2015 album, and then the ingenuously simple "Rain Is a Good Thing," which had the singer at his magnetic best – glowing, dancing, flirting, pointing at fans in the pit, twirling around goofily and being utterly charming. Especially during the more, um, genre-obedient songs – and I felt this way watching him last year too – Bryan seems to know some of his lyrics are kind of dumb ("Rain makes corn, corn makes whiskey, Whiskey makes my baby, feel a little frisky). But through sheer force of personality, and playing the country-boy character the way he does, he sells them and none of us seem to mind, as we belt out the words right along with him.

But then, just as effortlessly as he swaggers around the stage singing into a microphone, Bryan reminds you why he’s as successful as he is: Besides the looks and charisma ("his teeth are so white!" and "I wonder how much he gets paid to purr" were two things said by the girl sitting next to me), the dude can play music. At various times throughout the set, Bryan skillfully strummed the guitar – at one point battling the impossibly gifted banjo player in his band – and tickled the piano keys, including for the slowed-down "Play It Again," which, after letting the audience join in, he said was "the best it’s ever sounded." Kudos, Milwaukee!

As a stage performer, Bryan alternates between sincere Southern patriot and beer-chugging good ol’ boy. While he doesn’t seem to have pre-prepared material, his crowd banter has the sound and feel of a stand-up comedian. After asking if it was too early to take a shot, being loudly encouraged – what the hell – to do it and toasting to Summerfest, Bryan stopped to salute not only the military, but also police, firefighters, the festival security guards and other law enforcement. Then he plunged, happily, into improv persona.

"Where my schoolteachers at?" he said, rousing a sizable cheer from the local summers-off educators, before doing an impression. "'I’m tired of these damn kids; I’m getting drunk tonight!'"

Bryan continued: "Oh, this is good stuff. Has it even been warm here yet? I flew in today and I was like, there ain’t one damn boat on the lake. You’re all wearing North Faces; I gotta get y’all down to Georgia."

With that, he moved into the softer stuff, from "Crash My Party," one of his most popular melodic songs, to "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye" and then "Fast," an ode to his college sweetheart and wife that included adorable old photos of Bryan showing on the video board behind him.

Then, it was time for Party Luke to come back out, and during "Drunk on You," as he sang "Girl, you make my speakers go boom boom," Summerfest’s Big Bang fireworks – delayed because of Wednesday’s rainstorms – went boom boom, lighting up the sky northeast of the amphitheater and adding to the spectacle.

When it was time to play "All My Friends Say," Bryan brought out an American flag-adorned cooler and started tossing Miller Lites out to the audience, playfully asking if this was Packers country ("Wooo!") or Bears country ("Booo!"). After busting out a bottle of tequila and taking another shot with Brothers Osborne and his band, Bryan went into full-on jam-out mode, which he called karaoke. He started with a crowd-pleasing rendition of "Sweet Caroline," then took the phone of a girl in the front row, pretending to look through her texts and pictures, before using it ostensibly to search the lyrics of Flo Rida’s "My House" and then The Chainsmokers’ hit "Closer."

Pivoting again to earnest Bryan, he sang "Drink a Beer" – acoustic with no supporting instrumentals – and dedicated it to anyone who’s lost someone close to them, as a guy near me wiped away tears. Then came the inevitable "Huntin', Fishin' And Lovin' Every Day" and "I Don't Want This Night To End," which included Bryan telling the crowd he didn’t want this night to end and dedicating the song to Summerfest.

Finally, after an hour and 45 minutes, Bryan concluded his show with "Country Girl (Shake It For Me)," which enabled him to wiggle his hips, drink a Miller Lite and throw more brews out to his adoring fans. Bryan’s official final song was Guns N’ Roses’ "Paradise City," though he didn’t do as much singing as he did laughing, dancing and dousing the pit with beer, before walking off stage to entirely expected, and well-deserved, thunderous applause. 


"That's My Kind of Night"
"Kick the Dust Up"
"Rain Is a Good Thing"
"Crash My Party"
"Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye"
"Drunk On You"
"Roller Coaster"
"All My Friends Say"
"Country Man"
"Play It Again"
"Sweet Caroline" (cover)
"Welcome To My House" (cover)
"Closer" (cover)
"Strip It Down"
"Drink a Beer"
"Huntin', Fishin' And Lovin' Every Day"
"I Don't Want This Night to End"
"Country Girl (Shake It For Me)"

Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.

After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.

Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.