Florida Georgia Line excites the ‘party people’ of Champaign

Country fans gathered at State Farm Center on Saturday night, clad in their cowboy boots and plaid shirts.

“Illinois, where’s our country folks at tonight?” Tyler Hubbard of Florida Georgia Line said as he opened Saturday night’s concert. As a strictly country music fan, I came into the concert with high expectations and knowing I would enjoy the music. Needless to say, Florida Georgia Line did not let me down.

Florida Georgia Line, who won awards from the Academy of Country Music Awards and at the CMT Music Awards this year, has been on tour with country singer Luke Bryan all year. They headlined at the University’s State Farm Center Saturday night, singing to an audience full of country fans ready to sing along with the music.

The two opening acts were country singers Dallas Smith and Colt Ford. During Dallas Smith’s set, it seemed like the backstage crew was still trying to get the lighting working properly, as the crowd was blinded every few seconds by flashing lights coming from the stage.

While it seemed like not many audience members knew the original songs on Smith’s set list, their excitement visibly grew as he began playing covers of more popular songs, including “Fast Cars and Freedom,” by Rascal Flatts. The crowd responded by dancing and singing with the music.

The second opening act was Colt Ford, who began his set by encouraging the audience to get on their feet. However, after his first song, many audience members were back in their chairs. Ford can be best categorized as a hip-swinging, sunglasses-indoors, country rap artist. As an audience member who came expecting to hear country music, I was disappointed by both Ford’s musical style and on-stage presence. Many times, he pulled the microphone away from his mouth, almost seeming to accompany his own songs. He sang a few songs that he assumed the audience would know (they didn’t), and then ended the performance with “Dirt Road Anthem,” which was written by Brantley Gilbert and Ford but was popularized by Jason Aldean.

Right when the lights went off in preparation for Florida Georgia Line, almost everyone in State Farm Center was back on their feet, myself included.

Hubbard and his best friend Brian Kelley make up Florida Georgia Line. The duo began with “It’s Just What We Do.” From the beginning, both Hubbard and Kelley brought all of their energy and gave a great performance.

Hubbard and Kelley made many alcohol references during their performance, and both of them took a swig of something that looked like whiskey while on-stage, setting the tone for the rest of the concert as one giant party. Later on, Hubbard announced that State Farm Center was “about to have the biggest party of the year in Champaign!”

Some of the band’s songs, such as “Tip it Back,” are about drinking and going out with friends, and before beginning “Tip it Back,” Hubbard told the audience to tip back their flasks. Although flasks are forbidden in State Farm Center, many audience members complied.

“Well, you know what, Champaign? I gotta be honest for a second,” Hubbard said. “We’ve been waiting all week for this night right here.”

Kelley and Hubbard mentioned their love for the city of Champaign a lot during their performance. They never missed a chance to give the audience a boost of excitement when they substituted some lyrics in their songs with the words “Illinois” or “Champaign.”

Toward the middle of its concert, Florida Georgia Line brought Colt Ford back out to show off his dance moves. Hubbard joked that Colt Ford taught Luke Bryan how to dance.

The concert was also visually appealing. During the performance, videos played behind the band on a large screen. During “Here’s To The Good Times,” pictures of Hubbard and Kelley throughout the years flashed on the screen. As they performed “Get Your Shine On,” clips from their music video played in the background.

Florida Georgia Line sang portions of other artist’s songs, too, such as Bruno Mars, Akon and Nelly, which was met by wild cheering from their fans. When they found it was a front-row audience member’s birthday, they sang 50 Cent’s “It’s your Birthday.” As members of the audience sang along with these covers, it was apparent that the crowd loved it when they recognized the songs.

To prepare the crowd for the song “Get Your Shine On,” Hubbard and Kelley told them to take out their cellphones and lighters, and they dedicated the song to the moonshine drinkers of Champaign. The center lit up and Hubbard said that “the party is just getting started.”

During their encore, the band ended the concert with one of their most popular songs, “Cruise.” They played the remix version, which featured Nelly on the screen behind them.

Kelley and Hubbard gave an entertaining show for the country music fans at the University. Running around the stage, shaking hands with everyone in the front row and throwing T-shirts into the audience, the duo threw a memorable party.

“I see so many smiling faces; so many happy people,” Hubbard said. “This is why we do this, Illinois.”

Olivia is a junior in Media. She can be reached at [email protected]