Florida Georgia Line @ John Paul Jones Arena (Charlottesville)

As a songwriting duo, Florida Georgia Line stands tall as one of the most accomplished hit-makers in 21st-century country music. For the better part of the last decade, the powerhouse team of Tyler Hubbard, Brian Kelley, and Canadian record producer Joey Moi has proved an unstoppable force, inescapable both on country music radio and party playlists the world over. Not surprisingly, the onstage spectacle this past Friday, at a venue as massive as the John Paul Jones Arena at the University of Virginia, succeeded in carrying across every last drop the genuine fun-loving spirit that made FGL so lovable in the first place.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the band’s opening lineup for the 2016-2017 Dig Your Roots Tour consists of a wide variety of reputable country stars, both up-and-coming and already well established. The vast majority of the 15,000-person crowd turned out early to see Dustin Lynch, Chris Lane, and even local newcomer Seth Ennis, and later on, after each set, lines for meet & greets stretched hundreds deep around the arena’s curving hallway.

When the duo finally appeared on the vast arena stage, backing band and all, the performance immediately took on larger-than-life proportions. There really is nothing else quite like hearing the ultra-clean opening guitar riff to “This Is How We Roll” pierce through the din of thousands of concertgoers as flamethrowers rear up on the edge of the stage to hurl bursts of fire into the air. As gargantuan visuals of tricked-out eighteen wheelers flicker onto the background projection screen, smiles are lighting up around the arena, and then the first rolling, effervescent wave of screaming, whooping, cheering. Fans clamor back to their seats, drinks in hand. Young sons and daughters are raised onto the shoulders of parents and older siblings. From the opening lines (“The mix-tape’s got a little Hank, little Drake . . .”), there’s the echo of audience members singing every word.

It must be noted here that, simply put, Florida Georgia Line lacks filler. There are legions of artists who have tried to make albums full of singles – FGL is one of the rare few to have actually pulled off this elusive feat. The audience’s familiarity with their material, three album’s worth of it, never fades. There may be slow songs, but, remarkably, they’re still hits, sing-alongs. In fact, since the beginning of their career, the duo has no doubt accrued enough radio singles to last a show twice the allotted time, if not more. By the end of the concert, they’re even going so far as to pay homage to their childhood influences, from Toby Keith to Papa Roach to the Backstreet Boys. This last one is cleverly used to introduce the stadium Smooth Tour, which begins this summer alongside the Backstreet Boys themselves, Chris Lane, and Nelly.

The unquestionable highlight of their party anthem-heavy show, however, was an acoustic set. Distracting the audience with a massive projector screen ‘come-up’ video of sorts (the two filling up at a gas station in the middle of nowhere, sitting side by side riffing on the Florida/Georgia fusion band name, etc.), the boys snuck out to what was essentially a perfect recreation of their “God, Your Mama, and Me” music video: an elevated platform way out in the middle of the crowd, a real-life campfire burning on a circular stone fire pit, three trees on the corners of the stage, glowing white lights hanging low between them. An all-white piano shone on one side of the rectangle, and sure enough, after winding through “Dirt” and a gratifying medley of “Dayum, Baby”, “Hell Raisin’ Heat Of The Summer”, and “Here’s To The Good Times”, the duo hit their stride with “H.O.L.Y”, their biggest hit since 2012’s (Diamond-certified) megahit “Cruise”. For those sitting way back in audience, the sing-alongs that followed were pure heaven.

Check out some of the sights of the show below, and be sure to catch on FGL on the upcoming Smooth Tour. You won’t regret it.

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