LAS VEGAS --
Although the desert air is dry and no rain was imminent, there were plenty of other liquids lubricating this particular crowd. Is it any wonder that Bryan's current single,
Bryan headlined the first of two nights at the Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas, capping a night of music that offered ACM-nominated newcomers
Concluding the night with to the longest imaginable rendition of
Some might say there were a few party fouls: brief covers of
Along with an in-demand headliner like Bryan, the annual Fremont Street Experience concerts give fans a chance to see up-and-coming talent at no risk. Hey, it's free! And you can just go into a casino if you don't like what you're hearing. But if you're under 21, like McCreery and Hayes, you just can't roll the dice.
Thanks to American Idol, McCreery has already won the jackpot anyway. He led his set with his new single, "Water Tower Town," a slice-of-life tune that sounds destined to be another feel-good hit. In concert, he is making leaps and bounds toward connecting with the crowd, and his rich baritone is nothing but country.
At one point, I had to squint to see if McCreery was singing "Check Yes or No," or if it was just the music bursting out of the casino next to me. The young star likes covers, too. (He won American Idol, after all.) Still, the visual stuck in my mind from McCreery's set is of the scrawny guy next to me nuzzling his generously-sized girlfriend. I'll never hear
Meanwhile, Gilbert infuses his country with a flair for Southern rock and rap. In interviews, he is a man of few words. However, onstage, he seems at ease talking with the people, even if it's as simple as "Make some noise!" and "Are there any rednecks in the house?!"
As a performer, he can draw on his singles
Hayes (who is nominated for in the fan-voted new artist along with McCreery and Gilbert) and Love and Theft (who are up for vocal duo) enjoyed playing for hundreds of curious fans who gathered between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. for the free shows. From where I was standing, Hayes' voice was pretty muffled, but judging from the screaming fans, he was doing something right. (I think he said he met Stevie Wonder, and it was awesome.) Fans cheerfully applauded his breakthrough single,
Love and Theft are on the right track, too. Applause greeted their pop-inflected hits from when they were a trio, such as
The free Fremont Street shows continue on Saturday with headliner