Florida Georgia Line
With Thomas Rhett and Frankie Ballard. 7:30 p.m. Oct. 17. $30.25-$65. Aaron’s Amphitheatre at Lakewood, 2002 Lakewood Way, Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com.
There is no fiddle or steel to be heard when Florida Georgia Line hits the stage. There is, however, lots of electric guitar, rapping, a drum solo and some of the biggest hits in country music from the past three years.
Songs like “Sun Daze,” which hit No. 1 on the country airplay chart in February, the recent top five single “Sippin’ on Fire,” “Dirt,” “Round Here” and “Shine,” the duo’s breakthrough smash, have propelled Florida Georgia Line to country’s pinnacle.
The duo has sold more than 2.5 million copies of its two albums (2012’s “Here’s to the Good Times” and 2014’s “Anything Goes”) and 21 million digital tracks, has been named CMT Artists of the Year two years running and is now packing arenas on its first worldwide headlining tour.
“Since 2012, we’ve caught a massive wave,” Brian Kelley said in a phone interview. “People have gravitated to our music.”
That music has been tagged “bro country,” a sound that’s been derisively dismissed for its far-from-traditional hybrid sound and narrow lyrical focus about back roads, trucks, tailgates, girls and drinking.
Those detractors may not like it. But thousands of others do — and that’s what’s important to Kelley.
“That’s what it’s about, connecting with everybody,” Kelley said. “It’s hard to put a label on it. People like to shout it down. But we’re having a great time, going out and connecting with people. We don’t worry about any of that. Call it what you want. We like what we do.”
What Florida Georgia Line does is fold some rock and hip-hop into its rocking country, with Kelley and partner Tyler Hubbard swapping vocals on songs they, unlike a lot of country stars, wrote.
“We always just had our own sound; we call it the Florida Georgia Line sound,” Kelley said. “There’s nothing calculated about it.”
Florida Georgia Line is also connecting live. Its “Anything Goes” tour (named after its current album and top 15-and-rising single) runs through most of 2015, including an Oct. 17 stop at Aaron’s Amphitheatre at Lakewood.
“It is a hot ticket; a lot of people are showing up,” Kelley said. “If you’ve ever seen us, know that it’s hotter, it’s brighter, it’s bigger and more intense. … It’s go-time, party time.”
Kelley is right about the show being hotter, brighter and bigger. The duo and band use a giant stage with a runway that extends out onto the arena floor. Laser lights and video screens crank up the visuals.
The live shows are also a lucrative good time. Forbes magazine estimates the duo earned $24 million last year, much of it from touring.
Kelley, 29, didn’t start out dreaming of playing arenas and selling millions of albums. A star high school pitcher, he earned a scholarship to Florida State and had visions of throwing in the major leagues.
“That dream kind of ended for me when I didn’t get drafted,” he said, “but I was already thinking I should write songs.”
So Kelley transferred to Nashville’s Belmont University, where a friend from a music composition class introduced him to Hubbard.
“It was immediate,” Kelley said of bonding with Hubbard. “We became best friends, moved in together, started writing songs, drinking together, playing together. We figured out together we were better than on our own.”
The duo started playing Nashville’s ubiquitous songwriter shows in the late summer/early fall of 2009 and almost instantly developed a following, playing to hundreds rather than a couple of dozen in just a few months.
In 2010, the duo met Nickelback producer Joey Moi, who helped put together the band’s second EP, an independently released effort that contained a little song called “Cruise.”
When “Cruise,” now the best-selling digital country single ever, caught on, Florida Georgia Line signed with Republic Nashville, part of the Big Machine label group, whose roster includes Taylor Swift and the Band Perry. Then their wave came in.
The biggest challenge on the way to the top, Kelley said, was surviving the early days on the road.
“I always thought, ‘Once we get on the bus, we’re good,’” Kelley said. “When we were in the stinky van, we weren’t getting any sleep, we couldn’t talk, our voices would be shot. Once we were on the bus, it was all go.”
For the past two years, it’s been go, go, go for Florida Georgia Line, and Kelley quickly confesses to embracing a cliche to describe it.
“I say it every day — it is a dream come true,” he said. “It’s crazy it happened to us, the things we’ve seen and done. It is a dream come true, 100 percent.”