Thomas Rhett brings his country pop charm to a sold-out Iowa State Fair crowd
Country Artist Thomas Rhett backstage at the CMA Music Fest Nashville Tennessean
Thomas Rhett can’t stop smiling.
He smiles as he takes the stage to a sold out crowd in Des Moines. And again when he sings "Happy Birthday" to a fan turning 21. And he smiles brightest as he stands behind an acoustic guitar, letting his fans sing the chorus to a hip-swaying love song.
Who can blame him, really?
The country pop star spent his summer playing main support on Kenny Chesney's stadium tour, co-hosting ABC's CMA Fest special and watching his third studio album, "Life Changes" go Platinum.
And, on Wednesday night, he played to a sold-out Iowa State Fair Grandstand crowd of 15,775, the largest the fair’s seen in 24 years.
He's got plenty to smile about.
"Why can’t everybody else be like y’all?" Rhett said, thanking his Iowa audience. "That’s what I’m wondering."
Life changin' hits
Rhett performed Wednesday in support of his his latest studio effort, "Life Changes," the 2017 No. 1 charting Billboard 200 album.
He stayed true to the new music during his set, with eight of the night's 17 tracks coming from "Life Changes," including set opener "Leave Right Now" and fan favorites "Marry Me" and "Unforgettable."
Backed by a six-piece band, Rhett brought a distinct charisma to the stage. He's an energetic entertainer ready to dance when a song like "T-Shirt" demands it, but he's also unafraid to step back — like during "Star of the Show" — and let his audience lead the singalong.
Rhett covers Justin Timberlake and Garth Brooks during his set probably because his music feels a bit like both without leaning too much into one or the other. The nostalgic pop chorus of "Craving You" could be played next to a modern Taylor Swift, while each verse in "Sixteen" feels at home in an arena-sized country show.
And people love it.
Chants of "Thomas" could be heard before "It Goes Like This," echoing from the Grandstand's newly renovated standing room only pit — a country star with a fan base rabid enough for pop fame.
"I cannot explain to you what this feels like, (when you) sing our songs back to us," Rhett said. "It's spiritual, in a strange way. ... Just great people and great fans."
Danielle Bradbery, a Rhett collaborator and previous winner of NBC's "The Voice," opened the show with a 45-minute set featuring tracks such as "Sway," "The Heart of Dixie" and a cover of Carrie Underwood's "Last Name."
Friends in ... Knoxville?
Rhett's playful with his audience, jumping from the stage to give the front row high fives during "Vacation" and singing "Happy Birthday" to a pair of lucky fans during the show's midway point.
But the best of these moments came when Rhett pulled a fan on stage, identified as Nate from Knoxville, to sing "Friends in Low Places" with him.
It's a concert tradition, Rhett joked, that started when Ashton Kutcher joined him on stage in 2016 to sing the famed Brooks number at Kinnick Stadium.
"That night ... we started this tradition and we find people in the crowd who look like they're having a great time," Rhett explained.
And Nate did his job, landing every word to the first verse of 1990s anthem (Bonus points for having Rhett give the crowd a nice "Go Hawks!" chant).
It goes ... without an encore
Rhett started bringing his set to close by hopping behind the drum kit during a playful rendition of "Vacation" before returning to the guitar for 2015's "Die a Happy Man," the night's penultimate number.
"Iowa, I will never forget this night for as long as I freakin' live," Rhett said before the song's final chorus.
He and the band closed with "Crash and Burn," the country chart-topper from 2015. Rhett wouldn't return for an encore, the missing piece from an otherwise entertaining 80-minute set.
"I love y'all so much," he said, waving goodbye. "Have a safe trip home."
Thomas Rhett setlist
- Leave Right Now
- Get Me Some Of That
- Make Me Wanna/Suit and Tie (Justin Timberlake cover)
- Craving You
- Star of the Show
- Friends In Low Places (Garth Brooks cover)
- Life Changes
- It Goes Like This
- Marry Me
- Die A Happy Man
- Crash and Burn