Hunter Hayes' enthusiasm won't dull
Hunter Hayes is buzzing. The country phenom is talking up his current tour, and he sounds like a kid telling you how great a time he had at his birthday party.
His youthful enthusiasm is endearing. His "Tattoo (Your Name)" tour marks his first arena outing, and his excitement about performing live is still honest and fresh. "I get on stage and I'm thrilled. Why hide that?" says the 23-year-old, on the phone last week from Milwaukee. "I want people to see — not know because I told them — but I want them to see, from the moment they walk in the room to the moment they walk out, how excited I am about my show."
Maybe it's all a put-on — the Louisiana native has been in show business since he was 4 years old — but his passion seems genuine. His tour hits the Palace of Auburn Hills on Saturday.
The show is more than two years in the making, its roots dating back to a Coldplay concert Hayes saw in Atlanta in summer 2012.
On that tour, Coldplay was utilizing LED wristbands that, through the use of radio frequencies, lit up at various points in the show and synchronized with the music. The effect brought fans into the show in a way that had never been done before, and also made arena crowds light up like a Christmas tree.
Hayes loved what he saw and wanted to integrate the wristbands into his own show. But he wanted to take the technology a step further: "The experience I had at that show was fantastic," says Hayes, "but I wanted it to be even more breathtaking."
Hayes' show ups the ante. Through the use of an app, the wristbands interact with Hayes and change as the show progresses. A proximity feature makes certain devices flip colors when Hayes is near, and bands behave differently depending on what information users share through the app. "Every day we're using a new feature on these wristbands," says Hayes. "It's magic. It's really cool, man."
Hayes, whose fans are dubbed Hayniacs, got his flare for showmanship from Garth Brooks, whom he saw perform in Baton Rouge when he was 6 years old. He recently caught the country megastar on his comeback tour and found Brooks' zeal for performance hadn't dulled. "I see him as one of the best entertainers that exists, period," Hayes says. "You go to a Garth show and you experience something special. I've literally modeled my show after that."
The only child of parents of Cajun descent, Hayes was appearing on television talk shows as a child talent before he was in kindergarten and performed for former President Bill Clinton at a White House lawn party when he was seven. ("I think he's pretty great!" Clinton said of the youngster at the time.) By 19, he had signed a record deal, and in 2011 — the same year as his self-titled debut album was released — he was opening shows for Taylor Swift.
Hayes was nominated for Best New Artist at the 2013 Grammy Awards (he lost to fun.), and performed his single "Invisible" at this year's show. His second album, "Storyline," followed in May and debuted at No. 3 on Billboard's Top 200 albums chart.
Hayes is using his tour bus to write and record while on the road — he wrote 50 songs for "Storyline" while touring on his last album — but says he isn't ready to start thinking about his next album. Not yet, at least.
"I don't have a plan. There are other people, I'm sure, that have a plan and haven't told me, but I keep it that way. I'm writing, I'm getting creative, but my brain is focused on this tour," he says. "All that's on my mind right now is making sure this show is everything it can be."
7 p.m. Saturday
Palace of Auburn Hills,
6 Championship Drive, Auburn Hills