In Festival Guide Reviews

Hunter Hayes had the stage to himself Saturday night - and he owned it. (PHOTO: Ty Helbach)

After a surprise Amp appearance, Hunter Hayes owned his own stage Saturday night

"I'm so grateful you're here. God bless you for showing up!" Hunter Hayes shouted out to the crowd at the BMO Harris Pavilion on Saturday night at Summerfest. A lot of artists give shout-outs to the crowd, but Hunter Hayes made gratefulness one of his themes of the night.

After having seen Hayes perform Friday night in a surprise appearance at the American Family Insurance Amphitheater during Blake Shelton's set, I was pretty pumped to see him on his own stage. I mean, the dude brought Blake Shelton's house down. So yeah, my bar was high.

That said, I'm not super familiar with a lot of Hayes' music, but the stuff I know, I really like. He's charted two number one singles and his debut album reached number one on the Top Country Albums chart.

The Pavilion started filling up early. No offense to Hunter Hayes, but I expected that a lot of the younger crowd would be at Kip Moore tonight. I was totally wrong. He drew them in. As a consequence, Hayes's opener, Mitchell Lee, played to a decent crowd.

If I wasn't totally familiar with Hunter Hayes before Saturday's show, I knew absolutely zip about Mitchell Lee. Turns out I didn't need to. I fell in love with his music almost from his first interaction with the crowd: "Hey, we're gonna go grab a beer and be back in five minutes."

Lee, a former contestant on "The Voice," hit the stage with a really talented four-piece band (five if you include him and his guitar). His 14-song set was filled with original songs, covers and a combination of both. He's got a vibe that's a mix of Hootie and the Blowfish back in the day and present day Darius Rucker rolled in with Brad Paisley. Lee's style is both laid back and energetic, and his voice is like butter and silk but versatile. It washes over you and makes you feel glowy and warm.

His original songs weren't cookie cutter. They had depth and that's sometimes missing in today's popular country. Close to the top of his set, he played one of his original songs, "All Over."

Lee also had some killer mashups. He did an insane country mashup consisting of "Fishin' in the Dark," "Midnight Rider," "Boondocks" and "Who Wouldn't Wanna Be Me." Then he played a beautiful acoustic tribute to Prince ("When Doves Cry"/"Kiss"/"Purple Rain"), joined by his full band at the end of "Purple Rain."

After that, he handed the reigns to his head guitarist for "Keep Your Hands to Yourself." And then he played his newest single, "Already Gone," a heartbreaker about realizing that a relationship is ending.

It was a great set – no qualifications. I hope we see Mitchell Lee at Summerfest again soon. So much fun.

After hitting the stage to crazed cheering, Hunter Hayes laid down two quick, fast-paced songs and paused only briefly to slide into "Storm Warning."

The crowd was in it with him, even though it was cold and breezy, and even though his sound was slightly messed. Hayes sometimes got lost in the mash of his band; his vocals were, at times, drowned out and it was hard to make out parts of some songs. But the audience really, really didn't seem to care. They pretty much sang every word to every song AND they caught on pretty quickly to new songs and sang those, too. And to be fair, maybe the sound wasn't that way in the entire pavilion. I was sitting way off to one side, so maybe that was the issue.

Still, dude was on fire. He was so jazzed to be playing at Summerfest after intentionally scheduling the day off so they could be here on Friday and then spent Saturday, as he said, "experiencing Summerfest, before we played Summerfest." Hayes is just so in the moment and grateful for everything that's come his way; he was a true joy to watch.

A self-professed music nerd, Hayes gifted the audience with a beautiful extended play versions of "Rescue" and "Somebody's Heartbreak."

He kept the show rolling quickly, but he still found plenty of time to interact with the almost to capacity crowd. You really get the sense that Hayes is super down to earth and grounded in his faith.

One theme running through the night was Hayes's ability to reach out to the audience and let them know that they are seen, that even if they feel alone and awkward, they aren't. And that God really doesn't put anything in front of us that He's not willing to solve with us. He drove that home with his new song "Dear God" and, one of my favorites, "Invisible."

It wasn't all heavy, though. Hayes brought one of his new songs "One Shot" – I think this is correct; he didn't say the name – about his new friend named "Scotch." He continued saying that one night he'd had one too many shots and posted something on Instagram he didn't remember posting, so he used the emotion of sheer dread to drive him to write a song about a night he didn't want to remember, even if he could have. Understandable. a lot of us have been there; thankfully for me, it was pre-social media days. From "One Shot," he rolled into "21," another party anthem.

He pushed past the 11 p.m. curfew, and while he lost a few people having to catch rides and avoid traffic, man, it was so seriously worth it to stay. His last two songs, even if you didn't care for anything else he did (which, well, that's pretty inconceivable), were worth the price of admission.

Hayes performed "Wanted" with a freaking fantastic and intensely powerful acoustical opening. The audience sang along. It gave me chills. So beautiful. And I have to say that while Friday night's performance of "Wanted" was outstanding, tonight's rendition wiped the floor with it. Just amazing.

Hunter Hayes then wrapped the night with an insane version of "I Want Crazy" that had the crowd standing on the bleachers and dancing in the aisles. It was just so, so cool.

This was my first time seeing Hunter Hayes. It was his fourth time at Summerfest. He said it was his favorite (saying that it truly wasn't any canned artist spiel, that it really was his favorite). For me, it will be hard to top this one. But with a ton of new music coming out, I'm sure he'll find a way.


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