Music & Nightlife

Chris Young explains new tour, new music and how he feels about the other Chris Youngs

Of the spectacle in store for his new “Raised on Country Tour,” which hits Charlotte next month, Chris Young says: “It’s one of the first times that — even knowing what we drew out and what we have planned for people, as much as I’ve talked it up — I walked in and saw it for the first time set up, I was like, ‘OK. Wow. This is impressive.’”
Of the spectacle in store for his new “Raised on Country Tour,” which hits Charlotte next month, Chris Young says: “It’s one of the first times that — even knowing what we drew out and what we have planned for people, as much as I’ve talked it up — I walked in and saw it for the first time set up, I was like, ‘OK. Wow. This is impressive.’”

Chris Young, the 33-year-old country-music star responsible for hits like 2015’s “I’m Comin’ Over” and 2019’s “Raised on Country,” is feeling a little contrite.

He apologizes for calling more than 15 minutes after the time his publicist said he would, but explains he couldn’t help it: “I’ve just gotten off my fifth call in a row before this, with the U.K., and they like to talk,” he says, laughing.

One gets the sense, though, as he continues, that maybe Young is the one who’s been having trouble putting down the phone. Asked if he’s growing weary of the interview parade, Young says “No, no, not at all. I mean, dude, I’ve been working on this tour since September of last year, so I don’t mind talking about it as long as anybody else wants to talk about it.”

Not long before he spoke with us last week, the Tennessee native had completed two weeks of rehearsals at Nashville’s Bridgestone Area for his “Raised on Country Tour,” which launches in Alpharetta, Ga., on May 16 and stops at PNC Music Pavilion the next night. The Charlotte concert will mark his first-ever headlining gig on that outdoor stage following a string of opening gigs there for acts including Dierks Bentley (2014), Brad Paisley (2013), Miranda Lambert (2012), Jason Aldean (2011) and Rascal Flatts (2010).

And true to his word, he could hardly contain himself as he tried to describe his new tour without giving too much away.

“There’s a lot of new stuff in the show, apart from just the order of stuff being moved around,” Young says. “There’s new video content that nobody’s seen, there’s new songs that no one has heard — there’s a lot going on. So this is the most in-depth reset (I’ve done with my shows).

“Like, a lot of times, people will take stuff that already exists and move the video around and move the lights around. This is a completely new set. We started from zero, and it is over-the-top. It’s one of the first times that — even knowing what we drew out and what we have planned for people, as much as I’ve talked it up — I walked in and saw it for the first time set up, I was like, ‘OK. Wow. This is impressive.’”

Here’s the full interview, lightly edited for clarity and brevity:

Q. So you’re going over to the U.K. in a couple of weeks, right? To do three shows in England and one in Scotland before launching the tour here?

Yeah, it’s kind of the kickoff of my touring season, so to speak. It’s been about two, two and a half years since I’ve been there, so I’m way overdue. I’m gonna go over and play some shows on my own, and then come back and just hit it really, really hard right into the tour.

Q. Is country music a big deal over there?

Yeah. I mean, really over the past 10 years it has continued and continued to grow. There’s a huge, huge market for it over there, which is awesome.

Q. I know the U.K. shows are in smaller venues, so they won’t get the showy show we’ll get. But will you do the new setlist for them?

They might have some stuff that’s from the new album (the as-yet-untitled one he’s planning to drop sometime later this year), but like I said, it’s been awhile since I’ve been over there, so the stuff off the last album (2017’s “Losing Sleep”) is probably gonna be new for a lot of those people. (Laughs.)

Q. Speaking of the new album, this might seem like an odd question, but I was trying to think of one to ask that you haven’t heard a million times already. So: Is there a song you’re putting on it that you weren’t sure should go on it at first?

That’s really interesting, ’cause I’ve got a funny story about that. Actually, “Raised on Country” (his latest single) I wrote last February, and I knew from the get-go that was going on it. There’s another song that I’ve teased a little bit on social media called “Drowning” that is a song that’s really, really special to me for a lot of personal reasons, as well as it’s just a different topic that I haven’t really touched on in any of my records before. And there’s a lot of stuff that we were going down through, and I had a couple songs that I liked for one slot, stylistically, on the record, that I was just like, “Ahhhhh, I love this, but I don’t know if it quite matches up with everything else that’s on the record.” So I’d just kind of gone, “Well, I guess I’m not gonna cut that, I’m gonna cut this other song over here.”

The day that I woke up to go into the studio the last time to track, someone in Nashville that I’ve known for years had sent me a song. I was like, “I’m not gonna listen this morning right before I walk in,” but it was that extra one unread message in my inbox, and finally I was like, “OK, screw it, I’m just gonna click on it, and listen to it, and get it out of there — clear it out.” And I loved it. I played it for everybody in the studio, and they were like, “Man, this is awesome.” When we broke for lunch, before we went back in for the last half of the day, I called the publisher, and I was like, “Hey, I love this song. I think I’m gonna cut it.” ... Just completely randomly, I ended up cutting it. And I love it. I love this album top to bottom, so it would be tough to even call it one of my favorites, but it’s just a great fit for this album, and a killer song. Honestly, I would say it is one of my favorites.

So it’s funny that the last thing that we ended up tracking was a song that I didn’t even know existed until that morning. It’s crazy.

Q. Did you tell me the name of it?

I didn’t. Um ... it’s called “Like a Slow Song.”

Q. Before we get too deep into talking about the tour, I wanted to ask you about your name. You may know this, but there’s a Major League Baseball player named Chris Young, there’s a former Major League Baseball player named Chris Young, there’s a guy who used to play in the NFL named Chris Young, and an actor named Chris Young. So I was just curious: Did you ever get advised at some point early on — or did you ever think to yourself at some point early on — like, “I need to change my name”?

Uh, no. It’s actually funny, because my name is just five letters on both ends, and it’s pretty basic. It’s hard to mess my name up. A lot of people were like, “Did you change your name to that? (Laughs.) Did you have some weird name before?” I was like, “No, this was just always it.” But, I mean, when I got started, I don’t even think either one of those Chris Youngs was playing yet. (Young the singer has been making music since 2002.) Like, the one guy that’s retired is a pitcher (played from 2004-2017). The one guy that’s still in is an outfielder (made his debut in 2006). I actually sang the national anthem at one of the games where Chris Young the outfielder was still playing for the Diamondbacks. I sang it at Wrigley Field while they were playing the Cubs, and I would have given anything for somebody to have been filming him in the dugout, and they go, “And now singing the national anthem ...“ (Laughs.)

Q. Did you happen to meet him?

I have not met him. It’s one of those things where I’ve just kind of seen his name. That was always funny when it would start trending. If he hit a two-run walk-off home run and my name would be trending on Twitter, I’d click on it and be like, “Ohhh, that’s not me.” (Laughs.)

Q. Another random question: Over all the years you spent opening for big-name established stars, did any of them give you some great piece of advice that’s always stuck with you?

Uh, all of ’em did. But if I was gonna pick one, Brad (Paisley) said one of the funniest things that has ever been said to me, and it’s super-obvious — like a lot of the greatest songs: They’re really, really simple; they just say something that everybody knows to be true. He said, “Dude, whatever you do, if a crowd wants to do something, let ’em do it.” And that sounds very basic, but ... you ever seen somebody try to get a crowd to clap along with a song, and they do it for about five seconds, and then they stop? It’s like, no, don’t try to force them to do something you want them to do. If everybody obviously wants to sing this one line of this song, stick the mic out there and let ’em sing it. If everybody wants to wave their hands left to right on this one song, just let ’em do it. It’s something I picked up on while watching other artists ever since that was said to me, and it’s super-, super-obvious. But it was one of those things, like, “Oh!” It had to be pointed out for me, to just go, “Yeah, idiot. Just notice this.” (Laughs.)

Kansas City.jpg
Chris Young, pictured here in a photo taken at a show in Kansas City, last appeared on the PNC Music Pavilion stage in 2014 when he opened for Dierks Bentley. Jeff Johnson

Q. Is that something you think about while you’re planning your show in the concept stages, or do you think about that every night when you’re on stage?

A little bit of both. Mainly because, you can pre-plan a lot of things, but you can never really pre-plan night by night how people are gonna respond to what. I can hope that they’re gonna sing one part of the song here and we could extend a chorus so that I’ve got the opportunity to let people sing along with it, but there’s always gonna be different things that happen night by night. And you have to leave a little bit of room to be flexible. I think if you’re too rigid with how you plan something, then it becomes a little bit too, “Oh, we know what’s gonna happen next every single time.”

Q. OK, I think that I have this right, that the last time you were in Charlotte was 2016 for Speed Street, which is an annual NASCAR festival in the city. With Montgomery Gentry?

Yeah, I was gonna say, if that’s the one I’m thinking of, that was actually — not to put a sad note on it — but that was the last time that I saw Troy before he passed. (Founding member Troy Gentry died in a helicopter crash in September 2017.)

Q. Oh, wow. ... Well, so I was wondering: Now that you’re headlining instead of opening, is it harder or is it easier to come up with setlists that are two, three times as long?

I mean ... it’s not really any longer than anything that I’ve done the past four, five, six years, ’cause when you’re out there doing festivals, they’re like, “Hey, can you do 90 minutes?” And you’re like, “Yeah!” The weird thing that’s more of a recent occurrence is: What do I cut out? What do I not play? What do I add in that’s new? That’s been a crazy feeling, when you’re looking at a setlist going, “OK, these are all songs that people know now” — instead of when I started 13 years ago on RCA, when I was going out and it was like, “Well, I’m gonna play this song that you guys don’t know at the beginning, the middle and the end.” (Laughs.)

Q. Can you point to, like, one thing that finally helped you break through to where you could headline huge arenas and amphitheaters?

No. (Laughs.) I would love to be able to tell you there was one moment that did it, but that would be a lie. I think “Gettin’ You Home” being my first hit was a huge deal; I think “Tomorrow” was another step up into something else; I think “I’m Comin’ Over” was another step up into something else. I think over the course of that album until “Losing Sleep” was something really special. And I think it’s just an accumulation of all that stuff, and being able to have people come out and listen to the show and go, “Oh man, I forgot about this song.” And people going, “Oh, I’m looking forward to this.” Or, “This one surprised me.” I think that’s just the career path that I’ve had, and I’m incredibly lucky.

Q. Once you’d been through several years in a row of being tapped by people like Brad Paisley and Dierks Bentley to open, were you ever at a point when you were doing that where you thought, “Well, this is a pretty good career, supporting all these huge acts”? In other words, was there some point you had gotten to where you thought you had hit your peak as an artist, and that that was gonna be your career? You know what I mean?

Yeah, but no. (Laughs.) Not to put in like a weird light, but it was always one of those things for me of I was continuing to be out there and I was working on not only my craft but my tour — and stepping up through that. I mean, you look towards the end of it, where there were several years where I either wasn’t there (in Charlotte) or I was doing something else is when I started doing the theaters into the arenas; then last year it was all large arenas, and then this year going to amphitheaters.

It takes a lot of time — depending on who you are, and depending on what your career path is like. Mine’s always been ... just a very, very steady, gradual uptick through my career. And I’m not mad about that, one, at all. But two, I’m getting to a point now where I’ve been in a lot of different positions where I’ve opened for people, either as the first of three, or I’ve been the direct support on a tour ... so, now, getting to go out and do amphitheaters for the first time is a great feeling. That’s something that I’ve looked forward to, and set as a goal. And I’ll keep growing through this as well, and keep making ’em bigger and better.

Chris Young

With Chris Janson and Dylan Scott.

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 17.

Where: PNC Music Pavilion, 707 Pavilion Blvd.

Tickets: $38.25 and up.

Details: 704-549-5555; www.livenation.com.

Théoden Janes has spent 12 years covering entertainment and pop culture for the Observer. He also thrives on telling emotive long-form stories about extraordinary Charlotteans and — as a veteran of 20-plus marathons and two Ironman triathlons — occasionally writes about endurance and other sports.
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