'No Excuses': Country Artists Take the Heat During Summer Tour Season
"Sunrise, sunburn, sunset, repeat."
Yes, it's the hook of Luke Bryan's current single, but it's also a way of life for many of country's acts during the key summer touring months. Fairs, festivals, stadiums and amphitheaters require artists and musicians to play outdoors during a season of potential brutality. Temperatures in Texas and Southern California, for example, hit triple digits the week of July 16, while intense heat sent hundreds of fans to the emergency tent during June's CMA Music Festival in Nashville.
"I sweat my ass off," says Jon Pardi, recalling his 6:20 p.m. start time on June 16 at Cincinnati's Great American Ballpark, where temps reached the 90s and humidity topped 85 percent. "I sweat, but I don't care. If you're not sweating right now, you're weird, 'cause it's hot."
Few things will remove the glamor from an artist's career more. A typical show might produce beads of perspiration across the forehead or armpit stains on the once-clean T-shirt during the early minutes of an outdoor summer show. But let a set go on for 45 or 90 minutes, and the results won't be a whole lot different than a trip to the sauna.
"I'm going to look like I just took a shower," says Brett Eldredge of those concerts. "There's just no escaping it."
Country artists are almost required to embrace those conditions. Summer has become a significant theme in the genre in the last decade, thanks to such beachy and/or seasonal titles as Zac Brown Band's "Toes," Jake Owen's "Beachin'," Jason Aldean's "A Little More Summertime" and Little Big Town's "Summer Fever." The genre is increasingly synonymous with the hottest time of the year, with all of the positive and negative consequences that association brings.
"Heat is good for the throat," notes Little Big Town's Karen Fairchild. "That moisture and the humidity is good, but not so great on the hair and the body."
Artists sometimes have to learn that the hard way. Florida Georgia Line lead vocalist Tyler Hubbard required medical attention the first time the duo played the Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio, Calif., on April 28, 2013.
"I was hydrated, just with the wrong fluid," he says. "We were having a good time early in the afternoon, and it was probably 100 degrees. I just got a little worked up onstage, and by the time I got off, I was just super lightheaded and had to sit down. I knew I was on the verge of passing out."
It's particularly brutal in the Southern regions of the United States, where threatening temperatures can combine with high humidity and stagnant air to create a cauldron of discomfort. At times, it can feel as if you inhale air in chunks rather than molecules. Those conditions create additional problems for entertainers, who may try harder to work up a lethargic, heat-stricken crowd even as the weather is causing them problems.
"When I get really hot, it gets hard for me to control my breathing, especially when you're holding notes," says Warner Music Nashville artist Cody Johnson, who has sweated so much since January that he has gone through three straw hats.
Johnson, who grew up amid swampy Southeast Texas summers, has several techniques to combat dehydration. One seems counterintuitive: Instead of resting the entire day, he does two hours of hard-core cross-fit training in the morning with the understanding that it helps the body adjust to extreme temperatures. He also finds a sports medicine clinic every two or three weeks when he's on the road to get an intravenous booster with supplements of B6 and B12 vitamins.
"Because I move so much, it's necessary," he says. "Dehydration really kills my vocal cords. I've learned over the years to pay attention to it, to make sure we have hydration powder if we don't have access to an IV, just to keep your body supplemented for what you're putting out."
Water-soaked towels provide an additional onstage supplement, notes Hubbard. And Pardi tends to dress in sleeveless shirts during the summer for a little extra aeration.
But Charlie Daniels may have the best system to beat the heat, courtesy of road manager Jimmy Burton.
"He went and got a stand-alone air conditioner," says Daniels. "You put water in it, and it sort of cools the room. But instead of putting water in it, we put ice in it, and we surround it with fans so it blows the cold air around, and the fans are [pointed] in my direction. It still gets hot, I still sweat and everything, but it makes it very bearable."
Artists are also able to reduce exposure to the heat, assuming they choose to take advantage of amenities. Most venues are air-conditioned, and the generators on buses keep their vehicles at ideal temperatures.
"It's a refrigerator on wheels," deadpans David Lee Murphy.
That helps them keep their cool, but so does a little reality check. The artists are, after all, getting paid to be there. The consumers shell out big bucks to be in the seats and — particularly on a multi-artist bill — could be miserable for four to eight hours.
"It sucks," says Pardi of the summer heat. "But I always try to remember one simple thing: There's fans out there, and all they want to do is have a good time, so they're sweating it out with you. No excuses."