The day Donald Trump was elected president (Nov. 9), Cole Swindell fans sought beer-soaked relief from a subdued Manhattan inside Hell’s Kitchen venue Terminal 5, where the chart-topping singer was due to perform his largest NYC show to date as a headliner.
Though the boxy venue and pre-show Top 40 playlist were generic, the sell-out crowd was incredibly specific. Most wore plaid or checked button down shirts with requisite ball caps — Swindell himself is known for wearing a Georgia Southern topper (his alma mater). His fans sported a greater range of styles, including ones in all shades of camo and even a few of bearing president-elect Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.”
Before the show began, Shila Nathan — a DJ at New York’s NASH FM 94.7 (“New York’s New Country”) — came out onstage to help warm up the antsy fans. “How do you guys feel after yesterday?” she asked cautiously, holding up her hand in an “iffy” gesture. The cheers were instant and almost unanimous. Nathan looked taken aback and quickly changed the subject.
Stephen, a fan attending the show with his girlfriend, was one of the few looking around in shock at his whooping cohorts. “Not saying who I voted for, but I think in general people were surprised by the [presidential election] result yesterday,” he said. “It didn’t seem that way in here…I’m very surprised. The kind of guys in here — it seems like everyone is the same. The girls look different, but the guys look exactly the same.”
Swindell took the stage not long after, kicking off his set with 2014 party-starter “Brought To You By Beer.” “I wouldn’t want to be partying any way else, with anybody else,” he said. “Tonight’s about having fun — it feels just like home in here.”
The Georgia-born-and-bred singer ran through his most raucous turn-up anthems — “Flatliner,” minus the featured Dierks Bentley, “The Back Roads and The Back Row,” and “No Can Left Behind” among them — and the crowd obliged, singing along to almost every word. “Middle Of A Memory,” his current single and possible fourth Country Airplay no. 1, prompted abundant audience participation and a little reflection from Swindell. “I think that’s why we like country music, because it’s something we can relate to,” he said. “Whether you’re left side, right side… we’re all country music fans here. We’re all one.” A man posed for a picture holding a cup full of beer in his mouth and a Georgia Southern jersey.
Tom, who said he was a “country music fan” more than a Swindell fan specifically, saw things differently. “A change needed to be made — I’m happy with the results,” he said over Swindell’s rendition of “Remember Boys,” a song imploring men to treat women with kindness and respect.
“There are evils right here,” said Swindell before “Ain’t Worth The Whiskey,” which hit no. 43 on the Hot 100 in 2015. “And there are so many people who deserve to be thanked: policemen, firemen…that’s country to me.” Fans had raised their cups to the troops before “No Can Left Behind.”
A few blocks away, protesters filled Central Park West in front of the Trump International Hotel and Tower, chanting “Shame on you!” and “Whose streets? Our streets!” Signs ranged from the uplifting (“When we stand together, we are strong”) to the explicit (“Fuck the racist rapist”), and by 11 p.m., police were beginning to infiltrate the crowd to make arrests. A woman stood alone, wrapped in a rainbow flag, watching the NYPD as they unloaded barricades. “I’m just trying to explain to the young people…” said one policeman wearily, megaphone by his side.
“The part of Brooklyn where I’m from is all police officers, firefighters, teachers — people voting for Trump,” said Kaitlin, another Swindell concert attendee. “Not what most people think of when they think of Brooklyn. I didn’t know which way to go, so I didn’t vote — I have mixed feelings about it,” she concluded.
Swindell performed his melancholy “You Should Be Here,” and left the stage. Typical cheering for an encore was replaced by a “U-S-A!” chant, and he soon reappeared to perform a medley of his own “Let Me See Ya Girl” and current Hot 100 chart-topper “Closer,” by The Chainsmokers feat. Halsey.
“It is what it is,” said Stanley, who came to the concert from Jersey City. He was one of few people of color in attendance. “He’s the president and we have to support him, and hope we can make him do what we want.”
Before fans filed out, Swindell offered one last platitude: “This is a very important time in our country, and we gotta stand together.”