Luke Combs has had a pretty red-letter 2017, as far as his music career is concerned. The 27-year-old country singer started out his year watching his debut single “Hurricane” rise to the top of the Country Airplay chart (dated May 27), a perfect segue to the June 2 release of his first full-length album This One’s For You. After spending his summer promoting the album and playing festivals, Combs then announced his first-ever headlining tour for the fall in August.
As he kicked off the tour on Oct. 3, his second single, “When It Rains It Pours,” was on its way up the Country Airplay chart, earning the singer-songwriter his second No. 1 in a row when the song reached the peak spot on the Nov. 4-dated chart. And in his second week at the summit, Combs checked off one more bucket-list item: booking headlining slots at Nashville’s famed Ryman Auditorium in February.
“Headlining the Ryman has always been a goal, but it just never felt like it was in the realm of possibility,” Combs tells Billboard. “Now, we are here and playing two nights!”
Adding to the proof that Combs is a rising star in the country genre, the singer received a nomination for new artist of the year at this year’s CMAs, and as of Nov. 14, he earned his first Hot Country Songs No. 1 with “When It Rains It Pours.” After his Ryman announcement, Billboard caught up with Combs to talk about his two Ryman dates, his second No. 1 single, and learning from fans on the road.
Did you ever imagine you’d be headlining the Ryman? How does it feel to know you’ve earned that honor?
Honestly, I don’t think I ever thought I would. I have had the chance to be a part of a few different shows at the Ryman over the last year, so it feels awesome to now be able to play my own show there.
I have actually never played the Ryman and not messed up a song. Earlier this year, I played with Darius Rucker on his benefit show and started “Hurricane” in the wrong key. I played there with The Opry and botched the words for “I Got Away With You.” So I think I have some work to do to redeem myself!
What do you think makes “When It Rains It Pours” special and such a hit with fans?
It’s such a fun song that shows that a breakup isn’t the end of your life – sometimes it’s the start of something better. The second chorus is different than the first chorus and that doesn’t happen a lot these days, so I think it’s fun to listen to too because it something different. We had so much fun writing this song, and performing it live every night is awesome, so it’s cool that the fans and radio have embraced it and are having fun with it too.
This song has taken on a life of its own from the storyline. Almost every night, fans bring me scratch-off tickets to the shows. Hooters sent me their “Hooters VIP Card” where you get all your meals there for free. I’ve also been able to play a lot of golf lately, too.
Does this feel different from the success/No. 1 of “Hurricane”?
I think it does, because “Hurricane” going No. 1 was a longer journey. I released “Hurricane” independently in June 2015 — through the life of that one song, I got my record deal, booking deal and starting playing shows. It hit No.1 almost two years after I released it, and a lot happened within that time frame. So it’s wild to watch “When It Rains It Pours” take off so quickly at radio. Putting “Rain” out was awesome because it is so much different than “Hurricane” and it shows such a different extreme on the album. I am glad we’ve been able to showcase the different sounds that are on the album.
Do you feel an affinity with the number 2?
Absolutely. This second No. 1 is great because, just like on “Hurricane,” it’s all my co-writers,’ Ray Fulcher & Jordan Walker, first No. 1. I’m getting to experience all of this with my best friends. Ray Fulcher is one of my best friends in the world and we’ve gotten to celebrate all of this together. Ray is on tour with me right now and the night the song went No. 1, he joined me on stage to sing it. My co-writers are some of my closest friends and we’ve all come up together, so it’s been so cool to get to celebrate the success of these songs with them too. I haven’t seen Jordan yet, but looking forward to celebrate with him soon too.
How has touring and interacting with fans throughout this year benefitted you as an artist?
I’ve been fortunate to play arenas and some incredible festivals this year, and now we are back on the road doing our own thing. Releasing the album and then the songs being embraced at radio like they have has really brought new folks to the shows to see what we’re doing. Being on the road and seeing fans have so much fun night after night reminds you why you do this.
Now we’re back on our own tour having that close interaction with fans in the clubs, it’s such an entirely different experience than playing the big arena. We’re seeing those people face-to-face and getting to interact with them on a personal level. It’s so nice to be back in the clubs — where this all started for me — and sharing drinks with the fans, giving them a cheers from stage and seeing people face-to-face. In these clubs, you learn what the people respond to, which songs resonate, which songs they love. There is just something about when a few thousand people pack into a standing room club and you’re able to experience the show with them. You learn so much from those shows.
You were part of this year’s Route 91 Harvest Festival lineup and were watching Jason Aldean’s set from side stage when the deadly shooting began. What kind of support did you receive from fans in the wake of the tragedy, especially since you started your tour that week?
We’ve definitely had a lot people reach out. During the shooting, my band guys brought folks onto the bus for safety and one of those fans is coming to our show in Pittsburgh and taking everyone to dinner to say thank you. It’s amazing how this bonded us all together. The other day we got a package and note to my management office. A fan who attended the Route 91 festival made her own custom Luke Combs T-shirt that she was wearing at the festival the night of the shooting. She sent the T-shirt to the office to be signed and sent an incredible note. She feels like she experienced it with me, and it’s been cool to share this with the fans.
We launched our tour in Los Angeles the same week of the Vegas shooting. Knowing that the fans were still going to show up is what really kept us going that week. Country music has some of the most strong-willed, strong-hearted folks and my fans are a testament to that. They were able and determined to still go out, show up for a show and have a good time in the face of the tragedy and also be a part of remembering and honoring what happened. I knew that was the statement I needed to make too. I’m going to go out and do what I love, and the fans are going to show up to do what they love. There is this mutual respect and support between us – we are going to get through it together.
Combs is currently on the road for his Don’t Tempt Me With a Good Time tour. Take a look at his remaining tour dates and get more information about his Ryman shows on February 2 and 3, 2018 here.
Nov. 1 — Baton Rouge, La. @ Texas Club
Nov. 2 — Baton Rouge, La. @ Texas Club
Nov. 3 — Houston @ House of Blues
Nov. 4 — Forth Worth, Texas @ Billy Bob’s Texas
Nov. 9 — Oxford, Ohio @ Brick Street Bar
Nov. 10 — Columbus, Ohio @ Express Live!
Nov. 11 — Pittsburgh @ Stage AE
Nov. 16 — Boston @ House of Blues
Nov. 17 — Baltimore @ Rams Head Live
Nov. 18 — Asbury Park, N.J. @ The Stone Pony
Nov. 30 — Atlanta @ The Tabernacle
Dec. 1 — Atlanta @ The Tabernacle
Dec. 7 — Columbia, S.C. @ Township Auditorium
Dec. 8 — Charlotte, N.C. @ Coyote Joe’s
Dec. 9 — Charlotte, N.C. @ Coyote Joe’s
Dec. 14 — Lake Buena Vista, Fla. @ House of Blues, Orlando
Dec. 15 — Jacksonville, Fla. @ The Florida Theatre
Dec. 16 — Asheville, N.C. @ US Cellular Center