Atlantic City welcomed country music with open arms Thursday as more than 60,000 fans joined Blake Shelton on the South Jersey beach for a free concert.
Blake may not be the first country star that comes to mind when you think of the ultimate “beach bum,” however, the Okie man does know how to drink, and with beer bottles selling out before mid-set at $7 a pop, it looks like his buzzed, sandy-toed crowd does too.
“I didn’t drag my big a— out here today to play volleyball or go swimming or build sand castles. I came here to drink and play country music,” Blake said to the screams of his massive audience. Doors opened at 10 a.m. ET for the 6 p.m. ET show as fans were encouraged to bring their beach gear and spend a day under the sun in preparation for the nighttime concert.
With seagulls adding background instrumentals overhead, Blake started off with fan-favorites “All About Tonight,” “The More I Drink” and “She Wouldn’t Be Gone,” before taking a moment to address the rowdy, beach-party crowd.
“Holy cr-p, look how many people are out there — I mean, they go way the hell back,” he said, sounding amazed. “There are some country freaks out there. I’m nervous now. I wish it was dark ... this is intimidating.”
In a sea of bright-colored bikinis and bobbing Bud Light bottles, Blake also took a moment to acknowledge the men in the audience. "You came because she wanted you to,” he said, before introducing his eleventh No. 1, “Doin' What She Likes.”
The makeshift beach concert grounds became a small city in itself, as local vendors were lined along the performance spot with Jumbotrons arranged throughout the 12 zones spanning several city blocks. The line just to get onto the beach was estimated at more than half of a mile long after Blake had already taken the stage.
"I know I keep talking about it — but, we even got country music freaks on top of that building,” Blake joked as he motioned over to the boardwalk where fans lined the top of casino rooftops.
The free show was a special stop on Blake's Ten Times Crazier tour. It was presented by the Atlantic City Alliance and the city’s “Do AC” promotional campaign, and produced by Live Nation.
How many people does it take to build a sand castle? Atlantic City was one of the biggest crowds we've played for! pic.twitter.com/kh3mdjIrgJ— Gwen Sebastian (@GwenSebastian) August 1, 2014
Seeking to find his younger self, the country-boy charmer temporarily donned a white cowboy hat with long hair extensions attached, as an ode to his early career style, before launching into the most appropriate song of the night, "Some Beach."
“You’ve got to do this every year and have me back every year,” he said. “Hardcore country freaks in Atlantic City ... I love it. I ain’t kidding when I say I have never seen so many country music fans in one place in my life.”
"Y'all are worse than country music rednecks, y’all are a bunch of hillbillies!” Blake laughed as he eased into “Hillbilly Bone,” before slowing down the set list.
Like a proud papa, Blake made sure to introduce his background vocalist, Gwen Sebastian, his season two contestant on NBC’s reality singing competition “The Voice,” for which Blake has served as a judge every season. He also shocked the honky-tonking northerners with his winner from season four, Danielle Bradbery, as a surprise guest. She performed her debut single, “The Heart of Dixie.”
Gwen and Blake later dueted on their recent No. 1 smash, “My Eyes,” off his Grammy-nominated album, "Based on a True Story," as the crowd swayed, waves crashed on the surrounding surf, and people on boats anchored near the shore watched the show from the water.
Comparing the beach concert site to a campsite, Blake asked his band to step down while he took over solo on his acoustic guitar for one song, his debut No. 1 single from 2001, “Austin.”
“I mentioned the camping thing and we just gotta do this once," he said. "We’re here on the beach. It’s beautiful. So, let's just do one song with me on my guitar."
And with typical Blake humor, he added, “Please, please sing along with me, because there’s a really good chance that I’m gonna screw this up, because this song is really old. In fact, this song is so old that I’ve heard it on some of those golden oldies of yesterdays shows … it sucks.”
Blake kept the tempo sweet and steady with “Drink On It” and his hit cover of Michael Buble's “Home,” before closing out his beachy set with “Boys ‘Round Here,” as the sun began to set.
Now honorary rednecks, the beach party guests were not ready to go home just yet, and Blake returned for a two-song encore.
Bare feet joined cowboy boots as Blake got every single sunbather “Footloose.” He then ended the midsummer salty-air night with Nashville-based singer-songwriter Dave Barnes' tune, “God Gave Me You."
Other show highlights included Nashville newcomers Dan + Shay (Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney) opening the show with a country-rock infused cover of "Paradise City" by Guns 'N Roses. The fresh faced and ready to party duo, clad in leather and denim despite the venue, introduced tracks off of their debut album, "Where It All Began," including album cuts "Somewhere Only We Know," "Stop Drop + Roll," and "First Time Feeling." But it was their current hits, "19 You + Me" and "Show You Off," that were saved for last and well worth the wait.
A beach + a crowd. pic.twitter.com/0lxtLcqdF4— Dan Smyers (@dansmyers) August 1, 2014
Lady Antebellum will take the same stage (also for free!) on Sunday night. Check back on Nashville Edge for a complete recap of that show.