KRISTIN M. HALL AP entertainment writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Singer-songwriter Luke Combs is making big strides this year in his unprecedented rise to the pinnacle of country music, both personally and professionally.
The North Carolina-born singer, who holds a Billboard record with 14 consecutive No. 1 country singles released with hits like “Beer Never Broke My Heart” and “Beautiful Crazy,” has gone from arenas to box office football stadiums closed this year.
But as Combs, 32, prepared to sing in front of a packed Nissan Stadium at last month’s CMA Fest, he had something more personal in mind.
Inside his truck parked at the stadium was a hospital bag, waiting for his wife, Nicole, to be ready to give birth to their first child. As it turns out, Combs became a dad for the first time with the birth of their son, Tex Lawrence Combs, on Father’s Day.
“When we leave the stage tonight, it’s like the next trip is to be a parent, you know?” said Combs, backstage at Nissan Stadium earlier in June. “It’s like my only focus after that.”
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The reigning CMA Artist of the Year has spent the last decade focusing on his current journey. But as he scales a height most country artists will never reach, his mind is set on the unknown of being a new parent.
“I’ve never operated any other way in the past 10 years other than trying to be the best I can be at what I’m doing now,” Combs said. “So trying to find the balance between those two things is slightly stressful, but also very exciting.”
His aptly titled new record “Growin’ Up,” out now, shows Combs acknowledging what a time of transition this has been for him. “Doin’ This”, the title track, is an autobiographical reflection on the idea that even if no one had discovered him, he would still be singing in a bar in an unnamed town on a Friday night.
“It was never about how much success or how many awards you have,” he said. “You just enjoy being able to do it at all.”
What kept him grounded despite his rise to power was his loyalty to the people who believed in him early on, as well as bringing those he felt deserved a shot at the big leagues. . He’s the kind of guy who records songs he wrote with his guitarist, Jaime Davis, and then forms a duet he wrote with fellow superstar Miranda Lambert. His manager, Chris Kappy, had never managed an artist before convincing Combs to let him represent him.
“A lot of these band members, a lot of these players that play in the stadium are the same people who played in the clubs with him in the beginning,” said Randy Goodman, president and CEO of Sony Music Nashville.
Goodman said when he signed Combs, the young singer already had a strong fan base who were putting on shows.
“What he had even then was a seasoned look, maturity, self-awareness about his instrument, his voice and the songs he was singing and connectedness,” said said Goodman.
This year’s tour only includes three stadiums, the first shows in Denver and Seattle earlier this year and one on July 30 in Atlanta, so it became a test for what is likely to be many more stadium concerts to come. . Combs admits he’s been more careful than some members of his squad when it comes to booking stadiums. “If the failure happens, it’s like a bigger, more public display than if you had to fail in a bar,” Combs said with a laugh.
He also wanted time to finish the album and focus on bringing the best songs to whatever venue he was playing.
“We don’t have pyro. We have no fire. We don’t have bells and whistles,” he said. “If you can’t live and die by song in this business, then it’s not going to last. And I think that’s fundamental to what we do. There’s always a point in the show where it’s me and a guitar. It’s been like that since we played in bars, and it’s always like that in stadiums.
In a format that’s been slower than others to transition from traditional radio to streaming as the primary tool for music discovery, Combs has excelled at both. And he’s watching the streaming numbers very closely while he’s plotting those setlists.
“I’m not too proud to watch the scans,” he said. “It’s not hard to say, ‘Well, the fans listen to this song more than they listen to that one’.”
Goodman’s goal in the coming years is to put Combs on the world stage. He already made inroads touring the UK and Europe before the pandemic, and fans there found him mostly through streaming, Goodman said.
“I see Luke, in the short term, doing in the rest of the world what he’s starting to do right now in the United States, which is playing in venues, arenas and stadiums that most country artists never thought possible,” Goodman said.