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In Conversation: Luke Bryan

By Alison Bonaguro

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By now, more than 15 years into his career, just about everyone knows everything about Luke Bryan’s rural roots. He isn’t just singing about that life, he literally lived it. He was raised the son of a peanut farmer in Leesburg, Georgia (population approximately 3,500), and eventually made the move to Nashville to be a songwriter, and ultimately, a singer as well. But even after all the years of selling out stadiums and arenas, Bryan’s never forgotten what it felt like to live in a town so small that big country artists would never play a show there.

So once he’d had a few years of success under his belt and five top ten hits on the country charts - from ‘All My Friends Say’ to ‘Rain Is a Good Thing' - Bryan decided to change that. And in 2010, he planned his first Farm Tour in Valdosta, Georgia. Since then, his Farm Tour has made 67 more stops along the way, and he’s on the verge of six more shows all over the country from September 15th-24th. All so that people in smaller farming towns can see the same show that hundreds of thousands of fans see in big cities from California to New York and everywhere in between.

And this year, Bryan considers himself blessed to have the National Pork Board by his side as he sets out to bring his music to rural towns, and along the way, let everyone know what he knows about all the hard work that goes into modern-day pig farming.

In a video call from the road, Bryan shared his hopes for this year’s Farm Tour, his thoughts on the 2022 Country Music Association Awards’ list of nominees, and how he’s raising his sons to think more about what the world expects of them instead of what they expect of the world.

This is a very full-circle moment for me and you, Luke. Because when I met you in 2007, my very first interview question was, “Can you seriously salt cure a ham?” I’d loved that lyric from ‘Country Man’ (I can grow my own groceries and salt cure a ham, hey baby I’m a country man), so I had to know if it was true. And here we are now, 15 years later, talking once again about ham.

And now we’re telling the world how good it is to salt cure a ham. There are 60,000 pig farmers across the country, and I know how hard they work from sun up to sun down, and it’s exciting to be a part of a project that will help show everyone the real care that happens on pig farms everywhere. Pig farmers are dedicated to people, to pigs and to the planet.

Did you know all of that growing up in Lee County?

Yes. Because I’ve grown up around every form of farming possible, and we had a couple guys in Leesburg who raised pigs. But back then, the pig farms were different than they are today. Now they are technologically more advanced and cleaner in every aspect. I think as society has gotten more aware of what they eat, where it comes from, and how it’s grown - no matter if it’s animals or cornfields - people are just more in touch with how everything gets from the farm to their table. Everybody can really rest at night knowing the process of how pig farming’s done these days.

And what a captive audience you’ll have to get that message out once you hit the farms from Indiana to Minnesota. I did the math, and you’ve already played for nearly 700,000 fans at these small-town shows. I’m sure this year will get you even closer to that 1,000,000 mark. Right?

So far, we’ve sold over 70,000 tickets for the six farm shows. And a couple of the venues have 20,000 tickets sold out already.

Those are staggering numbers to look at on paper. But numbers aside, how does it feel for you knowing what you’ve accomplished?

To be a South Georgia boy who grew up on a farm, to now go to these farms in the Midwest - even in Nebraska - and have people show up to celebrate country music, watch me do some songs on the farm, and uplift all forms of farming, that is pretty special to me. The Farm Tour is something that’s going to live on forever. I’ve been amazed at the growth of it and the support. Partnering up with the NPB this year lets them use me as a voice for their message. And from the scholarships we offer to bringing a big country music show to somebody’s backyard, it all just feels so good at the end of the day.

You have so much going on right now, between hosting the upcoming CMA Awards, prepping for your role on American Idol, playing shows on your Raised Up Right tour, and likely making some new music. How do you manage to still make this Farm Tour a priority?

It's a passion project for me, for sure. When I look back and think about waking up on these farms and rolling my window down, that is pretty special. And it’s not just special for the fans in these small towns. It’s been great for me to provide an experience for the younger artists I bring with me on this tour, like Riley Green, Jameson Rodgers, Peach Pickers, and DJ ROCK who will be out with me for this year’s shows.

Is it a passion project because it somehow keeps you rooted in the way you were raised up right?

I think so. Because I get to wake up every day being blessed that I’ve seen the world through so many different eyes: from growing up in a small town, to hosting the CMA Awards, to being part of American Idol, and to walking around New York City seeing my face on a cab. But at the core of it all, I really still feel like a small-town kid who has been able to see the world. And I wake up every day trying to bring joy to the world, and hopefully that’s what the Farm Tour does: bring some happiness to a smaller town. It’s been a ride, and at the end of the day, I still love to get on stage, smile at the fans and have a blast.

You’ve also managed to raise your own family up right throughout every level of your fame. And from the looks of it, your sons and your nieces and nephew all seem like your fame isn’t something that matters to them all that much. How’d you pull that off?

Caroline and I try to raise them to where they have a great grasp on what dad is, but they also have a great grasp on reality and on being kind to others.We try to instill in them manners, humbleness, and caring and loving for all walks of life. And the fact that they can go play football, be all-American kids, and go on hunting and fishing trips -- and then they hop on dad’s tour bus and see different cities – is the best. Our kids are great, and I’ve never been more proud of where they are. A lot of that is my wife at home staying on their butts, too. She’s vigilant about that around the Bryan house.

Even knowing you’re going to be hosting the CMA Awards with Peyton Manning this year doesn’t seem like it’s a big deal to your family. Maybe that’s because it’s all just part of Dad’s Job. What’s your feeling on hosting, and on this year’s unanticipated list of newcomer nominees?

When you look at what country music does, there’s always anxiety that the next crop might not come in and carry the torch through the next generation. But county music has an amazing ability to restock its artists and its talent. There’s a lot of big-time country music singers who deserve nominations, and I have to say that every time I see the nominations, I want the big nominations. But as younger kids come through, I think it’s time for them to enjoy those moments, too. If you’re an artist like me, and every year you want to win every award, that’s a weird process for me to think about. I think, “Yes I want to get nominated and have those opportunities to win.” But I also know I’ve been there and done that and felt those emotions and all of that magic. And now I want to see other guys and girls enjoy those moments. That’s why I enjoy hosting and trying to make it a special night. I think that’s what the music’s about: new faces coming in and having a new interpretation of their kind of country, and then telling it to world.

Is there anything about being a newcomer yourself that you miss? Not any of the day-to-day hardships of being new in Nashville, obviously, but all of the exciting possibilities that were in front of you?

When you’re doing all of that in the beginning, you don’t tangibly know that you’re about to make all this happen and pull it off. You’re just in the joy of the moment. With me, I was always really good about setting 1,000 mini goals and trying to achieve something small – without getting in front of myself. I didn’t expect to get my record deal or to headline Madison Square Garden. I just kept digging and working with every little step along the way until those things started to happen.

It’s so good to have such vivid memories of those early days, because then you know exactly how incredible it will feel for newer artists when they break out.

When I see young artists now going through the explosion of their career, I love having lived that part of my life. I don’t really backtrack on a bunch of regrets. I don’t have many regrets at all, thank God. I remember the day I got the call to go open for Kenny Chesney in stadiums. And I remember the day I found out I was gonna play on the CMAs. I took every little accolade and every little goal and enjoyed them in the moment. And the whole time, I just kept walking around with a smile on my face, trying to be happy in this business every day.

Bryan will be co-hosting the CMA Awards on November 9th with retired NFL quarterback Peyton Manning. He is also nominated for his Jordan Davis collaboration 'Buy Dirt' for both single of the year and song of the year.

Luke Bryan Farm Tour 2022

9/15 Monroeville, IN at Spangler Farms

9/16 Mechanicsburg, OH at Springfork Farms

9/17 Fowlerville, MI at Kubiak Family Farm

9/22 Murdock, NE at Stock Hay & Grain Farm

9/23 Boone, IA at Ziel Farm

9/24 Eyota, MN at Gar-Lin Dairy

The National Pork Board is partnering with Smithfield Foods’ Farmland to donate a truckload of pork to local foodbanks in each of the states Bryan is playing. The donations will help provide high-quality protein, which is one ofthe most valuable resources food banks distribute, to help fight food insecurity across the Midwest.