Hunter Hayes’ “Red Sky Tour” brought him, along with support act Loren Gray, to the Ridgefield Playhouse in Ridgefield, CT this past Wednesday. It was the third show in as many days for Hayes and co. after stops in New York City and Portsmouth, NH, but you wouldn’t know it from the energy and intricate musicality brought to the stage for the near two-hour set.
Hayes is, undoubtedly, one of the most gifted musicians of the modern age. He has been performing on grand stages for well over a decade, hitting the road as the opening act for Carrie Underwood’s ‘Blown Away Tour’ and Taylor Swift’s ‘Speak Now Tour’, among countless solo treks across the country. Now, at 31 years old, the seasoned vet has more hits and fan favorites than he knows what to do with, as well as an entire new body of work he feels deserves to be played in full. The show shifts back and forth between the old and the new, effectively combining songs with similar feels into mashups to get everything in in a timely fashion.
The Ridgefield Playhouse is a somewhat sequestered little gem tucked away from other major cities in the state of CT. New Haven’s Toad’s Place, the Xfinity Theatre in Hartford, and the Toyota Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford are a bit flashier, whereas the Playhouse is a bit of a less traditional spot for a contemporary act like Hayes. Other events on the venue’s calendar, such as appearances from Trumpeter Chris Botti and a tribute to Billy Joel, are likely a bit more fitting for the overall ambiance of the place.
However, Hayes’ fans attending the show in Ridgefield could get a sense of just how intimate, and calm, this show would be compared to others. A mixed crowd age-wise, most freely mingled in the theatre’s common area prior to doors, with more than enough space for everyone to be comfortable.
Support act Loren Gray opened the show with a short acoustic set while fighting through nagging sickness. Despite whatever limitations she may have been experiencing, her sweet lilty country tone sustained. She ran through originals such as “Anti-Everything” and “Misery Loves Company,” but had the crowd in the palm of her hand with a cover of the Garth Brooks classic “Friends In Low Places.”
When Hayes took to the stage, the reception, at the start, was a bit muted. It was clear that the crowd had not yet fully gotten accustomed to the room, which Hayes later pointed out. It wasn’t until “Somebody’s Heartbreak” four songs in that the crowd really became engaged, and collectively felt it was appropriate to react in the way they normally would at another venue.
Vocally, Hayes’ live approach was smart. He seemed to hold back ever so slightly until a third of the way into the set, before digging into a second, and even third, gear later on to make his way through more challenging numbers like “Could’ve Been You” and “Storm Warning,” the latter of which he dropped the key of. A decade ago, he would have performed that song in its original key every night and put more into it than was needed. Now, he thinks strategically. He thinks long-term.
As expected, this is a show that highlights true musicianship at its finest. Hayes is hyper-aware of himself onstage, leaning into his ability to really rip into a song with a bit of a wink. He doesn’t even have to try. It’s just natural. Same for his band, all of whom kept up with him and then some. His guitarist, drummer, and keyboard player all got individual moments to jam solo, showcasing their skills to the delight of the crowd.
New songs like “About A Boy” and “Wallflower” were arranged perfectly for a live setting. As was “If You Change Your Mind,” which is, easily, in the top three in Hayes’ entire discography. Other highlights of the night were performances of both “Tattoo,” off Storyline, and “Dear God,” off Wild Blue… both of which have proved to be as enduring of hits as some of his most famous tunes. Also, a surprise shortened rendition of “If You Told Me To,” an underrated and rarely performed cut from his debut album, and the fan favorite “Everybody’s Got Somebody But Me,” which has, genuinely, been the second most fun moment of every Hayes show of the last decade.
The winner of most fun moment, of course, goes to “I Want Crazy.” An absolute monster of a song that tests the fortitude of both the audience AND the band every time due to its general nature of feeling like a marathon. So many lyrics, so many twists and turns, so much up-and-down energy. It is a privilege to watch them perform it, every time.
He closes the show with “Wanted,” because what else do you close a show with if you’re Hunter Hayes? Somehow, the song that was written from a teenager’s perspective of love STILL doesn’t feel cheesy, or cheap, or like something you’d be embarrassed about. He lets the audience take the lead on most of it, because he knows that that is what everyone is there to hear. It’s the last moment to have the entire room feel connected to each other, and to him, and he isn’t selfish in allowing that moment to happen organically.
If you have a chance to catch Hayes this tour, it is almost an essential show to hit. As of this writing, there are only four shows left of the trek.
Still *track only*
About A Boy
What If I Do/Still Fallin
Lonely Loves Me/Invisible
If You Told Me To
Everybody’s Got Somebody But Me
If You Change Your Mind
Feelings w/Loren Gray
Could’ve Been You
The One That Got Away
Falling and Flying
Victory/I Want Crazy
Stream Red Sky: