Luke Bryan, Brad Paisley, Dierks Bentley, Toby Keith, Kane Brown, Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line — this year's Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater schedule reads like a country music awards show.
Throw in Lee Brice (July 3) and Brett Eldredge (July 27) going to Long Island Community Hospital Amphitheater at Bald Hill in Farmingville and Sugarland’s Kristian Bush (June 14) and Trace Adkins (June 20) going to The Paramount and suddenly Long Island feels like Nashville North. How did this happen?
It’s like a perfect storm of national and local trends led them all here. And now that the path is established, it may not change any time soon.
Even more than stars in other genres, country stars are seeing traditional revenue streams shift. According to BuzzAngle, Latin music passed country in 2018 to become the fifth-most-popular genre. According to Billboard, country album sales dropped 28.5 percent in 2018 and singles sales dropped 33 percent in a year — both steeper declines than the industry as a whole. While streaming growth is replacing a bit of those earnings, it’s nowhere close to replacing all of them. So to stay economically stable, more and more country artists have to hit the road for longer and longer tours. They have been looking for new markets to hit on a tour and Long Island has proved to be more than welcoming.
Brian O’Connell, Live Nation’s president of country touring, told Newsday last year that many country artists who may have wondered if they could draw a crowd on Long Island now know they can. “Jones Beach being successful, it creates more opportunities,” he said. “Success breeds success.”
That may help explain this year’s schedule at Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater. Though it does have its usual mix of pop, rock, hip-hop and classic rock, there is a noticeable jump in the number of country shows. The only two-night runs of the season are both country artists — “American Idol” judge Bryan (July 13-14), who recently released a new single “Knockin’ Boots,” and Zac Brown Band (Aug. 23-24), who have filled Citi Field the last few years — and plenty of Nashville A-listers are also planned, including Keith (July 6), Florida Georgia Line (July 20), Bentley (Aug. 2), Paisley (Aug. 30) and Aldean (Sept. 6).
“We are Country Central,” jokes Adam Citron, Northwell Health at Jones Beach’s general manager for Live Nation. “Actually, I think it’s a wide range of acts this year. I think the programming department did a fantastic job of making sure that all genres were touched.”
And Citron says the venue is ready to welcome fans of all genres. The biggest change for this season is the return of NICE bus service from the Freeport LIRR station to Jones Beach for concerts, through a deal between Live Nation and Nassau County. Live Nation has also partnered with Qwik Ride to run an electric shuttle between the parking lot and the entrance to help people who may need assistance, as well as help collect trash and recycling on the lot.
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In addition to new food offerings — like Questlove’s Cheesesteak made with plant-based protein, tacos from actor Danny Trejo, barbecue from chef Tim Love and Art Bird fried chicken — there will be 39 new unisex restrooms to better handle crowds.
“Life is difficult for everybody,” he says. “It's just stressful. We want to remove all those challenges so that coming here should just be the greatest thing in the world. We don't want them to have any issues.”