Kane Brown laughs when he thinks about his early definition of success.
“I did a cover of ‘I Don’t Dance’ and put it up and it got like 60,000 shares and I got 200,000 followers,” says Brown, calling from Atlanta on a break from his summer tour with Brad Paisley, which stops at Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater on Friday, Aug. 10. “I thought I made it. I thought I went viral. Then everything died down and I thought, ‘Well, that was it.’ ”
That wasn’t it. In the four years since his cover of the Lee Brice hit, Brown, now 24, has grown into one of country music’s brightest young stars, set to be 2018’s breakout star.
His single “Heaven” is the most-streamed country song and video of the year so far. His album “Kane Brown” (RCA Nashville) was the second-biggest country album of 2018’s first half, behind only Jason Aldean’s “Rearview Town.” His single “What Ifs,” a duet with his high school friend Lauren Alaina, has gone triple platinum and is now the third-most-streamed country song of all time. And his new single “Lose It” is already in the Top 30 on the country chart, even though the album it comes from won’t be released until November.
In fact, that album isn’t done yet and Brown says his success is adding some pressure. “It definitely makes me more nervous,” he says. “I find myself thinking, ‘I need 12 good songs.’ I want every song to mean something. And I have to really like them because I’m going to be playing them for a while.”
Brown says he is still getting used to the realities of having a career in music, and one thing he now understands is the importance of connecting to the songs he writes. “I haven’t been doing this very long,” he says. “When I first started out, writing lyrics for me was like working on a homework project. What I realized after ‘What Ifs’ went to No. 1 was that if radio was going to play me, I needed to make sure the songs were worth it. I needed to take charge.”
And he understands that his take-charge attitude may shake some things up in Nashville. Earlier this year, Brown shocked some when he tweeted, “Damn, some people in Nashville who have pub(lishing) deals won’t write with me because I’m black. Aight . . . I’m still gonna do my thing 100.”
Brown, whose mother is white and whose father is black and Cherokee, deleted the tweet and he says now that the issue was resolved. “It was only one person who said it,” he says. “I didn’t really want to cause any problems. I’m just excited to be where I’m at.”
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However, Brown, who has tattoos on his arms, chest and neck and wears baseball caps instead of cowboy hats, isn’t planning on changing who he is to fit in more. “It’s cool to be different,” he says. “And yeah, I may be looked at differently and that hurts me in some ways. But I’m still going to do videos with my fiancee dancing to Drake. And I love that I’m able to do that and be in country music.”
He says it does get annoying sometimes when people question his love of country because of the way he looks. After all, Brown respectfully covers George Strait and is proud to have a new song on his upcoming album inspired by Tim McGraw in his “I Like It, I Love It” days.
“Country music has changed,” Brown says. “I love traditional country music, but I also love what is happening.”
Brian O’Connell, Live Nation’s president of country touring, says that the changes in country music are coming from younger artists and younger fans. “It’s always going to be the kids that drive the train,” says O’Connell, who handles booking of country tours across the country, including at Live Nation venues such as Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater and BMHMC Amphitheater at Bald Hill. “It’s a proven fact: Younger people go to more shows.”
In a way, Brown’s success is similar to why Long Island has become an increasingly popular stop on country superstars' tours. Brown’s upcoming show will mark his third Jones Beach appearance in the past three years, though he says he doesn’t really get to see much of the area beyond the venue because of his tight touring schedule. (“I do love going through the tunnel there, though,” he says.)
“People may have started out being scared of the New York metro area, but now they know what they’re getting,” O’Connell says. “They feel comfortable there. . . . Jones Beach being successful, it creates more opportunities. Success breeds success.”
Success also breeds more fans, says John Caracciolo, president and CEO of JVC Broadcasting, the Ronkonkoma-based company that owns a dozen radio stations, including WJVC, My Country 96.1-FM. “We have been very successful with country at Bald Hill because of our station’s audience,” he says. “They may not be the largest audience, but they are very loyal. . . . Because of them, there are artists who would never route to Suffolk County coming to Bald Hill. That’s how we got Cole Swindell. We have artists say, ‘Where the hell am I? Suffolk County is crazy!’ The artists are so appreciative of the welcomes they get.”
Brown says he is proud of the way his audience reacts to him and his success. He is also proud of how they stretch country’s boundaries.
“They don’t look like your usual country audience,” he says. “There are all kinds of different ethnicities, different ages. They mean so much to me because they show that even if you don’t do the normal thing, the expected thing, you can still find support.”
Kenny Chesney has set his annual “No Shoes Nation” takeover of MetLife Stadium on Aug. 18. And Jason Aldean (Aug. 11) and Dierks Bentley (Sept. 8) have lined up their Madison Square Garden shows. But country A-listers, besides Brad Paisley and Kane Brown, are heading to Long Island, too. Here’s a look:
BRETT ELDREDGE (Aug. 23, BMHMC Amphitheater at Bald Hill): The “Lose My Mind” singer brings his “The Long Way Tour” to Long Island as his “Love Someone” single gains traction as a summer anthem. Tickets are $41-$81 through Ticketmaster.
BILLY CURRINGTON (Sept. 1, BMHMC Amphitheater at Bald Hill): He’s still trying to make it “Summer Forever” on his current tour, including the hit “Do I Make You Wanna,” and the singalong “People Are Crazy.” Tickets are $41-$81 through Ticketmaster.
MAREN MORRIS (Sept. 12, Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater): Baby, why don’t you just meet her in the middle? Sure, she’s on the pop charts with Zedd on “The Middle” and opening for One Direction’s Niall Horan, but country fans still love “My Church.” Tickets are $39.50-$115 through Live Nation. — GLENN GAMBOA
WHO Kane Brown, opening for Brad Paisley
WHEN | WHERE 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 10, Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater, Wantagh
INFO $33.25-$93.25; 800-745-3000, livenation.com