The 930 Club in Washington, DC, is one of the best live music venues in the country, but it isn't known for booking country acts. That may change thanks to the huge turnout country acts have attracted, most recently Brantley Gilbert.
Outside of his cult following in the South, the Georgia native is known more for writing the hits "My Kind of Party" and "Dirt Road Anthem" for Jason Aldean. Brantley rarely plays headlining shows this far from Dixie so I wasn't sure what kind of crowd he'd draw on a sleepy Thursday night in August (when DC is known for basically shutting down). But the GRITS and redneck Romeos came from several neighboring states for the show.
Brantley managed to almost fill the 1,200-capacity club by word-of-mouth with zero radio support -- the local country stations vans parked in front of the Taylor Swift and Keith Urban shows held at the basketball arena in the past few weeks were nowhere to be found on this night. No local DJ came out to do the intro or toss t-shirts into the crowd.
Not that any of the fans lined up around the block hoping to get in early to secure a spot on the floor cared one bit about country radio, which rarely plays their kind of music anyway.
Fans sang and fist-pumped along to every song, having learned "GRITS" (Girls Raised in the South), "Kick It In The Sticks," "Hell on Wheels" and "Take it Outside" without any help from the radio. Those who hadn't seen Brantley in parts south or opening on the Country Throwdown tour earlier this summer learned his songs from YouTube, where his live performance videos have had millions of views. and My Space (yes, My Space is still there), where total plays of his songs is close to 16.5 million.
Brantley put on an exhilarating performance of loud, in-your-face country music that takes liberally from rock with a dash of rap. You can almost feel his connection to his fans and his fans to him. The energy sizzles from the stage to the crowd and back again and again.
And even when he slows it down for the rare ballads -- the playful "My Kind of Crazy" and sweet "You Don't Know Her Like I Do" -- the energy keeps buzzing like afterglow.
It's hard not to compare Brantley Gilbert's rising success to the other rare country act to play (and sell out) the 930 Club -- Eric Church. Both boast a rabid fan following, extensive touring and a sound that's a little harder than many country radio stations are comfortable with.
Eric Church recently sent the entire music industry a wake-up call when his new CD "Chief" debuted at the number one spot on Billboard's all-genre charts, and selling almost 150,000 copies in its first week. Let's hope Brantley will be on a similar path soon. His first major label release, "Halfway to Heaven Deluxe," is due September 13.
Find out more at www.brantleygilbert.com