Saturday’s attendance at day one of Bayou Country Superfest was noticeably smaller than Friday’s seat-filling takeover of Tiger Stadium by Taylor Swift fans.
A lineup featuring five country music acts, including headliner Kenny Chesney and country-rapper Colt Ford, couldn’t outdraw Swift. The 25-year-old star officially left country music last year with the release of her pop album, “1989,” the best-selling album of recent times.
The threat of rain may have affected Saturday’s Superfest attendance. Most of the rain came just before Ford’s early evening set. Other Superfest acts performed mostly rain free.
Chesney, a Superfest headliner in 2010 and 2011, returned Saturday for another of his high-energy, high-on-crowd-participation shows.
Slim, tan and wearing his usual cowboy hat, Chesney opened with “Reality,” an upbeat, feel-good pop-country song from the singer’s 2010 album, “Hemingway’s Whiskey.” Reaching out to his audience, he strode over the catwalk on the stadium floor, clapping and almost dancing in the bright white stage lights.
The happy vibe Chesney fostered rolled on with one of his numerous party songs, “Beer in Mexico.” He obviously owes a lot to Jimmy Buffett, an earlier propagator of fun in the sun.
But “Beer in Mexico,” from Chesney’s 2005 album, “The Road and the Radio,” accelerated Buffett’s relatively laid-back approach for a generation of partygoers that came out in the early 2000s. That’s when Chesney emerged to become one of country’s big stars.
Chesney’s expected summer celebration continued with “Summertime,” “Pirate Flag ” and one of his signature songs, the pressure-free “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems.”
With the exception of some quieter selections such as torch song “Somewhere with You” and the nostalgic “I Go Back,” Chesney worked his familiar blend of Buffett’s island vibes and Bruce Springsteen’s everyman stance and uplift through a nearly two-hour show. Chesney even shouted a line that Springsteen has shouted, almost word for word, from the Acura Stage at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival: “Is everybody alive out there tonight?”
The legacy of classic Southern rock appeared in Chesney’s show, too. His guitarists frequently replicated the harmonizing, double-lead guitar lines and showcase guitar solos heard in the music of the Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd and their Southern rock brethren. The influence of British classic rockers the Rolling Stones appeared, too, in another guitar-laced song, “Living in Fast Forward.”
If Chesney’s popularity has dipped since his previous Superfest appearances — as Saturday’s attendance and the streams of people who left while Chesney’s band played on and he signed autographs on the catwalk — the mostly younger Superfest acts who appeared earlier Saturday have yet to achieve stadium-level popularity.
Most of them have exchanged the country genre’s once ubiquitous cowboy hats for snug-fitting baseball hats, and they tended to wear black.
The raspy-voiced Brantley Gilbert, for instance, presented a biker image and played songs influenced by rap-rocker Kid Rock and heavy and hardcore rock. On stage, at least, the younger guys party with a much harder, sometimes menacing edge.
Country-rapper Ford made a guest appearance with Gilbert following his earlier Superfest set. Ford mixes rap with Hank Williams Jr.-style music and stand-your-ground attitude. He also does those wistful songs about simple small-town pleasures — a subgenre in country music — as heard in “Drivin’ Around Song,” Ford’s hit duet with Jason Aldean.
Despite his baseball hat, Tyler Farr’s Saturday set positioned him as a compromise between such older country-pop performers as Chesney and the hard rock-influenced Gilbert.
The engaging Kristian Bush, performing solo while his duo with Jennifer Nettles, Sugarland, takes a hiatus, opened Superfest’s Saturday music with his first solo hit, the well-crafted, happy “Trailer Hitch.”