Remember When Luke Combs Played a Bar in Downtown Evansville?
Without question, Luke Combs is a superstar in country music. You could argue (quite easily, I think) there is no bigger in the genre right now than his. Every song he's ever released to radio has gone to number one on the Billboard's Country Airplay chart, which is something no other artist in the history of that chart had done before him. As a matter of fact, as I type this, his newest single, "Forever After All" is playing on the radio in my office (tuned to 99.5 WKDQ, of course). I have no doubt it will be a number one hit too. That success has translated to millions of albums sold, and his songs being streamed millions upon millions upon millions of times. I'm convinced he could record three minutes of himself burping into a microphone and it would become a platinum hit song.
In a relatively short amount of time (his major-label debut, a re-release of his October 2016 EP, This One's For You, with additional songs added to make it a full album was released in 2017), his tours have led to sold-out shows in stadiums across the country, including the last time he came to Evansville to play the Ford Center in February 2019. With all that in mind, it's easy to forget Luke started out like nearly every other singer-songwriter in Nashville, playing for maybe a couple of hundred people in small clubs and bars trying to make a name for himself. That included one that sits in the shadow of that same Ford Center he would sell out a few years later.
The date was November 7th, 2015. The venue was Backstage Bar & Grill on the Main Street Walkway.
It was there the little-known-at-the-time Luke Combs played to a crowd of people, some of which had heard some of his songs and sang along, others I imagine had no clue and didn't care. They were just there to drink, listen to some live music, and have a good time. Fortunately, for those of us who weren't there, including me who wasn't working in country radio at the time and had never heard his name before, someone at Backstage made a point to film a couple of parts of his show and post them on the bar's YouTube channel. Check out a little bit of "She Got the Best of Me" which would eventually become another of Luke's number one hits a couple of years later.
Considering he had a small catalog of his own songs to pull from at the time (remember his This One's for You EP wouldn't be released until October 2016), Luke did what mean new artists do, he broke out the cover songs, which on this night included his take on Randy Houser's "How Country Feels" which I think may be better than the original just because of Luke's voice alone.
Thinking about Luke Combs playing bars feels kind of mind-blowing these days, but it just shows these musicians don't just walk into the record company and sign a multi-million dollar contract. Most of them have often been working their way up the ladder for years before the general public even hears of them. Who knows, the next Luke Combs may find their way to the Tri-State in the not-to-distant future too.
[Source: Backstage Evansville on YouTube]