Well before they set foot inside Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena Friday night, fans of Dan + Shay saw the country duo everywhere they turned.
Massive 18-wheeler trucks lined 5th Avenue with Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney’s 10-foot tall faces plastered on the sides of the trailers.
They were likely hauling the mountains of merchandise you could purchase both outside and inside the venue: t-shirts, sweats, posters and more, all emblazoned with the duo’s likeness, name and/or plus-sign logo.
When Dan + Shay took the stage that night for their first-ever arena headlining concert, it was the culmination of not just months, but years of planning.
Even that pesky plus sign – which has been part of the duo’s name since their first single in 2013 – was turned into the perfect piece of stagecraft.
As the lights went down, all eyes were focused on the main stage at one far end of the arena. Meanwhile, Smyers and Mooney were quietly rising into a small, plus-shaped stage in the center of the room, concealed by a cube of video screens.
When the duo was revealed at the outset of “10,000 Hours,” they spent the next several songs singing their hearts out and doling out high-fives from all corners of that tiny platform.
They eventually bounded their way through the crowd and up to the main stage, but only after eight songs (including “Alone Together,” “What Keeps You Up At Night” and “Nothin’ Like You”) did they stop to catch their breath.
“We’ve worked our entire lives for this, Nashville,” Smyers told the audience. “Thank you for making our dream come true tonight.”
Friday’s show was the first of two sold-out nights at Bridgestone this weekend – and the start of the band’s first-ever arena tour, set to hit more than 35 cities.
But there was one element they hadn’t meticulously planned for: the tornadoes that ripped through Nashville and Middle Tennessee earlier this week, killing more than two dozen. On Wednesday, the duo announced they would donate $100,000 to the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee to help with relief efforts.
“This has been a bit of a tough week for all of us Nashvillians,” Smyers said.
“…Our hearts and feelings go out to all of the families, and all of the victims, and everybody affected here in Tennessee. But one thing we noticed through all of that, is this town, Nashville, our spirit is not broken. This is a music town, and what we do best in this town in times of need is we come together. And we came together tonight to sell out Bridgestone Arena, to celebrate music, to be with the ones we love, to sing songs.”
And Friday’s crowd, without a doubt, came to sing. Even with their three monster hits: “Tequila,” “10,000 Hours” and “Speechless,” it seemed like nearly every song was greeted like a single by the packed house.
“No matter what you do in your production, no matter how fancy you make the lights and the screens, it’s all about the song,” Smyers told The Tennessean earlier this week. “We never want to forget what got us here, what got us the ability to be able to put on a big show in an arena.”
Dan + Shay have clearly struck on a winning formula with their romantic brand of pop country – and that formula definitely reveals itself when you spend an hour and half hearing all of their audience’s favorites in a row.
But as two overwhelmed guys headlining an arena for the first time, Dan + Shay were endearingly off-script.
More than once, they threatened to stay on stage past their welcome, because they were having too much fun. During their acoustic set, Mooney threw in a song Smyers wasn’t expecting: “Already Ready.”
There weren’t any country star cameos at Friday’s show, but Mooney thrilled the crowd with some very special guests: his wife and their three-year-old son, Asher James.
They sat on the piano bench as dad belted out “When I Pray For You,” which was written for Asher James before he was born (“I talk to God about you/ And I ain’t even met you yet”).
Before he and Smyers rejoined the backing band for a bombastic finale of “Speechless,” “19 You + Me” and “Tequila,” Mooney had to reflect on their arena milestone, too.
“I can say this. It’s confirmed, the greatest night of my entire life. I know Dan and I have dreamed of this since we were kids. You truly have made our dreams come true.”
Dan + Shay setlist
All to Myself
What Keeps You Up At Night
Make or Break
Nothin’ Like You
From the Ground up
No Such Thing
How Not To
My Side of the Fence (acoustic)
Already Ready (acoustic)
When I Pray For You (acoustic)
19 You + Me
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