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Hunt brings the afterburners to festival

Huntington Beach, Cal., October 2, 2021

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

This second day of Sammy Hagar's Afterburner Festival began with day two of the Pacific Airshow, which included U.S. Navy Blue Angels and other assorted, high-powered airplanes. The music was actually billed as a post airshow event. However, headliner Sam Hunt's performance could have easily stood all on its own, as he was surprisingly good.

Yes, all criticisms of Hunt's music still apply. He incorporates more elements of pop and hip-hop music than traditional country sounds in his songs. And yet, it was impossible not to walk away from his set not entertained and impressed. Hunt came off humble and sincere, whether he was taking to the audience between songs, or singing nostalgic songs like "23."

Hunt was preceded by the rock band X Ambassadors, which sounded like a rock act one moment and an R&B outfit the next. Like the other two acts on this bill, the band, which is led by brothers Sam and Casey Harris, also worked in new material. So, in addition to hits like "Renegades" and "Unsteady," the band introduced "My Own Monster," which prompted lead singer Sam Harris to do a kind of Frankenstein dance. Although there were pleasing elements to X Ambassadors' set, it appeared as though this act still can't decide if it wants to be stadium rock performers or a more lightweight pop act.

On a fall day that still felt like summer, this beach festival's conclusion opened with an appearance by Cassadee Pope, the third season winner on The Voice. She opened with the pop rock of "Take Me Home" and closed with "Wasting All These Tears." In between, Pope included some new material, including "Say It First" and "Tomorrow Night." Pope is a good singer, but her cookie-cutter country-pop pales in comparison to the edgier, country-er sounds of Carly Pearce (who was just recently in town) and Ashley McBryde (due here next week).

Whereas Pope's punching of the clock revealed how uninspiring faux country can be, Hunt overcame many of his sonic stylistic limitations with an inspiring performance that decidedly connected with this audience of beachgoers. That connection took some doing, too, because this was one really drunk crowd. To wit, both a girl fight between two inebriated women and another girl doing a full-on faceplant into the sand - only minutes apart. For those sober enough to appreciate what was going on onstage, though, Sam Hunt did a bravo job.



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