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Country Jam Set Indicates Thomas Rhett Is Becoming Country’s Justin Timberlake

The moves, the polish, the swagger, the songs … comparisons between Thomas Rhett and Justin Timberlake may be premature, but they’re not inappropriate. His headlining set at Country Jam 2017 hinted at what’s to come from the “Craving You” singer.

On stage, Rhett’s mix of urgency and gratitude makes him the most likable guy in the world. The 27-year-old will close his eyes and interpret the soulful moments of songs like “Die a Happy Man” and “Crash and Burn,” performed with a slower, more poetic intro on Sunday night (June 19) in Grand Junction, Colo. Then he’ll bounce across both sides of his stage (and it was his stage) during cuts like “South Side” and later, “T-Shirt.”

After Jason Aldean (Friday night) and Kenny Chesney (Saturday) Rhett was a bit of a question mark for the thousands in attendance. He doesn’t have as many hits or as much onstage experience, but his overwhelming rise is impossible to ignore. Just three years ago he played a midday set at Jam Ranch, but even then fans were packed nearly to the food vendors.

He brought that same energy once again, bursting onto the stage with a funky wall of sound backing him. “Get Me Some of That” and “Star of the Show” also came early, with one song transitioning into the next without a clean downbeat. The set list was similar to what Rhett offered during a Nashville concert in April, but tighter. Not having a secondary stage eliminated some dead space. “Vacation” is his band feature, during which he shows off their command and precision. Subtly you learn about his command, as well. Like Timberlake, one finds a James Brown influence when this kid from Georgia takes the stage.

Pop, classic rock and classic country all make their way into a Thomas Rhett concert. He again found a fan to help him sing Garth Brooks‘ “Friends in Low Places,” but “Matt” in the Geico hat didn’t prove to be much of a sidekick. A more reliable fan feature would aid his set, and to some degree, he’s still figuring it out.

One leaves knowing he will figure it all out soon. He resists pyrotechnics in favor of old home videos and his own on choreography. He’s a much more capable dancer than most in country, sliding across the stage before snapping it together with a punch from his band. He shows up on drums for an encore, easily banging out the rhythm to Led Zeppelin‘s “The Ocean” before closing with “24K Magic” by Bruno Mars.

Rhett leaves fans knowing they saw something truly unique in country music. He left an at-capacity Country Jam crowd wanting more.

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