While performing at last year’s Livestock Show and Rodeo, country music heartthrob Hunter Hayes decided that he needed to get a little bit closer to his 71,500-member audience, so in the middle of one of his songs he jumped off the enormous rotating stage onto the dirt of the NRG Stadium floor. The crowd loved it. Hayes loved it. There was only one problem—how would he rejoin the rest of his band for the next song?
“When I came back, the stage was not how I left it,” the 23-year-old Louisiana native told us, laughing. “I was kind of hoping the guy with the knob would slow the stage down or stop it for me. I was like, ‘Surely he knows that there’s only one staircase, and I won’t be able to get to it.’”
Fortunately for the thousands of Hayniacs in the audience, the singer—Nashville’s answer to Justin Bieber—was ultimately able to mount the stage and finish his set. (UrbanDictionary.com: “A Hayniac is someone who is a fan of the one and only Hunter Hayes. This person listens to all of his songs, stares at beautiful pictures of him all day, and is hopelessly in love with him.”)
This year, Hayes is scheduled to perform on the second night of the rodeo, and he couldn’t be more excited to be back. “It’s right at the top of the list of shows you want to play, especially considering how many people are there. There’s just something about 75,000 people singing along to your stuff.”
Hayes has, to all outward appearances, lived a charmed life. He received his first guitar as a gift from actor Robert Duvall at age 6 (they met when Hayes played a small role in the 1997 film The Apostle), performed at the White House the following year, signed with Atlantic Nashville Records at 18, and has spent the past few years touring as the opening act for Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, and Lady Antebellum. His self-titled 2011 debut album sold over a million copies; his sophomore effort, last year’s Storyline, peaked at number two on Billboard’s Country chart.
Growing up in Louisiana, Hayes always heard about the Houston Rodeo. “I have this good friend Ronnie, and we would always joke about playing the big stage at the Rodeo,” he said. “Really, we’ve been talking about that for 10 years or something.”
When asked the secret to playing in a football stadium, Hayes compared the experience to being an actor in a large theater. “When you’re on stage, and you’re that far away from everybody, small movements aren’t noticed,” he said. “So if you’re going to jump, jump. If you’re going to run around the stage, own it—run around the stage. It’s a great cardio workout.”
We only had one more question: will Hayes be playing on a rotating stage again? “I hope so!” he replied. “I think that’s kind of a thing for them.”