Every day, country music hopefuls swarm the neon-lined streets of downtown Nashville. Talented, deserving artists play to empty rooms, honing their live sets and spending years waiting for the kind of opportunity that Jon Langston found when Luke Bryan asked the young performer to join his 2017 Farm Tour. As someone who — not that long ago — was also an unknown artist trying to gain traction in the music industry, Langston knows exactly how lucky he is.
“There are so many great artists, and great people, who deserve a slot, or a chance. Luke is the guy that gave me the chance that led to all this happening,” he tells Country Now. “Just to be able to have a guy like Luke to mentor me and take me under his wing, show me how it’s done, is really awesome.”
Not only is Langston opening for the superstar once again during the 2019 Sunset Repeat Tour, but he is also the fledgling artist signed to Bryan’s new label, 32 Bridge Entertainment. That’s a lot of trust to place in a new artist, and Langston doesn’t take his position lightly. “It’s a big responsibility. I’m up for the challenge, and I’m up for all that it entails,” he explains.
One opening slot might have been a fluke, but two — plus a record deal — is no accident. It took more than luck to get Langston onto Bryan’s lineup. Thinking back to the early days of their friendship, the singer says he has a pretty good idea of what it was about his performance that caught the industry veteran’s eye.
“We met at a Christmas party a long time ago, and we were smoking a cigar, hanging out, chilling, and he was asking me what I had going on,” Langston recalls. “I think about six months later, at CMA Fest in Nashville, I think he snuck around and got side-stage of one of my sets that I was playing.
“He saw the fans. He saw what we were doing. He saw the numbers. He was like, ‘Man, this fanbase is hardcore,” continues Langston.
Bryan walked away from that first Farm Tour even more convinced that he’d backed the right horse. “[He] kept his ear out, watched what I was doing behind the scenes. When he saw the fans, he was like, ‘These songs haven’t been on radio, and all these people are singing them. Imagine if I help you out to get on radio, what would happen,” Langston remembers. “So that’s kind of how it unfolded.”
Langston owes his career to his animated fanbase — literally. If he hadn’t been able to resoundingly prove his songs’ appeal to listeners during a live show, Bryan may never have handpicked the younger singer as a protege. As his career began picking up steam, with a new label deal, a new project to complete and a busy tour schedule to juggle, Langston admits that it got difficult to keep up with releasing the consistent stream of new tunes his fans had become accustomed to getting from him. As a ‘thank you’ to listeners for their patience, he dropped “Dance Tonight” — a crowd favorite.
“The fans hadn’t had a new song in almost a year. And they were just ready for new music,” he explains. “I felt like I needed to give them something, and ‘Dance Tonight’ was a song that we were playing live and people were loving it…So we did a whole video for it. It wasn’t for a single or anything, just a little something to give the fans, like, ‘Hey, thank y’all for sticking with me and being patient while I’m working on this project here.’”
By contrast, Langston says that the fan response to his brand-new single, “Now You Know,” only confirmed what he was already sure of: The song was built to be a hit. “The day we wrote [‘Now You Know’], I was like, ‘Okay, this is radio, this is a jam, this is a show-opener. This is the whole package,” he laughs. “I sent [the demo] to everybody. I was just fired up about the song.”
Langston is taking that new single on the road for the first time during the 2019 Sunset Repeat Tour. He has a chance to test out the new tune in front of Bryan’s audience before taking a break from opening duties to pursue a short headlining run of his own. That stint will include two dates at the Georgia Theatre in Athens, Ga., just 45 minutes from his hometown of Loganville, where he grew up watching his idols perform. Life is coming full circle for Langston in 2019 — not only is he returning as a performer to the hall where he saw his early formative country concerts, but one of the largest looming of those early idols has become a mentor and a friend.
Then there’s his relationship with the Sunset Repeat Tour’s other act, Cole Swindell. Not only does Langston’s friendship with Swindell actually predate his friendship with Bryan, but — uncannily enough — it actually links all three artists. Back when he was a junior in college, Langston released a homemade YouTube cover of a song called “Beer in the Headlights.” That song was originally recorded by Bryan, who included it on his 2013 album, Crash My Party. However, Swindell co-wrote the track, along with songwriters Brandon Kinney and Michael Carter.
At the time, Swindell was a working songwriter: He’d penned hits for Florida Georgia Line, Craig Campbell and more. He co-wrote Bryan’s No. 1 single “Roller Coaster,” from the same album that also featured “Beer in the Headlights.” He didn’t have much of a career yet as a performer in his own right, although he had artistic aspirations. However, just a month or two after handing over “Beer in the Headlights,” he wrote “Chillin’ It,” the song that ultimately became his breakout debut hit.
Had it not been for his connection to Bryan, and the momentum he gained from contributing songs Crash My Party, Swindell might never have been able to release his debut album, and with it, the songs that made him a star. Who knows? If he’d kept “Beer in the Headlights” for himself, maybe it would have tanked at radio, and he wouldn’t have had the chance to put out “Chillin’ It.” Like Langston, Swindell owes Bryan a debt of gratitude for helping jumpstart the early stages of his career — although Swindell’s early connection to the superstar revolves around songwriting, while Langston’s focuses more on performance and fan connection.
But back to Swindell’s relationship with Langston: Upon its release, the younger artist’s YouTube cover of “Beer in the Headlights” racked up views, ultimately attracting the attention of the songwriter himself. “I guess he came across it on YouTube, and reached out, on Twitter, or social media, or something,” Langston relates. “People were like, ‘Oh, Cole’s trying to get ahold of you.’ I was like, ‘What?!’”
Once the two started talking over social media, the timing got even more serendipitous. “He was actually playing Charlotte, up near where I was going to school at, that weekend. He gave me tickets to the show, and we met, and hung out, and we’ve been buds ever since,” he explains. Through some combination of talent, timing and sheer luck, Langston has had the good fortune to live out any would-be star’s dream.
Langston knows that there’s a lot riding on the career moves he makes right now, but he points out that his friendship with Swindell and Bryan help take the edge off of some of that pressure. “Oh, we’re just like one big family out there,” he relates. “I’m very lucky and very blessed, for my first big tour, to be out with guys like Luke and Cole. You know, you hear these stories about opening acts that get the short end of the deal, get treated a certain way, but it’s just like a dream out here.
“I’ve got my big brothers!” he continues. “Of course they all pick on me, but we’re all just having fun, and they’ve got my back. It’s really awesome to have guys like that to show me how the big boys do it.”
For more with Jon Langston, visit his official website.