LAFAYETTE, La. - Just four short years ago, you could have seen Hunter Hayes playing at Bach Lunch in downtown Lafayette, treating the crowds to his special blend of country and Cajun music. Today, the Breaux Bridge native and CMA's New Artist of 2012 award winner is on a whirlwind.
Hayes stopped in Lafayette Nov. 20-21, playing two sold-out shows at the Heymann Performing Arts Center during his "Let's Be Crazy" tour. The tour is aptly named because that's exactly how Hayes is feeling these days.
"I'm just so stoked," Hayes said last month. "I'm just excited to bring the show back home. It's called the 'Lets Be Crazy' tour, and I just want people to come out and be crazy and don't be too stiff."
He burst onstage with limitless energy on Nov. 20, playing amazing guitar and belting out hit tunes one after another, delighting thousands of screaming girls and entertaining the moms and dads who brought them.
At just 22, Hayes is a country superstar. He has come a long way in his young career. Many here still remember him as the adorable 4-year-old with his accordion or the precocious 8-year-old with a guitar.
"I've always been the geek that loves music," Hayes said. "We have had a great year and we are loving it, but my family has always supported me in my music."
Hayes has been making music since about the time he learned to walk. By the time he was 2, he was picking up everything and making an instrument out of it. Hayes recalled in an interview with CMT that his grandmother gave him a toy accordion for his second birthday and he immediately began picking up Cajun songs by ear from the radio.
Hayes' parents are music lovers, but neither are musicians. The star said he spent much of his childhood at a Cajun restaurant a couple of blocks from his home where he joined his first band at the age of 4.
Hayes started out as the accordionist and then as the frontman at the age of 5. He was playing guitar by the age of 6. Along the way, he also learned to play bass guitar, drums, keyboards and more.
"I've never had the patience to sit down and learn from anyone," he told CMT. "So with the guitar, and with every subsequent instrument and piece of studio equipment, it's been a process of experimentation - pressing every button I can."
Songwriting has also been a passion for Hayes. He wrote his first song at age 6. He lists his influences as Garth Brooks, LeAnn Rimes and Clint Black.
As his music has evolved into more popular areas, he has taken cues from John Mayer, Michael Buble, Stevie Wonder, Keith Urban, Stevie Ray Vaughn and even the Beatles.
Currently, the platinum-selling country star is headlining the CMT on Tour: Hunter Hayes' "Let's Be Crazy" tour with 24 shows in 21 cities. The show will feature songs from his self-titled release, "Encore," and his newest hit song, "Everybody's Got Somebody But Me," a collaboration with five-time platinum selling artist, Jason Mraz. The two friends performed the song live at the CMA Awards on Nov. 6.
"It was challenging," Hayes said. "I had to walk backwards and sing live, but it was still fun."
What most of his fans probably won't believe is that Hayes wrote the song about a bad dating experience. One look at his fan pages, and it is hard to imagine this likeable young man ever having a bad date.
"It was really awful," he recalled. "I wrote about it because I was either going to be depressed or laugh about it. So I thought, 'If this is the worst (that can happen), why not laugh about it?"'
It is safe to say Hayes has achieved things beyond most musicians' wildest dreams. His official website lists just some of his accomplishments so far: Singing "Jambalaya" with Hank Williams Jr. in front of 200,000 people (15 million YouTube views) at the age of 4; appearing with Robert Duvall (who gave Hunter his first guitar) in "The Apostle" at the age of 6; performing for a U.S. president; and more.
In 2008, Hayes moved from Breaux Bridge to Nashville, Tenn., and was quickly signed to Universal Music Publishing Group where he helped co-write songs for Rascal Flatts and Montgomery Gentry. At the same time, he was introduced to Atlantic Records' Chairman/CEO Craig Kallman, whom he signed with at Atlantic Records.
Hayes described himself as blessed to be able to bring all of his success back to his friends and family in Acadiana.
"Just playing my hometown, two sold-out nights in a row, that's totally radical," Hayes said. "When I dreamed of getting into the business, the only theater I imagined anything in was the Heymann. So all my dreams are based on the template of that room. So I'm really, really stoked. We've got a great team, and I am so excited to bring it all home."