“People use the word ‘love’ a lot,” Kip Moore tells Knoxville, Tennessee this Thursday night. It’s a crowd for whom ‘love’ would come easily when describing the artist; as with most of Moore’s audiences, they’ve been singing along – every word, every song, all night.
“It gets tossed around all the time,” Moore continues. “If you truly love somebody, you really care about ’em, you want the best for them, and that doesn’t mean you’ll always be in the picture. You love them selflessly.” He pauses. “That’s what this song is about.” He launches into “Running For You,” the Troy Verges and Blair Daly co-write that serves as the current single for the 35-year-old.
The single may be the most vulnerable offering of Moore’s to touch radio. It’s transcendental on the record, and even more magical live. Part of Moore’s charm is the humility that pervades the way he talks to the crowd, thanking them repeatedly for staying by his side through the arduous years of release-less label battles. There’s a shine to his eye when he surveys it, as if he’s heard the story of the girl in the upper balcony that traveled from Boston to catch his set, the guy in the back row who just made rent and is here because he had just a little extra. Those are far from unusual in a Kip crowd – he spends most of his nights post-show signing autographs until the venue kicks him out – and it’s built him a fan base that will move mountains to hear him sing about backseats and beer money.
Tonight is his first headlining show in Knoxville, and though his charm never fades, it’s evident he’s a little nervous. “To be honest, I didn’t think anybody was gonna show up,” he told the crowd, detailing discussions with booking agents and management about whether to play new markets.
Show up they have. From older songs like “Crazy One More Time” and “Reckless” to Wild Ones’ “That Was Us” and “What Ya Got On Tonight,” it was a group that wasn’t just here for the singles. “This was one of the songs they told me not to put on the record,” Moore says of “That Was Us,” the Westin Davis and Dan Couch co-write that references domestic abuse. “They said, ‘You can’t sing about that,'” he continues. “Not only did I say, ‘Watch me,’ I said, ‘Everyone’s gonna like this one.'”
Moore’s made no secret of the label turmoil he suffered surrounding the release of sophomore album Wild Ones, and though he’s not shy to throw frustration their way, his overwhelming force is, as usual, gratitude. Through “Backseat,” during which the crowd cheered after every single line of the verse, to “Hey Pretty Girl,” during which several couples took to the aisle to slow dance, Moore professed his gratitude for their continued support of his journey.
“It’s been a long, long grind,” he says. “I’ve been kicked in the teeth for so long. One winter back in like 2004 – I remember it being 9 degrees outside and I couldn’t afford to keep my heat on and I remember thinking, ‘This is it. This is the last night on earth… I’m dying tonight.”
He pauses. “I can remember the struggle,” he says. “Thank you so much for supporting us.”