The title of Justin Moore's latest album is a fitting encapsulation of the best of summer — “Late Nights and Longnecks.”
The down-home, no-nonsense 35-year-old Arkansas native will bring his combination of celebration and reflection to headline this year's Back Road Music Festival on Saturday, Aug. 10, at Galva's Wiley Park. The music starts at 4 p.m. with Clare Dunn, Parmalee and Tyler Farr.
“What I'm most proud of in my career, that I'm still making music, it's amazing, the longevity,” Moore said in a recent telephone interview. “What we've been afforded the opportunity to enjoy is great.”
Compared to headlining arenas nationwide, outdoor festivals are “more of a party atmosphere, it's fun,” he said. “At a lot of them, we have the opportunity, most artists are buddies, but we have very little opportunity to catch up. We get to watch each other's shows and catch up.”
Coming off Moore's fifth record, “It obviously has been a good run. I've had a lot of hit records,” he said.
Tipping his cowboy hat to Alan Jackson and George Strait, Moore's “Late Night” is billed as his most traditional-sounding collection to date, “a no-frills portrait of small-town life and big-time dreams that’s not afraid to let its hair down and party at the end of a hard day’s work.”
Alcohol is a constant companion on the record, but Moore paints a complex picture of his characters’ relationship with it, according to his biography. Sometimes it’s medication (“Never Gonna Drink Again”), sometimes it’s escape (“Airport Bar”), sometimes it’s a memory you’d rather forget (“Jesus and Jack Daniels”).
“Drinking has always been a part of country music on both sides of the coin, out of sadness and out of fun,” Moore said. “There’s no shortage of either on this record.”
A review of the disc at soundslikenashville.com said it “ enjoyably reinforces his well-earned position as a current artist with a deft skill at looking back while sounding fresh.”
The unpretentious writing and production includes the uptempo, album-opening “Why We Drink,” blending hard-charging electric guitar and soaring pedal steel. “It’s a relatable ode to that magical period lying between Friday at five and Sunday night, and it would’ve undoubtedly hit No.1 had it been on the radio in 1996,” the review said.
“But it’s not all Saturday night sinning here, as there’s plenty of Sunday morning-style redemption to be heard as well,” the review said. “It wouldn’t be a Moore record without appreciative nods to the small-town life he’s long adored.”
Moore grew up in tiny Poyen, Ark., where he worked on his grandparents' cattle farm and enjoyed a rural childhood, according to his bio at allmusic.com. He started singing as early as two years old, and at eight he won a talent show at the local high school. He sang gospel songs in church but spent the rest of his time listening to country music, studying the genre inside and out.
He moved to Nashville right after high school in 2002, and at 23 signed with Big Machine Records – home to pop-country stars like Taylor Swift and Jewel. In 2008, Moore earned opening spots on the Rowdy Frynds Tour with Lynyrd Skynyrd and Hank Williams, Jr.
He toured with Trace Adkins, Luke Bryan, Brooks & Dunn, ZZ Top, and a first single, "Back That Thing Up," was released later that year and made it onto the country Top 40 charts. A second single, the autobiographically apt "Small Town USA," was released in 2009. Moore earned Academy of Country Music's “New Artist of the Year” in 2014.
In 2016, he dropped “Kinda Don’t Care,” his third consecutive No. 1 record. The New York Times hailed Moore as proof that “old forms can stand even stronger with injections of new ideas,” while Billboard celebrated his “down-home personality and wry sense of humor,” and Rolling Stone praised the “upbeat mix of contemporary country and honest twang that he perfected.” Moore’s songs racked up more than a billion on-demand and programmed streams.
“I stepped out of my comfort zone and did things a little differently on the last album,” he said. “We recorded some songs that became big hits for me that I probably wouldn’t have cut earlier in my career. It was a lot of fun to try something new like that in the studio, but afterwards, I really just wanted to just get back into writing songs and make the most traditional-sounding record I could.”
Of an emotional 2011 song, Moore recalled: “Every night on stage when I would introduce ‘If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away,’ I’d dedicate it to the ones who didn’t make it back home,” he said of selfless military servicemen and women. “One night it hit me that that needed to be its own song. It’s fun to have hit records and all that, but the thing I’m most proud of as an artist is when I hear from people that the songs I sing helped them get through a difficult time in their life.
“I recognized how powerful country music is,” Moore said. “People tell me how much that song meant to them in difficult times. That would be really cool to have another song that affects people in a positive way. You think of the ones that didn't make it back home, had that impact on people. That's really special for sure. I hope this song can have that kind of impact on folks.”
That new song is “The Ones That Didn’t Make It Back Home” (the record's first single), which honors the soldiers, nurses, first responders and teachers who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice to help make the world a better place.
Moore sang it at the annual National Memorial Day Parade on Monday, May 27, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The largest Memorial Day parade in the nation, it draws more than 250,000 spectators on-site.
“In that setting, on that holiday was something; it was really special,” he said. “It was perfect for that particular song. To have done this as long as we have, to have a chance to do that was really cool, really neat, really special. With a particular song, a lot of the audience was servicemen and women.”
Moore has relatives who served in the military. “My parents instilled in me the sacrifice those men and women make daily — keeping us safe and the greatest country in the world. I tried to shine a light on that,” he said. “Anytime there's a charitable event for the military, police officers, firefighters, teachers, nurses, we try to honor all those men and women any time we have the chance.”
That desire for connection is what “Late Nights and Longnecks” is all about. Some characters find it at the bar, some find it at home; some don’t find it at all, but at the end of the day, they all share the search, according to his bio.
“Not only is this my best album, it was the most fun I’ve ever had making a record,” Moore said. “That’s the whole reason I got into this business in the first place.”
He and his wife Kate have four kids – daughters age 9, 7, and 5 and a 2-year-old boy, Thomas South Moore, for whom he penned “That's My Boy” on the new disc.
“As a father, I've probably written songs indirectly affected by having kids, but this was the first one I wrote for my child. It's a song pretty much me instilling the message of pride you have as a father having a boy,” Moore said. “It goes through what I expect him to experience in life, from beginning to end.”
Though he's left small-town Arkansas, it's never left his heart. “I wouldn't trade the way I grew up for anything in the world. It made me who I am, being raised the way I was raised,” Moore said. “It's the way I'm raising my own children.”