North Carolina Bar Owner On Luke Combs’ College Gigs: “He Looked 10 Feet Tall With More Swag Than The Rock”

A man holding a guitar
Photo by Terry Wyatt/WireImage/Getty Images)

Luke Combs might just be the biggest thing in music right now.

Back in 2020, during the NFL Draft, we posed the question about a “Country Music Draft” of sorts, and who would be the number one pick?

And at the time, I said that there IS a correct answer… and that it was Luke Combs.

Now keep in mind, this was back in the spring of 2020, but if every record label’s roster is wiped clean, throw the indie artists in as well… and if you’re an executive with the first overall pick in the new draft, you’re going with Luke Combs.

He’s young, his fanbase is huge, he’s broken a ton of records, and it’s only the beginning. Also, let’s be real – even if you hate the mainstream, Combs is easily one of the best options you’re going to find.

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But back in the day, long before he was the Trevor Lawrence of the country music world, he was playing at a little bar called Town Tavern in Boone, North Carolina.

A student at Appalachian State University (also the alma matter of fellow North Carolina native Eric Church), Luke was cutting his teeth in college bars and according to bar owner Justin Davis, he was blowing the roof off.

Here’s the story of Luke’s early days in college bars, straight from Justin himself:

“Luke lived upstairs from my bar the Town Tavern in Boone and worked security as well. And one time, he asked me if he could play there. Live music was always a no-go because we had tenants above the bar so it was always an issue with the lease and our landlord who didn’t rent that space out to me to piss off his bread and butter which was his residents rent above our spot.

Keep in mind I’m only 28 yrs old and Luke has just turned 21.

Well, Luke went across the street and played at another college bar and well over 200 people showed up on a Wednesday. The next day, Luke came back to the Tavern and said, “I can play there again or I’ll play here for you at The Tavern.”

So I said “fuck the lease, and fuck the tenants,” I can’t let all my business go across the street to another bar or none of it will matter anyway.

So we set up Thursday nights and he would headline with Adam Church on our “Red Solo Cup Night.” This was our gimmick to compete with other places running specials on the same night.

You  would bring in a red solo cup we would fill it with PBR for a buck. It was just in the peak of Toby Keith’s song “Red Solo Cup,” so we really did fill those fuckers up, like-700 cups or more a night.

Luke and Adam would come on about 11pm and I would turn all the lights off and strobe the dimmers back and forth as we blasted AC/DC “For Those About To Rock” and like a WWE intro, out would roll ADAM and LUKE!

Luke’s always been a big fella but when he rolled out into that hallway to take that stage, in a room full of 200 raging drunk college kids with red solo cups, he looked 10 feet tall with more swag than The Rock. And he would kill it, every time.

People couldn’t get enough, after sets or during Adams solos he would come chill in the back and we would suck down draft PBRs and Jager bombs. I remember always telling him he was special and he had that “it” factor. We would have to cut the door by 10pm every Thursday because the Fire Department would write us overcapacity tickets and that went on for about a year.

One afternoon Luke came in and said he needed to talk to me so we went out back and he told me he was moving to Nashville. I was so over the moon for him and I knew he was doing what he needed to do, but at the same time I was like “FUCK me, I’m losing a star!” It was such a wild feeling.

He rolled out in something like a 1996 Dodge Neon, smoking, and packed full of shit, but a year later he dropped “Hurricane” and we all watched it climb up the charts, just a bunch of cheerleaders back at his hometown bar.

What he’s done is phenomenal and it was awesome to watch him blow up right in front of our eyes night after night.

And the rest is history.

From a little college bar in Boone, North Carolina… all the way to CMA Entertainer of the Year.

So without further ado, let’s go all the way back to 2011…

Luke Combs performs a cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” at a college bar in Boone, North Carolina.

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock