Luke Bryan‘s Jacksonville, Fla., show took an unexpected turn on Friday night (Oct. 28), after the singer invited Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to the stage.
DeSantis joined Bryan onstage at the beginning of the star’s set, to deafening roars from the crowd. The governor tossed what appeared to be water bottles into the crowd as he made his way to Bryan, and once he arrived center stage, the singer announced that “a large portion” of proceeds from the night’s show would be donated to the Florida Disaster Fund, in response to the ongoing need for relief following Hurricane Ian.
Fan-captured video on social media shows the moment, as well as Bryan’s explanation of how the previously scheduled tour stop turned into a fundraiser to benefit the people of Florida.
@kati_lovinlb Luke Bryan gave Governor DeSantis a Georgia Bulldogs jersey after bringing him out tonight in Jacksonville ❤🖤 #lukebryan #jacksonvilleflorida #georgiabulldogs #desantis #vystararena #raiseduprighttour #godawgs @lukebryan ♬ original sound – Kati
The venue that Bryan was originally scheduled to perform in, he explained, was repurposed as an emergency shelter location due to the hurricane. The singer and his team even wondered if they should cancel the show altogether.
“But the area of Estero said, ‘Get your a– to Estero,” he went on to say. “… So what we’re gonna do is, a large portion of the proceeds in Estero, Fla., to everybody that bought the ticket, kept the ticket, [spent] the money — I’m donating that money to the great state of Florida.”
But that wasn’t all: “I have a gift for the governor,” Bryan said, stopping DeSantis as he turned to leave the stage. Someone side-stage handed the singer a gift bag, and he pulled out a red jersey with the number “19” across the front — aka a Brock Bowers Georgia football jersey.
The cheers in the crowd quickly turned to boos, and with good reason: Bryan (a diehard Georgia Bulldogs fan) was playing his show on the eve of the rivalry college football game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Florida Gators. Bryan and DeSantis both dissolved into laughter as DeSantis reluctantly accepted the jersey.
“I remember when we used to win that game every year!” the governor commented into his microphone. (The game, which took place on Saturday, Oct. 29, ultimately went in favor of the Bulldogs, who handily won 42-20.)
After DeSantis’ appearance at Bryan’s show — and after DeSantis posted about the night on social media — fans had mixed responses on social media. Some applauded Bryan’s philanthropy, while others condemned his jokey back-and-forth with the governor, a far-right Republican whose positions have made him a lightning rod for controversy throughout his tenure.
In response to the social media criticism he received for fraternizing with the governor, Bryan issued a statement on Twitter on Sunday (Oct. 30), explaining that he decided to appear alongside DeSantis for the greater good of raising awareness about the need for help in responding to Hurricane Ian.
“I understand that Governor DeSantis is a very polarizing figure,” Bryan’s statement reads in part. “But I grew up in a counry where if a governor asks you if they can come and raise awareness to help victims of a natural disaster, you help.”
He adds, ” I knew people would chatter about this but for me the more important piece was if I am going to come back there a few weeks after a large portion of people have been affected by a natural disaster in a state where people have been good to me, this felt right. Raise awareness, have a little fun between the GA and FL college fans before the game and do what I love onstage.”
He concluded his message with a number fans could text to support disaster relief, which is 20222.
Per the Miami Herald, Hurricane Ian made landfall in Caya Costa as a Category 4 storm on Sept. 28. With winds reaching 155 mph, it destroyed countless homes, buildings and structures, submerging entire neighborhoods underwater, leaving millions without power and killing at least 89 people.
In the wake of the storm, Bryan postponed three of his Raised Up Right Tour dates scheduled to take place in the area; those shows will now take place Nov. 2 in Estero, Nov. 4 in West Palm Peach and Nov. 5 in Tampa.
PICTURES: See Highlights From Luke Bryan’s Las Vegas Residency
Luke Bryan opened his Las Vegas residency at Resorts World Theatre with a killer performance on Feb. 11, 2022, and pictures show a high-tech set that served as a backdrop to a stunning performance.
The superstar varied the setlist with selections from every era of his career, backed by sets and visuals that included explosive pyrotechnics, multi-level risers and a catwalk that brought him eye-to-eye with the fans in the upper levels.
Scroll to see pictures from Luke Bryan’s triumphant Las Vegas residency.