Dan + Shay have been grinding it out in the music industry for almost seven years together. And even before that, members Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney were working independently of one another — Smyers in multiple previous bands and Mooney as a solo artist. There’s no greater feeling than seeing your hard work pay off, and that’s how it felt when they first got together to form Dan + Shay.

Since their formation in 2013, every year has been an impressive improvement overt he previous one. 2014 saw the duo release their debut album, Where It All Began, and then immediately went on tour opening for Hunter Hayes’ headlining tour, then Blake Shelton, and then doing their own headlining tour in the fall of 2014. Their headlining tour comprised of club shows, somewhere between 1k and 2k cap venues — nothing to write off, but as singles “19 You + Me” and “Nothin’ Like You'” impacted radio, you knew something bigger was brewing.

Having already performed in arenas as an opening band, Dan + Shay proved they were able to captivate the large audience. Through the touring cycle of their second album, 2016’s Obsessed, the band continued to headline in clubs and make their mark on country radio with “From the Ground Up” and “How Not To.” But you see, 2018 was a monumental year for Dan + Shay: “Tequila” was released and flipped their world upside down. It quickly became their highest charting single on the radio, best selling single, and most recognizable. Their self-titled album came out in 2018 and had 3 Top 40 crossover hits: “Speechless,” “All to Myself,” and the aforementioned “Tequila.”

It was only a matter of time then, that due to that success, Dan + Shay would take a swing at headlining arenas on their own. Powered behind a brand new single, “10,000 Hours” with Justin Bieber, they announced their arena tour back in October and after catching a show for myself it’s undeniable that it’s been a success.

Ingrid Andress kicked off the show on March 8th in Columbus, Ohio — starting approximately 10 minutes or so behind schedule as fans continued to beat the long lines to get in. Once on stage, Andress didn’t seem bothered in the slightest by the crowd — and after all, why would she? With a gold single already under her belt (“More Hearts Than Mine”), it won’t be long before more and more people are familiar with her music. Though her set was short and sweet, only performing five songs, Andress is an artist you won’t want to ignore.

The Band CAMINO served as the second opening act — and that’s a band that undoubtedly is meant for arenas. I was able to interview and catch up with these guys back in the fall of 2019, and their meteoric rise is one that is truly impressive. This time last year the band was headlining in 200-300 cap venues, in the fall of 2019 they were headlining in 1,000-2,000 cap venues, and now they’re on an arena tour (with another set to come in the summer with 5 Seconds of Summer).

The Band CAMINO played longer than Andress did, and opened with “What I Want,” an older song that got re-imagined last year for their tryhard EP. Looking around at the crowd, you could tell there was some confusion as perhaps they were expecting another country artist. But another undeniable aspect on this is that as the band ripped through songs like “See Through,” “Haunted” and the arena-rock-ready “Daphne Blue,” Dan + Shay fans throughout the arena were getting more and more into this opening act. Through their meteoric rise in the music industry, The Band CAMINO have all the tools to win over any audience they are in front of — ones that will only continue to get larger and larger.

When it’s time for Dan + Shay to take the stage, Nationwide Arena is completely filled. Before the show, the duo announced via social media that the show was sold out — an impressive feat for a Sunday night. The duo’s production for this tour is, as expected for an arena tour, truly their best yet. They’ve got large screens on their main stage, plus a smaller b-side stage in the center of the floor, in the shape their + sign.

It’s that center stage where Dan + Shay kicks off their show, and they come out guns blazing with “10,000 Hours.” Smyers and Mooney roam around the b-stage, as Mooney’s vocals lead the way and carry throughout the room, with Smyers using his voice for harmonies that has made their music sound as summer-y as it does smooth. Smyers is more than vocals, as he pulls out an acoustic guitar for the first time for “Alone Together” off of Dan + Shay. Still on their b-stage, it’s not until the third song “All to Myself” where the two make their way up to the main stage.

Part of what has always been so intriguing about Dan + Shay is their flexibility as artists to create whatever they feel like. They have always very much so tip-toed the line of pop-rock and country, which is not to say that it’s a bad thing. That’s where modern country music has been going for a while, and hell, even half of their live band (Justin Richards on guitar, Andrew Cook on drums) were in A Rocket to the Moon — a band that would fit right in playing with Dan + Shay. But, when the duo really wants to walk that aforementioned line and push the envelope, they always pull it off.

They even pull off these songs live, as “What Keeps You Up At Night” is a slow-burning, John Mayer-esque song that fans love hearing live as they lift up their phone lights in solidarity. “Make or Break” is one of their more up-beat songs that, sans any country tuned guitars, would simplify classify as a hell of a pop-rock track. “Nothin’ Like You” is one of Dan + Shay’s first singles, and it’s about as straightforward country as they’ve offered: a mid-tempo, lovey song that is as innocent as it is catchy. All of these songs, when played live, keep the charm that made them favorites among fans.

During their set, Dan + Say performed “Keeping Score,” which of course features Kelly Clarkson on the studio version. It’s a wonderful collaboration, and when I interviewed Smyers back in the summer of 2018, he told me, “Kelly has one of the most powerful voices, not only in our generation, but of all time, so it was an honor when she said yes to singing with us. We sent her the song, and literally within an hour, she hit back and was in. Working in the studio with her was an absolute pleasure, and we can’t wait to sing this one live.”

After performing “Keeping Score,” Smyers takes a moment to to thank all of the fans for showing up. This isn’t the last time that either of the two do this, as it’s not lost on them just how far they’ve come. However, Dan + Shay know they haven’t gotten here on their own. As March 8th was International Women’s Day, the duo ensure that they recognize all of the women that are on their crew by bringing them out on stage while Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls)” plays over the PA.

There comes a time during their set where Dan + Shay take a 10 minute intermission, and as an aging concertgoer, it’s appreciated. After their intermission — and a change of outfits — they return to their b-stage in the center of the floor. It’s an intimate setting for the duo, as for the next few songs it’s just Smyers on guitar and Mooney on piano. After playing with “My Side of the Fence,” the duo play “Lipstick” which they explain is one of their most requested songs live.

After Mooney begins to spontaneously perform “Already Ready,” the duo pushes through and moves to “When I Pray for You.” But before they do, Mooney explains how as you get older, certain songs change meaning. Mooney just had his second child a few weeks ago, and “When I Pray for You” is one of those that means completely more to them than it did when it was written a few years ago.

After another brief minute pause or so, Dan + Shay close out their set with arguably their three biggest tracks: “Speechless,” “19 You + Me,” and “Tequila” — with each one of them drawing a louder audience than the previous one. It’s inarguable that Dan + Shay have gotten larger and larger with each passing year, and it always seemed like they were destined to one day grace an arena as a headlining tour. But, take it from someone that has seen them in a 1,200 cap venue and now an 18,000 cap arena: Dan + Shay proved they belonged to be there. They were having the time of their life, and so was everyone in attendance. When they announce their next tour, arenas will pack and crowds will sing loud and clear, and Dan + Shay won’t slow down.