The “Thunder” rolled into the desert this past weekend at Country Thunder in Florence, AZ. The four-day festival hosted country’s top performers Chris Janson, Harry Luge, Morgan Frazier, Desert Dixie, High Valley, Run Boy Run, Sweetwater Rain, Parmalee, Greg Bates, Tracy Lawrence, Aaron Lewis, Diamond Rio, Jerrod Niemann, Brantley Gilbert, Kip Moore, Jana Kramer, Love & Theft, Lee Brice, Justin Moore, and headliners – Eric Church, Toby Keith, and Lady Antebellum. With such a great amount of talent on one main stage, concertgoers got a taste of the many different flavors of country music. Of course, favorites like Toby and Lady A had crowds lining up to get a good view of the stage, but there were some key performances I know fans won’t soon forget.
On night one, band Sweetwater Rain sang a soulful, crowd-stopping, version of their hit “Starshine,” and everyone in the audience got lost in the vocals of lead singer Danny Rivera. Rivera, who rocked his long locks despite the desert heat, got lots of love from thunder fans, as did guitarist, Fred Stallcup and bassist, Thomas Hewlett. These guys are definitely climbing in the country music scene and if their live performance was any indication of how talented they are, you can bet we’ll be seeing a lot of them in this next year.
Another standout was someone who’s been getting a lot of attention lately, Kip Moore… and for good reason. Moore had all the fans drooling over his red trucker hat and muscular flannel cut off Thursday night as he performed his latest hits, “Beer Money” and “Hey Pretty Girl,” but the crowd was most smitten with the numerous talents this guy has. His songwriting displays lyrics that everyone can relate to – a little rebellious, a little flirty, and a lot of fun, his newest hit “Reckless (Still Growin’ Up)” was a showstopper. (Unfortunately for me, I got broken up with by Kip during the show, but to this day it’s the best break up I’ve ever had haha). This guy is without a doubt going to do BIG things and even though I’m still a little heartbroken, I know myself, and all his fans are very much in love with him.
Night two boasted some of the best performances of the weekend. Jana Kramer knocked out an amazing set, coming off her ACM win, playing fan favorites like “Why You Wanna” and “Whiskey.” I don’t think fans realized how truly gorgeous and talented this girl is, but all of Florence knew after Friday night. Kramer was a huge crowd pleaser and definitely rocked her high heels like a champ… she was so good she might have even made her fiancé a little jealous. Hands down, the best music of Friday night came from Love & Theft. It’s not every day that you get to see one, let alone two, vocally talented artists playing together on stage, and their performance was top notch. Nominated for New Duo of the Year at the ACMs, it was really hard to see how they didn’t win. Songs like “Angel Eyes” and really anything else they play is so musically strong and fun … not to mention they are a hell of a good time on stage. Their show is what country music fans pay money to see and they truly did not disappoint at Country Thunder.
Saturday was a bit of an emotional atmosphere for many of us… I guess all the camping wore us down; but when I say “emotional” I mean it because of the exceptional talent that performed. Parmalee and Lee Brice had incredible performances and really impressed their fans, showing everyone they know how to put on a great show. Parmalee, who has had one of the hardest roads in this industry, coming back from a shooting early on in their career, to make their mark on country… and they definitely made that mark a permanent one this past weekend. Singing “Carolina” they tugged on the heartstrings of a lot of the cowboys and cowgirls
in the audience, and also fired the crowd back up with “Musta Had a Good Time.” These guys without a doubt stole a lot of the spotlight Saturday and left everything out on the stage with their performance.
Another emotional performance came from Lee Brice and his song “I Drive Your Truck,” (there was no dry eye left in the house). From his personal breakdown of emotion to the view of one mother in the audience wearing a T-shirt in memory of her fallen soldier, the whole place stopped and shared a huge moment during that song. Brice demonstrated the true power country music can have and reminded everyone wearing a concert wristband that night of its true meaning. -Note- To show just how cool Lee Brice is, he also drove around before his set Saturday and hung out with fans at their campsites – how many artists do that? Awesome.
Closing out the weekend, Justin Moore’s presence on stage was so incredible I actually heard a fan say, “He should’ve played all 4 days!” With the amount of talent Justin Moore has there is no question he has a ton of fans, and based on the screaming, I’m pretty sure they all bought tickets to Country Thunder. Singing hits like “Outlaws Like Me,” “If Heaven Weren’t So Far Away,” and “Bait a Hook,” he showed off his versatility with country sound and delivered a top performance of the whole festival. Can’t wait to see him on tour (which hits Erie, PA tomorrow with Dustin Lynch and Jon Pardi)!
I can’t fail to mention the amazing performances by headliners Eric Church, Toby Keith, and Lady Antebellum. These extremely talented artists are truly veterans of their trade and make playing venues like Country Thunder, in front of thousands and thousands of fans, look completely easy. I will say this – you have not lived until you’ve heard Eric Church play “Loves Me Like Jesus Does” live. UhhhMaaaZiiing! Toby, Toby, Toby – he is such a legend, and never fails to sing all of his hits … even after he may or may not have had too many red solo cups. *Special shout out to Toby’s background singer, Mica – GIRL can SANG!* Last but certainly not least, Lady A – you three (or should I say four) rock harder than any vocal group I’ve seen live; old sound, new sound … it works, and I speak for all your fans when I say we’ll be your fans forever.
All in all the Country Thunder experience in Florence, AZ was one for the books. I may possibly be the worst camper in the world, but my friends and I all had a blast – surely everyone else did too because I read all of the tweets coming across the jumbotron screens. Not only was the line-up incredible, the fun didn’t stop there, from the custom Copenhagen tent to the flying death trap ball slingshot ride (that I didn’t go on) to the giant cow, this festival was out of control fun and I will be back for years to come. Ps. I apologize sincerely for any remainders of slip & slides, beer cans, ice luges, balls that say “chug drink” or “slap ass,” and/or friends of mine that may still be occupying P1 of Crazy Coyote… we had a good time.
Thanks and see ya next year CTAZ!!!