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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Brews, babes, and country bangers: Country Thunder 2012

    K.C. Libman / Daily Wildcat

    It was supposed to be a pilgrimage, a quintessential part of the U of A experience that most of us make at least once in our college careers. It brought together people from all walks of life, wearing all kinds of clothes, simply brought together by beer and country music.

    It was Spring Break in cowboy boots meets full-blown riot.

    Country Thunder is an amalgamation of music fans that few festivals can lay claim to. For the swarms of Coors-swilling, half-naked rednecks that seem to lurk around every RV, there’s just as many stunning college girls in cutoff jeans learning how to shoot whiskey, and an equal number of topless ASU students. Like-minded people seem to collect into specific camps, with certain outposts gaining party-heavy distinctions. Country Thunder quickly becomes a lifestyle in the course of day one and maintains the theme throughout the weekend. Even the most diehard Arizonans develop some hint of a Southern twang in between dry heaves and yee-haws.

    However raucous the atmosphere becomes, this year’s lineup shone on a number of levels. With the exception of the early-bird acts, crowds came out in dust-covered droves to see Thompson Square, Joe Nichols, and Kellie Pickler usher the evening in on their respective days. The event’s sound was immaculate overall, as each artist’s on-point reproduction of their hit songs sounded just like their familiar recordings. Ms. Pickler was one hell of a standout, working Friday’s twilight crowd like the seasoned performer she’s blossomed into.

    There’s something about country that’s exceptionally timely. It’s refreshing to see acts take the stage when they’re scheduled, with The Band Perry being the weekend’s only tardy act. The siblings-cum-country act were slightly lackluster during their anticipated performance Sunday evening, experiencing a few technical difficulties and lacking the stage presence of some of the weekend’s other artists.

    For everything the Perry family lacks, Jake Owen and Blake Shelton make up. Both musicians appeal to country aficionado as well as the mothers and daughters, as evidenced by the loud and clear crowd reactions for the musician’s respective sets. Owen absolutely owned the stage on Friday night, paying tribute to the red Solo cup in between songs while letting the ladies know that he’s a single man. The guy’s got a hell of a lot of bravado, and it shows in the way he works a crowd. Rap kings and rock stars take note- Jake’s probably nailing down more tail than you while wearing jeans far tighter than yours.

    Blake Shelton was decidedly more wholesome however, using down-home anecdotes to keep the audience laughing in between songs. You can’t help to melt for Shelton, regardless of gender or age – the guy defines country charm. His mid-set solo acoustic performance was the highlight of the weekend, and arguably the entire festival. Armed with a simple cedar-topped six string, Shelton pulled out some of his earliest material, much to the delight of his numerous fans in the crowd. “Austin,” his first number-one song, was the pinnacle of the set, capturing the festival’s attention to an unmatched degree.

    Country Thunder’s food and carnival themed attractions were just as rich as the music. A variety of alternate activities littered the site, ranging from hot air balloon rides to the mandatory mechanical bull. The truly impressive number of vendors fed the 18,000 patrons meals that seemingly started at 5,000 calories and kept climbing. Tobacco vendors were also an integrated part of the landscape and weren’t something readily expected at a music festival, yet were appropriate for a concert series situated in a cornfield.

    Be warned – Country Thunder isn’t for the fair of heart or soft-footed. There’s a lot of walking to be done and even more dust to be inhaled. Come armed with thick socks, good boots, and an open mind. The music is fantastic and the ambiance is imbued with a drunken haze, but it’s really the characters and the campsites that make the festival one to remember. There’s nothing quite like Country Thunder, and we’re lucky as hell to have it a hour’s drive away.

    Whether you were raised breaking horses or driving Porsches, make the trip at least once in your time here. Pack a few thirty racks, grab a ten-gallon hat, and brush up on your country vocabulary. It’s only 358 days until Country Thunder 2013. We’re already counting down them down.

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