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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Country Thunder storms desert in AZ

    Rodney Haas/ Arizona Daily Wildcat
    Rodney Haas
    Rodney Haas/ Arizona Daily Wildcat

    It’s 7 p.m. on Friday, and while the dirt road winding toward the blaring lights in the distance is not exactly paved in glistening yellow brick, the worn Arizona dirt paves the way for many a country music fan’s personal Oz.

    While UA students have a fairly easy time getting their fix of rock, R&B and alternative music throughout the school year, especially with live events like Club Crawl occurring so close to campus, those of us whose musical preferences include country pretty much rely on the radio or iTunes to deliver our favorite tunes. Thankfully, once a year, country fans get the opportunity to turn off the dial and see their favorite artists live. And for many UA students, the 22 performances in four days make the 90-minute drive to Florence, Ariz., well worth the trip.

    It’s day three of Country Thunder 2010, and the bumper-to-bumper cars in the parking area initially exposes the sheer magnetism of the event. Swarms of country music lovers have traveled miles to partake in the festivities. Headlights cast dust-covered beams on license plates from across the country — Colorado, Washington, Wisconsin, Ohio, California, Arizona — the list goes on.

    The day’s concert series, which has been in full swing since 1 p.m., seems to have already taken its toll on many of the festivalgoers who, by the looks of it, started celebrating about that same time. Garbage cans already overflow with aluminum cans and beer bottles, and the grounds just inside the entry way are littered with wrappers, cigarette butts and fallen food.

    The outdoor concert arena, held on the grounds of Florence’s Canyon Moon Ranch, resembles something along the lines of “”Woodstock meets the county fair.”” Clusters of vendors and snack stands twist and curve about in long rows, covering the field surrounding the open-air stage. Merchants selling cowboy hats, souvenir T-shirts and a plethora of other festival memorabilia attract fans wishing to capture the moment and authenticate their experience. Neon signs advertising corn dogs, funnel cakes and homemade lemonade tempt hungry stomachs, eager to satisfy those sweet and salty cravings. A U.S. Postal Service trailer has even set up camp, maybe for those last-minute taxpayers who decided to wait until Thursday to postmark their envelopes.

    For those who don’t find the greasy food and beer stands to be enough of a party, there are carnival rides. Many of the classic twirling light-up thrills pepper the field, spinning and thrashing their strapped-in riders. However, some of the more original ones attract the longest lines.

    The “”Slingshot”” seems to be only for the most daring, who have not just recently indulged in the mouthwatering pile of gooey cheese-covered fair fries. Riders are tightly belted inside a round metal cage suspended in the air by what look like two massive bungee chords. After a quick countdown, the riders are suddenly flung vertically into the air — a pebble being slung by a slingshot.

    And what kind of country festival would it be without a mechanical bull? Yes, there is one here as well. However, like most everything else on site, it is in the realm of the extreme. Bigger and faster than your average mechanical bovine, this thing moves and bucks, jerking and thrashing riders about. One burly male in a white backwards baseball cap steps up to the challenge, smiling and flexing his biceps. Unfortunately, he doesn’t last more than five seconds before he is thrown from the saddle with a sudden buck forward.

    Yet, while these attractions lure the crowds, the real reason for the masses of country spirit lies at the front of the arena: the open air Country Thunder stage.

    Bathed in bright lights, the proscenium stage draws the attention of hundreds, if not thousands, of attentive eyes and ears. The yards of ground surrounding the platform are covered in a sea of foldout camping chairs, while others sprawl out on large blankets covering the matted yellow-green grass. Further in, closer to the edge of the wooden stage, rows of white plastic chairs that are situated on either side of the long catwalk extension reaching out further from the stage mark special seating; more intimate seats reserved for those who shelled out the extra money.

    People of all ages have congregated to hear some of the biggest names in country music. A young girl holding a pacifier rests quietly atop her mother’s shoulders, while next to her, white hair peeks from beneath two cowboy hats as a couple holds hands, gently bobbing to the strum of the guitar melody.

    The majority of the concertgoers, however, fall in the college-aged group, but this is no surprise. With many girls scantily clad in denim daisy dukes, cowboy boots, cleavage-baring tops and little else, the scenery is a man’s paradise. Yet the girls get their fair share of eye candy. After a long day in the scorching Arizona heat, many brawny men, as well as some not-so-buff boys, saunter and stumble around wearing only some worn-out Levi’s and a Stetson, showing off their sun-tanned chests. Add a few nice cold brewskies into the mix, and, well, you get the appeal.

    Just before 8:30 p.m., Kevin Costner and his band, Modern West, are winding down their performance. Surprisingly, Costner’s raspy voice harbors a catchy country twang. And not only can he act, but he looks natural and at home onstage, wearing his black button-down shirt and white-washed blue jeans, strumming a guitar and stamping his foot to the beat. Providing the rhythms and backup vocals to Costner, seven other band members help perform such original hits as “”Turn It On.”” While this is one of the band’s few stops in the U.S. after an extensive tour throughout Europe, it is interesting to find that several of the band members of Modern West hail from Tucson.

    As 9 p.m. rolls around, and after a brief lull between acts to reset the stage, an electrifying, almost hushed buzz fills the amphitheatre as everyone awaits the night’s main event to take the stage — the one and only Keith Urban. But as soon as his dark suede boots emerge from the wings, the crowd erupts in an explosion of hoots and hollers.

    Without even stopping to greet the fans, Urban bursts into his first song of the night, “”Kiss a Girl,”” to a clamor of claps and yee-haws. Spectators are already on their feet.

    Flowing into other hits, such as “”Days Go By”” and “”Stupid Boy,”” Urban sends the crowd into a more excited frenzy. The fact that Urban seems to be having as much fun as his fans only heightens his appeal. His smile is charming and indescribably contagious as he dances with his white-and-black guitar. His fitted dark jeans and a short-sleeve button-down collared shirt seductively revealing peeks of the tattoo on his chest throw many women into swoons.

    While his set is minimal, only featuring a few lighting effects and a background video screen, his concert is anything but disappointing. His songs, which have more of an upbeat rock-country vibe rather than a bluegrass twang, sound almost as clear and full as when heard on the radio.

    Urban is also quite the gentleman. Repeatedly thanking his audience for coming out with his Aussie accent and handing over several moments to his band members, he seems to be a guy without a big ego, a rarity among celebrities. He’s just on stage doing what he loves: playing guitar and singing great songs.

    Although he is only slated to play until 10:30 p.m., Urban is all about giving his fans what they want most: more of him and his music. Thus, it is no surprise that he is still singing by 11 p.m., coming out to perform an encore after singing “”You Look Good in My Shirt.””

    The crowd is still standing when Urban finally closes the night. Throwing back his head of shaggy hair and raising his guitar on the ending note of “”Love Somebody,”” Urban then leaves the stage, smiling and waving to the mass of cheering Country Thunder spectators.

    While the night’s scheduled events have officially come to an end, and many make their way back to their cars, the party has only just begun for others. The carnival rides are still flashing with life, and a band has just taken the stage on one of the smaller venues in the backfield.

    For those campgoers who have set up tents and RVs in the surrounding sites, the night is still young. Tomorrow holds a new day full of booze, games, friends and live performances by such superstars as Willie Nelson and Kid Rock.

    In this country music Oz, who says there is a place better than home? Yee-haw, Country Thunder 2010.

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