For those that missed out on Country Fest in Cadott, Wisconsin this year, you missed out on a lot. The festival this year was not only one of a fantastic lineup, but also had all the makings of just a pure festival through and through. Where to begin…
The first day began as any other, as the festival has been ongoing since 1987. And yes, there are people that have been there since the very first year. We met several of them. Those were the incredibly seasoned veterans. It’s very cool to see these people because they are the type of people who come to support not only the festival, but the music, amongst all the changes in the styles, which is something people complain about in every genre of music. In other words, if you find the campsite where these particular people are, hang out with them. They’re fun.
There is a fantastic lineup for 2014, including the return of Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood, Blake Shelton, Florida Georgia Line, and countless more. Being raised on older country music, I’m more than thrilled that the Charlie Daniels Band is going to be there. That being said, there really is something for everyone, as those generations span significantly.
Thursday is a great day. It’s sunny, the bands are all received with immense love from the fans, and the hill and campgrounds are constantly filled with people. Fans drink beer and fill themselves with typical festival food between sets, while also enjoying the side stage bands. If you have never checked out the side stage bands, make sure to do it. They put on an amazingly fun show every time all weekend long and work incredibly hard. There are times when I am looking forward to them more than the main acts. Blake Shelton closes out the night to an enormous audience, many of which drove out on a Thursday night just to see him, only to drive back home to work the next day.
Friday was another day of fans thrilled to see their favorite acts. One of our new favorites has to be Casey James. He was so much fun and needs to come back to Country Fest simply based on the audience reaction. They just loved him. He played during the middle of the day and right after, it began to pour. The rain was so bad that audience members bolted to the beer tents and had to wait for it to subside. It was another one of those moments that really made it memorable, however. I am a huge fan of major weather at events, whether they be festivals, sporting events, or anything, because it’s outside of the norm. You will never forget it. Plus, it makes for great storytelling.
The rain doesn’t take long to pass and when it does, the party resumes, all the way through the end of the night. Carrie Underwood plays that night, her set being a bit more poppy than usual. The reception is split almost down the middle with many of her fans wishing she had done it differently while other loved it. With this being the first time I had ever seen her, I thought she did a stellar job. Her voice was great and she had a really fun stage show with a wonderful band.
Saturday remained muddy after the weather of the previous day and we were all waiting for that moment when it would come down again. The darker weather didn’t seem to deter anyone’s spirits, however, as everyone was really having a great time. There was never a moment that you couldn’t find people dancing in the beer tents, on the mechanical bull on the hill, or rekindling friendships made by past Country Fests.
Not being a big fan of the newer, more pop sounding, country music, I get most of my intake of the newer artists at Country Fest and I have to say that I really enjoy discovering new music each year. One of my favorites this year was Jana Kraemer. One unfortunate thing about festivals is the male to female ratio of performers and she and Carrie Underwood were excellent additions this year. She was a great performer who not only put on a good show, but was very interactive with the crowd. That always shows how much a performer appreciates their fans and I simply love it.
The night continued with Randy Houser and Gary Allan, until the weather decided to have it’s turn on stage and have everyone run for shelter. In case you weren’t paying attention to the Cadott weather on that particular evening, there was lighting, winds upwards of sixty miles per hour with rain that felt like it was flying at a person sideways. Going onstage felt that it may be impossible for Brad Paisley. However, after a delay, the rain settled a bit and he took to Twitter, saying to his fans that if they would come out, so would he. Hence, the night was saved and Brad hit the stage playing an amazing show.
Sunday was a bit strange in that the campgrounds had been hit pretty hard by the storm. Where many sites had tarps and various other elements of décor standing the entire weekend, they had been ravaged by winds and torn down. It was later determined that we had received six and a half inches of rain that night, so there was a lot of unavoidable destruction. The hill and everywhere else was mud instead of the usual dirt, so it made it difficult to maneuver in improper shoes. And let’s face it, who thinks about bringing the right shoes to a festival if they aren’t seasoned in it? Still, that didn’t damper the spirits of a lot of the Festers, so I really had to give them credit. They were not about to let anything spoil their fun.
The day eventually warmed and the sun came out. The lineup was different that day in that the Charlie Daniels Band was playing, so we got to hear some old school country music. For having played as long as he has, that man can saw that fiddle like no one else. He put on a really fun show, only to pull Eric Paslay out onstage to help him with “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” at the end. I don’t think it was a planned event on Eric’s part, as he sounded nervous on stage. Nonetheless, it was a lot of fun.
The scene was then changed up with the Eli Young Band and Florida Georgia Line. Florida Georgia Line was a huge draw on Country Fest’s part, as they have a huge amount of fans from not only the country sector, but the pop side as well. They don’t sound like country artists at all, in my opinion, perhaps more of a Southern rock or pop style, but they are still a fun band, especially live. Their show consisted of the two of them really interacting with the crowd and moving around a lot on stage. They had video screens that displayed their videos, photos, and more to get the crowd working with them.
The only issue the audience had with Florida Georgia Line was the sound. The sound was incredibly loud, to the point where it was difficult to understand the vocals at times. It is something that Country Fest can easily learn from, so I’m sure it won’t be an issue in the future. The festival ends with a bang, telling us that Keith Urban will be one of the headliners next year.