The country music festival is quickly becoming the most popular way concert goers are experiencing live country music today. In fact, WCOL’s Country Jam ’15 was, personally, my second festival attended this summer. With a new festival popping up at every turn, there are so many options. Whether you prefer to spend a weekend camping along with your country music concerts or taking in one long day of music, the options are most definitely out there.
This past weekend, I packed up the truck and headed south to Thornville, Ohio, to attend WCOL’s Country Jam 2015 at Legend Valley/Buckeye Lake. Having also attended southern California’s Stagecoach Music Festival and Country Concert in Fort Loramie, OH a number of times, I feel like I have a pretty strong festival experience in my arsenal. At arrival, we were set up with our tent, folding chairs, country music on the radio and yes, cold beers in hand. We were all set for the weekend to begin, right? Oh wait, we came here for some LIVE country music!
With little time to prep after setting up camp, we made our move to the gates, not wanting to miss a single second of Friday’s festival opener, Joe Diffie, who we had believed would be going on at 5PM. It just happened to be our luck that GATE time was 5PM and only a small handful of people had entered the concert grounds yet. We snuck ourselves up and around other attendees to find an incredible spot near the stage.
Around 6PM, it was time for the show to begin. Now, I have had the privilege to see one of my childhood favorites, Joe Diffie, perform twice prior to Country Jam. Both times, however, were acoustic only sets. I was finally going to see Diffie perform with a full band! Though the crowd hadn’t completely filled in yet, Diffie took to the stage and began his performance with “Third Rock From The Sun,” which has been a favorite song of mine since it’s release. An acoustic performance of this track doesn’t hold a candle to what Joe can do with a full band behind him! Diffie performed the majority of his hits, leaving little left to be desired. From “Pick-Up Man” and “C-O-U-N-T-R-Y” to his slower fare like “So Help Me Girl” and “Ships That Don’t Come In,” Diffie’s roughly one-hour set was a fantastic kick-off for the weekend in Thornville. In fact, he set the bar pretty darned high for the rest of the night! Diffie even played “My Give a Damn’s Busted,” which he wrote and was originally recorded by Jo Dee Messina. Joe closed out his set with “Prop Me Up Beside The Jukebox (If I Die)” and of course, “John Deere Green.”
While the crowd, from my vantage point would have loved to see Joe Diffie put on ANOTHER hour of awesome country music, it was time to move on with the night’s lineup. Next up on the schedule was The Voice: Season 2 contestant, RaeLynn. I honestly did not know what to expect with RaeLynn. I’ve heard “God Made Girls” on the radio and the other songs from her debut E.P. from early in the year, but I never felt that she fit my listening tendencies. Boy, was I taken by surprise! This gal can rock a crowd! RaeLynn’s set featured a number of cover songs, as she has yet to release a full length album of her own. For a relatively new up and coming artist, though, that is absolutely perfect for a crowd that may or may not have had too many cold beverages back at camp. RaeLynn performed her versions of the Pistol Annie’s single “Hell On Heels,” “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” made famous by Joan Jett and really got the crowd into her set with her cover of Gwen Stefani’s “Keep On Dancin'”. RaeLynn rounded out her set with her own hits, “For A Boy” and God Made Girls.” I’ll definitely be looking forward to seeing where her young career takes her in the future!
The sun had set by this point and it was time for Joe Nichols to take the stage. I have been saying for a few years now, that Nichols has not been receiving the radio play and praise that he deserves. Along with guys like Chris Cagle and Easton Corbin, Joe Nichols deserves to make that jump into the next level of country music stardom. With focus seemingly making a slow turn back towards some more traditional sounds, hopefully this lack of airplay won’t be the case for long. Joe Nichols had the now growing crowd singing along with every song he performed. Pretty much anything one could want to hear live from Nichols was included in his set, from his first charting single “The Impossible” to Country Airplay #1 hit, “Yeah.” Joe joked about the fad (hopefully) of intertwining rap with country music and how he spoke too fast as it is to do so himself. However, perhaps if he could make a rap classic into a country song… When Nichols strummed his guitar and belted out his own rendition of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back,” the crowd went nuts! What a laugh! Nichols also treated the WCOL Country Jam crowd to his upcoming radio single “Freaks Like Me,” which hits airwaves in a week or so, which celebrates NOT being part of the “in-crowd” as far as a lot of new country music is concerned. I think it will do well! Joe wrapped up his set with his second #1 hit, “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off.”
Headlining Day One of WCOL’s Country Jam ’15, Thomas Rhett was due to take stage. I know the guy is blowing up and a huge fanbase is taking a liking to his R&B/Country Funk sound found in current hit, “Crash & Burn,” but it just doesn’t work for me. Sure, “Crash & Burn” is ridiculously catchy and yes, I’ll sing-a-long with it when I don’t feel like changing the station. I just keep teasing myself with the idea that eventually Rhett will come back to his roots, following in his dad’s foot steps and make some great country music. “Beer With Jesus” is definite proof that he can do it! Anyhow, after the first two songs of Rhett’s set, we decided that the crowd was getting a little more rambunctious for our liking (Nothing like we would encounter on Day Two, of course), and we ducked out of the crowd for some festival food to take in the rest of the set on the grassy hillside of Legend Valley. For all intents and purposed, Thomas Rhett sounded fantastic. He performed all of his previous radio hits and a few new songs in promotion of his upcoming album, Tangled Up. The young crowd was eating everything up down front as we looked on, so I absolutely can’t blame Rhett himself for going in this direction or WCOL for booking him as a closer for the festival.
We headed back to camp near the end of Thomas Rhett’s set in order to recharge for the next day’s festivities that would feature another 90’s country music legend, more up and comers & one of today’s biggest country music stars. Surprisingly, the returning concert goers weren’t as rowdy upon arriving to the campsites as most festivals. I had assumed that we would be hounded by partiers all night (Don’t get me wrong, I love to join in now and then!) but outside of a handful of people, it was fairly quiet. I think that southern Ohio heat did quite a number on everybody!