The first day of the inaugural Flatlands Country Music Festival went off without a major glitch. By the time headliner Luke Bryan took the stage, nearly 18,000 fans were inside Sporting Park, watching one of country music’s most popular entertainers. Here’s a rundown on the final four of the six acts who performed Friday night, in order of appearance.
The husband/wife duo of Keifer and Shawna Thompson deliver as much rock as they do country in much of their material: lots of hard guitars and heavy keyboards and plenty of poppy melodies with harmonies. In April they won their second straight Country Music Association award for vocal duo of the year, just weeks after releasing “Just Feels Good,” their second studio album. Their set featured several tracks off that album, including the title track, “For the Life of Me” and “Everything I Shouldn’t Be Thinking About,” a few from their “Thompson Square” album, including “Getaway Car” and “Glass.” And Shawna Thompson showed off her rock-vocal power during her cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.”
He’s as much a Southern rocker as he is a country singer, a mix that came out in songs like “It’s America” -- “It's a high school prom, it's a Springsteen song, it's a ride in a Chevrolet” -- and “Friends With Tractors.” Amid songs like those two and “These Are My People” and “If You’re Going Through Hell,” he and his band threw down a wild medley of classic rock licks (including some Led Zep, again, and Black Sabbath).
By the time he took the stage, the crowd was as big as it would get all night. Rucker has steadily earned himself a large, loyal following since he closed the book on his roots-rock band Hootie and the Blowfish and launched his country music career. He was warmly received throughout his set, which featured a few Hootie songs (“Hold My Hand,” “I Only Wanna Be With You” and “Let Her Cry”), several of his own, including “The Craziest Thing,” “Comeback Song,” “Southern State of Mind” and “Radio.” But he got the biggest response for his covers: of “Wagon Wheel” (written in part by Bob Dylan), Hank Jr.’s “Family Tradition,” Steve Miller’s “The Joker” and the song he closed with, which got one of the loudest and most feverish responses of the night, Prince’s “Purple Rain.”
He’s 37 but boyish enough that he can pull off his Southern frat-boy personae, right down the the backwards ball cap he is usually wearing. In some ways he is the new Tim McGraw: The ladies love him and their guys think he’s OK, too; he mixes his country with plenty of rock and other genres; and he sings as much about romance and loss as he does the country life (drinking, fishing, etc.).
On Aug. 13, Bryan just released “Crash My Party,” which hit the Billboard 200 chart at No. 1 and has since sold nearly 1 million copies. His 90-minute set featured several of its tunes plus a mix of tracks from all over his five-album discography. Among the songs on the setlist: “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” “Country Man,” “Someone Else Calling You Baby,” “Rain Is A Good Thing,” “Crash My Party,” “That’s My Kind of Night,” “Sun Tan City,” “Drunk On You” and “I Don’t Want This Night to End.” He took a seat at the piano and, Billy Joel style, accompanied himself as he sang “Do I.” But mostly he prowled the stage and stoked a crowd that was sufficiently lubricated and in the mood for his country-rocking party anthems.
He closed with “I Don’t Want This Night to End,” another tale of a close encounter in a pickup truck, then “Country Girl (Shake It For Me),” which ignited the kind of dancing you’d expect it to.
The Flatlands Music Festival begins again at 2 p.m. Saturday at Sporting Park. For the lineup, visit Flatlandsfestival.com .