Jason Aldean and company bring it home on Day Four of Country Thunder
Driving up Richmond Road on the way to Day Four of Country Thunder, it was like a different world – or an extended game of strip poker had taken place along the highway. Discarded shirts, hats, pants and shoes littered the roadside.
I was actually laughing as I pulled into the parking lot – because, seriously, who loses their shoes when they're walking in them? Or at least, who walks out of them and just leaves them there? Poor, hapless, drunkly forgotten shoes. Then, when I got out of the truck in the parking lot, same story: shoes, hats, shirts most of them nearly buried by tire tracks.
I think the new standard by which we determine whether Country Thunder has been a roaring success is the amount of clothing left behind. Because, well, that's just awesome.
The forecast was for storms early. Ironic. Thunder. Storms. Get it?
Anyway, storm delays plagued High Valley, the first act out of the gate. Once they did hit the stage in the rain, though, what a show! Their half hour set was way, way too short. It included their incredible hit "Make You Mine," plus their latest single, "She's with Me." The last time I saw High Valley, they opened for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, and I wanted more. Today, I wanted more yet again. They are just so damn good.
Next up: Tracy Lawrence. He sported a cowboy hat and a Pink Floyd "Dark Side of the Moon" T-shirt. I loved it – a great artist wearing other great artist's shirt. His set was filled to the brim with about eleventy billion of his hits (the man is seriously like the Midas of country music). He had quite a draw, too. The bowl started to fill while he was on stage. The sun came out, and the temperature started to rise. See? Midas.
Because of the early storm delays, the transitions between artists was shortened, so the pace of Thunder's final day was quick. And for a final day when everyone was dragging and tired and water-logged, it was perfect
Despite some initial sound issues, Maddie & Tae blew in like the calm after the storm: sweet, energetic, beautiful. They pulled out songs from their freshmen album, including my personal favorite, "Sierra," about a girl who bullied Maddie in high school. Maddie & Tae also laid down "Girl in a Country Song" like the bosses that they are. Interestingly, the song is still as true today as it was when it topped the charts – although it is getting better. They tried out a new song which demonstrated a stretching of their wings, but still stayed true to their style.
Big & Rich, following a masterful opening by D.J. Minister, took the stage under a beautiful setting sun. They were their usual crazy, bouncing, robust selves, complete with at least one busted guitar. No Big & Rich show would be complete without Cowboy Troy, and Country Thunder Wisconsin 2017 was no exception. He joined them for an entirely much too fun version "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy."
One very touching thing that Big & Rich is known for is their support of the military. For Sunday night's show, they brought two members of the military out on stage to pay tribute. Big & Rich handed them the mic. One of them asked us to please support veterans because you love them and they love you back. The other gave this advice, "Respect God, country, friends, family, and have good-ass music in your life." Both members received rousing ovations, after which the boys performed a version of "8th of November" that brought me to tears.
The Big & Rich boys were the perfect opening act for Jason Aldean. Their set was incredibly dynamic so that even if you weren't a huge Big & Rich fan, you had to get pumped up. It wasn't a choice.
The hustle by the backstage crews to transition quickly paid off, as Jason Aldean took the stage nearly on time. Good thing, too, because the Thunder Bowl was packed, and the crowd was ready to party. And party they did, for nearly an hour and a half.
Aldean blasted onto the stage, cowboy hat low over his eyes, wearing knee-ripped jeans and an outstanding Bob Seger North American Tour 2011 T-shirt. Authentic Aldean and perfect for his opener and latest single release, "They Don't Know," a song about not understanding what it means to be small-town rural farmers.
Jason Aldean paused after his third song to joke that Country Thunder needed to be renamed "Mud Fest, I feel like the day we were filming the 'Hicktown' video when I looked out here today, man." He was right; not only was there mud everywhere on the ground, there was mud everywhere on everyone, including yours truly.
Before picking up again, Aldean noted that he's "not a guy who stands up here and does a lot of talking throughout the night. I really can't dance worth a sh*t so I don't do a lot of dancing up here throughout the night. The way I look at it, you guys bought a ticket to hear some music, and we're gonna play as much music up here as we can."
After that, Aldean took us on a journey of his extensive catalog of hits, taking a break only to pay tribute to a huge influencer on his career – Mr. Gregg Allman – by playing "Midnight Rider."
Really, I should say that it's not that Aldean didn't talk at all during the night. He did. He checked in, making sure the crowd was still with him (they sang every song, including "Midnight Rider" – they were definitely with him). Halfway through, he paused to find out if everyone was happily drunk, deadpanning that the people in the reserved seats were feeling comfortable, but that the people in the back (in the mud and puddles) had been drunk as all get out all day. Which, of course, drew a giant roar of approval.
He played out with "My Kinda Party" and then came back for a two-song encore. As with every headlining artist this weekend, we seriously wanted more. I mean, I know they can't play all night. But Aldean's set seemed to fly by in a blur of dancing (us, not him) and singing (him phenomenally, us not so much).
Mr. Aldean shotgunned a beer before leaving the stage. And with that, Day Four of Country Thunder and the festival itself came to a close. It was a grand thing – epic at times, sweet at others. Once the rains came, it was exciting and death-defying trying not to fall or get your shoes sucked off by mud. A wedding. A party. A few port-o-potty fires in the campgrounds. A lineup to be envied. And at the very end, a friendly John Deere tractor pulling mud stranded motorists out of dire straits in the parking lot.
We are country. This is us.
Set list - Jason Aldean
"They Don't Know"
"The Only Way I Know"
"Take a Little Ride"
"A Little More Summertime"
"Any Ol' Barstool"
"When She Says Baby"
"Just Gettin' Started"
"Midnight Rider" (Allman Brothers cover)
"Tatoos on This Town"
"Fly Over States"
"Burnin' It Down"
"Lights Come On"
"Dirt Road Anthem" (Colt Ford cover)
"My Kinda Party" (Brantley Gilbert cover)
"Big Green Tractor"
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