Over the years, I've had many opportunities to attend country music festivals. But, in less than two weeks, I'll be attending the biggest one in the United States, CMA Music Festival.
I figured this would be a good time to think about all of the great country music festivals that I'd attended all of these years.
The first festival I ever wanted to attend was a show that included Tim McGraw/Faith Hill and others at the old Foxboro Stadium in 1996. I was actually on family vacation during that tour, and missed it. Because I moved, I never got to take in a show at the old Foxboro or new Gillette Stadium.
Shortly after the McGraw-Hill show, Boston consolidated its two country stations and the annual Boston Country Sunday was held at Tweeter Center (formerly known as Great Woods).
Now, I don't know whether to consider these BCS shows festivals or just multiple artists on the bill. In the summer of '97, the BCS was headlined by Vince Gill and also included Pam Tillis, Bryan White and Trace Adkins. It was a fun show, and Adkins was just a newcomer at the time. He's the only artist, who a decade later is enjoying commercial success. Tillis and Gill have moved on to post-commercial success, and if anyone has heard from White, let me know.
Later that summer, I attended what should have been marketed as a festival but wasn't. It was far better than the BCS event with then-newcomer JoDee Messina, Charlie Daniels Band, Travis Tritt and Hank Williams Jr. performing at the event.
Messina's set was short but sweet, Daniels was very entertaining with his fiddle playing. I found out that Tritt was better live than in person, and you could tell just how much he enjoys performing live. Bocephus was the exact opposite, and it was evident when fans left Great Woods in droves during his set. He's got a lot of hits, but he was singing mostly medleys and not finishing songs.
1998 proved to be a better year for the BCS when it landed Randy Travis to headline the event. Other stars included Joe Diffie, Martina McBride and Lee Roy Parnell. Could somebody get Parnell back on country radio, please?
I liked 1999 because it was the first year, I got to see not one, but three country festivals outside of my ol' stomping grounds. I drove to Hartford, Conn. for the annual 92.5 Country Music Festival, which featured Brooks & Dunn, Trace Adkins, the Warren Brothers and a slew of new artists at the time. None of them made it big, but I enjoyed their music - Susan Ashton, Julie Reeves and Claudia Church. If you get a chance, definitely pick up Church's self-titled (and only album).
Then, I checked out Y'Allapalooza (which definitely has the best name of any festival in the bunch) in Kansas City, the annual festival put on by radio station, Q104. By this time, Messina was a headliner, and I got to watch Diamond Rio perform for the first time. Both events were shown at Great Woods-type events.
That September, I went to a unique festival outside Baltimore, Maryland in a park that doubles as a ski area in the winter. The Country on the Hill, included Kevin Sharp, who is an amazing entertainer with the most energy I've seen, more than Garth Brooks.
In 2001, I checked out the best and most celebrated festival I've ever attended at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium. I wish they still had the George Strait Country Music Festival, but I have an educated guess as to why it ended in 2001. Although King George has remained successful in the genre, artists on the GSCMF like Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney became more commercially successful. I got to catch Strait with Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley, Sara Evans, Lonestar and Asleep at the Wheel. It was a terrific lineup, and the first (and only) time I'd attended a concert at an NFL stadium.
Later that summer, I spent three days and two nights in Manhattan, Kan. Usually, there's no reason to do that, but the Country Stampede festival was in town. This show was at the Tuttle Creek State Park, and it's actually more renowned for its party atmosphere than the music itself.
I remembered seeing Chris LeDoux, something I'd really wanted to see because I'd listened to his live album over and over again until that point. Hearing Sawyer Brown live caused me to purchase their live album. Then, seeing Mark Chesnutt on Sunday afternoon in that blistering Kansas heat was cool.
In recent years, I haven't made it to as many festivals, having moved around a lot and living in places where population doesn't justify big festivals.
But last year, I checked out the LAC. No, I didn't head to Los Angeles for a Clippers game. It's the 103.3 Kat Country Listener Appreciation Contest at the county fairgrounds in Turlock, Calif., and despite the very hot day, it was great to see Tracy Byrd, Mark Wills, Craig Morgan and Hal Ketchum.
Festivals can be very fun, but remember to choose your fellow attendees with care. I've gone to a couple of them with my dad, and although he appreciates some country music, he can't stand hours of it 95 degree weather. Only the most dedicated fans enjoy the music enough to bear the conditions.