In covering Country Thunder for the better part of a decade, I've had some enlightening highs (seeing John Fogerty play CCR tunes from 10 feet away), some serious lows (waiting out a pissing rainstorm in the freezing cold wearing only shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, clutching a soggy reporter's notebook, just to see Trace Adkins — Trace-fucking-Adkins). Along the way, I've seen things that I can only describe as "some pretty weird shit" (example: a group of folks sitting in lawn chairs along the dirt road leading into the festival shooting guns — real guns — at dirt-clod targets). And though I admit I'm not a huge fan of most of the pop country that comes out of Nashville these days, I can say I've never, on the whole, had a bad time at Country Thunder, the annual three-day music fest that rolls into town every spring. By now, I've become accustomed to the daily lineups, which invariably feature a few has-beens, a few "who the hell is this asshole?" acts, and a bona fide superstar or two — and the 2011 sked is no different from past years'. The biggest name in the bunch is Sunday's headliner, Toby Keith, who on the surface may seem like the stereotypical swinging-dick-gorilla-in-a-cowboy-hat redneck country singer, but anybody who can write honky-tonkers as great as "I Love This Bar" and "Weed with Willie" has some serious songwriting chops and substantial country music cred. But for my money, the must-see acts at this year's fest are, in addition to the always entertaining Keith, country-rock legends Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on Friday, vocal quartet Little Big Town (who sound like Buckingham-Nicks era Fleetwood Mac and aren't really all that country, but, fuck it, I like them anyway) on Saturday, and Texas veteran Clay Walker in the slot before Keith on Sunday. Overall, the lineup is mediocre, but, hell, with some nice weather and the smell of beer, spit tobacco, dust, and trampled alfalfa in the air and the probability of seeing some redneck high jinks again, I'll undoubtedly have a great time, even if most of the music being played isn't my cup of whiskey.
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