The Independence Day Music Festival delivered a true patriotic celebration Wednesday night, and after three years, the country music concert and firework spectacular has officially established itself as a yearly must-see event for the summer.
This year featured performances from LoCash Cowboys, Tyler Farr, and country superstar Brantley Gilbert. The desert sun was burning hot by five, when I arrived. Attendees frantically waved cardboard fans glued to Popsicle sticks at their faces to cool themselves down. Luckily, the clouds offered some relief.
To ring in the 4th of July celebration, KNIX country radio station representatives launched T-shirts into the crowd from the stage, located at the far end of center field. Blankets were spread across the lawn as concertgoers sat with their friends and family drinking beer and cheering the disc jockeys on.
Young and old patrons were spread far and wide around the baseball stadium, but there was one common theme between the age groups -- America. Any and every variation of wearing red, white, and blue could be seen in the crowd, from short shorts to sleeveless shirts and earrings and bandannas.
LoCash Cowboys took the stage promptly at 6 o'clock and opened with their breakthrough single "C-O-U-N-T-R-Y." They consistently referred to themselves as the new guys in country and even told the crowd they had a song about getting drunk on the 4th of July on a baseball field. That song turned out to be "Truck Yeah," which really has nothing to do with drinking on a baseball field or the 4th of July, but they pulled it off seamlessly and followed it up with a cover of Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar on Me,"
Next up was Tyler Farr who started his set off by giving a shoutout to the Arizona women. He offered the crowd an entertaining country music show, which spanned from original songs to his own refreshing renditions of such classics as Alabama's "Song of the South." I heard Farr's new single "Redneck Crazy" for the first time only two days ago. It is an infectiously catchy song but the subject matter doesn't quite seem legal, as he sings about relentlessly stalking his ex-girlfriend and shining his headlights into her bedroom window. All the same, the crowd swayed back and forth and sang along when he unleashed it toward the end of his set.
Between Tyler Farr and Brantley Gilbert, an auction was held on stage to raise money for the fallen firefighters in Yarnell. The offering was a signed guitar by Brantley Gilbert. After a lengthy bidding war, the guitar fetched a high bid of $5,000, which Gilbert matched.
The main attraction of the evening was Brantley Gilbert himself. He strutted on stage wearing a sleeveless shirt, black baseball hat, and shredded jeans, and he brought the crowd to their feet with "My Kinda Party." Couples began to break out in swing dance and two-step routines. Girls screamed their lungs out as the Georgia boy rocked from the one side of the stage to the other.
Between the guitar solos, the drummer with a 12-inch Mohawk and fans throwing devil horns high into the air, Brantley Gilbert offered what felt like the closest you would get to a metal concert amid a sea of cowboy hats and shit-kicking boots. Maybe it was the tattoo-sleeved arm Gilbert flashed all night, the Marilyn Manson-esque microphone with brass knuckles, or the way he could instigate a crowd off of their feet with the rhythmic bounce of his arm, but if a comparison could ever realistically be drawn between Avenged Sevenfold and Brantley Gilbert it was at this show.
He gave a shout out to his new fiancée, Jana Kramer, shortly after playing an amazing cover of the country classic "Dust on the Bottle," made famous by David Lee Murphy.
A definitive and moving highlight of the night was Gilbert performing -- for the first time live -- his new song, "One Hell of an Amen," to honor the fallen firefighters of Yarnell. All 19 names scrolled across the giant TV screen to the left of the stage to a back drop of an American flag. Gilbert concluded the song with a moment of silence for the fallen heroes in which all 10,000 people in attendance were respectfully, completely quiet.
"You could hear a pin drop in here, and that's what it's all about," Gilbert said as a thank you to all his fans after the tribute.
For Gilbert's first-ever number-one country song, "Country Must Be Country Wide," he threw on a custom-made Arizona Diamondbacks jersey and had the hometown crowd standing on chairs and sitting on the shoulders of their boyfriends as they raised their hands high into the air and chanted along.
"Let your hair down and have more fun than you've ever had in your life," Gilbert demanded of the ladies in the audience for his final set of songs. "I don't care if your preacher is with you."
After Gilbert's crowd-pleasing encore, a well-timed and impressive onslaught of fireworks consumed the night sky above the Salt River Fields. Fans in attendance returned to sitting on their blankets and gazed at the sky above. For nearly 30 minutes, all eyes were focused on the explosive, multi-colored marvel as the stage speakers released a mash-up soundtrack of all songs relating to being a proud American.
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Critics Notebook Last Night: Brantley Gilbert at the Independence Day Music Festival. The Crowd: A country fan base ranging from young children to old timers; all united in red, white and blue. Personal Bias: I am a fan of both country concerts and rock concerts, and this particular event quenched both desires. Also, I have friends who are firefighters, and the moment of silence for the men in Yarnell was awesome.