Country Thunder

It's that time of year again, when Valley country fans by the thousands kick up dust in the trampled alfalfa fields at the Canyon Moon Ranch outside Florence, where the annual Country Thunder music festival trots out four days of the biggest names in contemporary country music. After a lackluster lineup last year, when count-pop duo Sugarland were the big draw, this year's fest is topped by arguably one of the top two or three country artists of the past two decades, Alan Jackson, who closes out the fest on the main stage Saturday night. In an era when Nashville's cubicle-dwelling songwriting teams resemble a Detroit auto assembly line, delivering a finished product to a country star to sing, Jackson wrote every song on his stellar 2008 disc, Good Time, by himself, a throwback to the days when artists like Hank Williams and Merle Haggard penned their own hits. While this year's Country Thunder delivers its share of pop-country confections (such as Tim McGraw, Diamond Rio, Little Big Town and Blake Shelton) fans wanting a little hardcore twang for their buck should make sure to check out neo-Southern rockers Montgomery Gentry on Thursday, unabashed country singers such as Hal Ketcham and Tracy Lawrence on Friday, and Jack Ingram, who has built his career over the past decade from being a cult hero in Texas to a respected artist on the national stage, on Saturday.

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