Mark Chesnutt, Craig Morgan, Miranda Lambert Country Thunder 2014 4/12/14
By day three of Country Thunder, most attendees are in one of two states: You're either cripplingly hungover and sunburnt, acting as brothers in spirit with those souls at Coachella, or you've been saving yourself for the biggest two days of the festival so far. With headliner Miranda Lambert and main stage acts Mark Chesnutt and Craig Morgan, Saturday proved to be the biggest and best day yet with some 26,000 attendees throughout the day. Like any other year at the festival, there's a lot of tan skin, catcalling and Bud Light. From the furthest reaches of the campgrounds -- I should know, I seemed to walk them all over the course of the day -- to the main stage itself, day three also seemed to have everyone in good spirits. Country music just has an ability to take most cares away, as evidenced by this year's revelers.
Mark Chesnutt is a legend and was arguably the most traditional country act of the day, playing the music that most country fans today grew up on and took the stage as the sun sank in the sky. There's more bite and less pop to Chesnutt's 23 years of work, more classic country progressions and pedal steel than music of today, and though the crowd was less than enthusiastic at points, most will tell you that he helped pave the way for crossover artists. Ironically, he's only a year older than fellow Country Thunder performer Craig Morgan, but Chesnutt has had charting country singles since 1990 -- 13 years prior to Morgan and during the time when the country that came before it helped to create a sound that was accessible yet could please purists of that day and age.
Morgan, as much a goof onstage as he is in interviews, is one of those guys that can work a stage on a number of levels, incorporating humor, heartfelt tributes to our troops and a Full Monty-esque presentation for a couple lucky ladies, all in the same show. Popping out of a smoke-filled stage riser to "International Harvester," Morgan bounced from one end of the stage to the other, proving that those vocal chops we're all so familiar with are just as present in real life.
"Party Girl," one of those anthems that seems written just for the crowd at Country Thunder, brought one of the lighter moments of the set as Morgan pulled a few female VIP festival-goers onstage to sing and dance just for them, much to the delight of the rest of the female audience. I'll give him this -- dude can move his hips much, much better than one would expect from a guy who's 50 years old and has been at this for almost 15 years.
Prior to "Redneck Yacht Club," a song everyone in the crowd seemed to know, Morgan busted out a cover of Eagles' "Life In The Fast Lane," a song that actually adapts better to country tastes much better than you would think. Morgan's got a perfect recreation of the Don Henley sound, albeit with a country twang, proving that old dogs do have some new tricks -- the tricks might just be a little classic themselves.
Miranda Lambert is one of those artists that always seems to have more hits than you're aware of. At many times throughout her set you could hear people nearby in the crowd realize that one or another of Lambert's songs were one of their personal favorites and then launch into a singalong.
If anything could be said of Lambert's set, however, it was just that -- the whole thing was one big ol' singalong, front to back. Guys, girls, young and old: There's no one that's exempt from her work, and it's pretty impressive when you think about the number of massive hits she's put in since her time on Nashville Star.
From opener "Fastest Girl In Town," on which she sounded slightly shaky but then warmed up as the song progressed, to "Baggage Claim," Lambert has a strong catalog under her belt. A welcome surprise, much like Morgan's Eagles cover, came with Lambert's spot-on rendition of Spencer Davis Group's "Gimme Some Lovin,'" delivered with her trademark aplomb.
Where Lambert is startlingly accurate in her vocal reproduction, she's slightly wooden on stage. For a strong, upstanding artist of her figure one might expect a little more showiness, but her power comes from the songs and her voice rather than jumping around stage -- though that wouldn't be a bad thing if she chose to do so.
Click to the next page for Critic's Notebook Critic's Notebook
Last Night: Country Thunder 2014 in Florence, AZ.
The Crowd: Many, many beautiful women, dudes with bad tattoos, the odd sprinkling of old-school country fans and the rare sighting of a toddler -- who even brings their baby to this Southern-flavored bacchanalia?
Overhead in the Crowd: "Is he dead? Throw some beer cans at him." Unsurprisingly, I'm sure this was said at a few points throughout the day at various campsites around the festival. Some people just can't day drink well.
Personal Bias: This is my third year in a row covering Country Thunder and it's yet to be a bad time. Ribs, cold beer, great music, gorgeous sights: You're either dead or un-American if you don't love this shit.
Tricked by a Redneck: Did y'all see the guys by the tour buses holding up scorecards for women that walked by their makeshift camp? All their cards only had 10s on them. Has this scored them any phone numbers? I asked: Yes, yes it has.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.