Who to See on the Country Megaticket

The dreadful process of transitioning into the summer heat comes with a small silver lining for country music lovers throughout the Valley. Known as the Country Megaticket, Ak-Chin Pavilion will be showcasing a who’s who of current country music superstars on eight separate dates throughout the summer and into the fall.

The amount of chart-topping musical talent cycling through Phoenix this summer is enough to make your head spin, and when most festivals can offer fans two or three worthy headlining acts at best, Megaticket has really outdone themselves with the likes of Toby Keith, Brad Paisley, Tim McGraw, Lady Antebellum, Dierks Bentley, Jason Aldean, Rascal Flatts and Florida Georgia Line. It’s a bit overwhelming, right? So, that’s where we come in; here at the New Times we want to bring you our Guide to Country Megaticket as a reference sheet to catch all of the good music, fight the crowds, and get you the most bang for your buck.

Sunday, May 31—Toby Keith with Eli Young Band
Country music’s top earner will kick off the Megaticket celebration when he comes through town just weeks before the release of his upcoming eighteenth album titled 35 MPH Town this summer. We can probably expect the two singles from the new album, “Drunk Americans,” “35 MPH Town,” and then it’s anyone’s guess.

Why you should go:
As a whole, country music wears patriotism on its sleeve more so than other genres of music, and one of the more colorful faces representing the red, white and blue is Toby Keith. With so many hit songs over the years, Keith can pretty much cherry-pick his set lists at this point, but a common thread ties them all together: America. Oh, and beer, so actually two common threads.

Keith has clearly cracked the modern formula for success. While his musical theory and subject matter sometimes comes off as elementary, he has reeled in legions of fans through catchy choruses and incessant pleas that the world would be a better place if we would all just grab a stool at his famous bar and grill, pour a drink, and sing together in unison. So grab your red Solo cup, and join the celebration as Keith brings his patriotic family together for a kickass night of sing-along.

Thursday, June 4'—Brad Paisley with Justin Moore, Mickey Guyton
Brad Paisley doesn’t give you very long to recover from the Toby Keith concert when he rolls into town just four days later. That is okay, because Paisley doesn’t necessarily embody the “party” country music atmosphere. He can incite a hearty hoedown with feel-good drinking anthems like 2005’s “Alcohol”, but for the most part, Paisley’s music offers concertgoers the opportunity to sit back, relax, and with a drink in hand, revel in his jaw-dropping guitar skills.

Why you should go:
Paisley’s chops on guitar alone are worth their weight in gold, and when he lets loose on a plucking solo listener’s minds are racing to keep pace with his fingers. It's one thing to pull it off in a studio, but Paisley translates the same musical energy captured on record to his live performance with a talented showing backed by one of the more professional bands in the business (rumor has it that Paisley and Co. have a knack for knocking out entire album recording sessions in a single sitting.)

Through songs about love, fishing, hunting or coming of age, Paisley compliments his instrumental prowess with heartfelt lyrical content, vivid imagery, and a singing voice that just simply sounds fit for a storyteller.

Thursday, June 18—Tim McGraw with Billy Currington, Chase Bryant
With the catalog of hits under his belt, nobody can deny Tim McGraw’s talent and success, but when it comes to his live performance he doesn’t seem to go all out anymore. Sometimes he will sit on the edge of the stage, dangle his legs and sing, and while this approach adds intimacy to some degree, if you’re not in the first few rows you’re not going to be seeing much at certain points. This is a perfect show to buy a block of cheap seats (the lawn), and enjoy a unique McGraw soundtrack while spending time with friends and family.

Why you should go:
The crowds at a Tim McGraw concert are some of the most devoted country fans around, and arguably encompass the largest generational span. Whether you fall into the diehard category or not, it is an exciting experience to feel the atmosphere of a Tim McGraw show. Perhaps it stems from the nostalgia that the country legend brings out onto the stage with him—and he has plenty of it to go around as the longest active country veteran on the Megaticket lineup clocking in at twenty-five years strong.

Saturday, July 11—Lady Antebellum with Hunter Hayes, Sam Hunt
We will be officially getting into the thick of summer when Lady Antebellum makes their way to the Ak-Chin stage. Nothing sounds more fitting for a country concert than tailgating in the parking lot before the show on a July day, and taking advantage of the first Megaticket date to fall on a weekend since Toby Keith.

Tailgating at Ak-Chin can be tricky, but more than anything, it depends on where you park. I can’t believe I have to point it out, but stick to the outside perimeter of the parking lot closest to the exits. What’s with the mentality to park as close as possible to the entrance? At the end of the night, it’s a mangled slow mess to get out of that traffic jam. Follow the advice of Clark Griswold to his family at Walley World when it comes to parking.

Why you should go:
Led by the powerful vocals of Hillary Scott, Lady A stands out on the Megaticket lineup as the only female fronted headliner for the summer—and that’s a good thing. While a lot of their recorded music may hover more in the realm of slower love ballads, Lady A has an uncanny ability to ramp up the energy on their live show for an exciting performance that still holds on to the sentimentality of the music.

Saturday, August 15—Dierks Bentley with Kip Moore, Maddie & Tae, Canaan Smith
Dierks Bentley has been lying relatively low for the last year after his album Riser dropped in February 2014, but since rolling out of Tempe in 2003 with his self-titled debut and taking his slice of the country music industry Bentley hasn’t been one to stay quiet for long.

As a native of our valley, Bentley has established himself as an epitome of success for other local musicians looking to break out. Although he currently resides in Nashville, he is integrated into our city year-round through his own Scottsdale watering hole, and it seems fitting that Bentley would be the only artist on the Megaticket bill brave enough to come play for us in August.

Why you should go:
The homegrown country music hero is a great headlining addition to the Megaticket lineup with his own long list of country music awards and accolades. When Bentley plays for his home crowd there is no shortage of excitement among the fans and the band. Similar to Paisley, the band members behind Bentley come across as highly professional musicians, and together they deliver a solid set list with a healthy balance of partying and dancing.

Saturday, September 26—Jason Aldean with Cole Swindell, Tyler Farr
Summer should be morphing into fall when one of country music’s favorite performers and ACM award winner for male vocalist of the year will make an appearance. Along with relative newcomers Cole Swindell and Tyler Farr, the Jason Aldean show has the makings for one of the better nights offered on the Megaticket.

Why you should go:
Aldean embraces a rockabilly and Johnny Cash hybrid approach to his music, and his live performances are laced with an array of original tracks and genre bending cover songs. Above and beyond creating twangy renditions of famous tracks, Aldean stands out as an entertainer by utilizing more guitar and drum laden instrumentals in his live performance than most country musicians. This approach creates the energy and pulse of a rock concert for the audience, albeit a rock concert where mosh pits are replaced by two-step and swing dance routines.

Friday, October 2—Rascal Flatts with Scott McCreery, RaeLynn
Hot on the heels of Aldean will be Rascal Flatts and Scotty McCreery less than a week later. Keeping in line with the rest of the headliners throughout the summer, Rascal Flatts has been an unstoppable force on country music charts since the turn of the century having every studio album release reach number one from 2002 and on.

Why you should go:
The music of Rascal Flatts carries with it an emotional level of heartfelt punctuality—often times lead singer Gary LeVox sounds like he is on the verge of tears as he belts out his array of musical hits heavily themed in love lost and love found. Don’t expect their live performance to be a melancholy and somber affair, however; RF teeters on a carefully constructed line of slower musical intimacy and audience interaction to bring a worthy concert experience for fans.

Saturday, October 10—Florida Georgia Line with Thomas Rhett, Frankie Ballard
FGL brings their spin-off version of country music, which crosses into hip-hop and pop more often than not, to round out the nearly five month long Megaticket festival. In the past two years, FGL has broken into the mainstream limelight in a monstrous way. With back to back CMA Vocal Duo of the Year awards to share between singers Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard, the musical pair doesn’t seem to be coming down from their ivory tower anytime soon in spite of the onslaught of invective they receive from critics and peers about the shallow bro-country style of music they produce.

Why you should go:
No matter your feelings toward FGL’s disregard for the integrity of conventional country music, the duo knows how to put on a live show and make everybody in the crowd participate in their celebration. Trying to absorb a profound musical experience may prove futile at an FGL show, but those looking for an opportunity to plug into a large social communal scene, free of inhibitions, where attendees will be drinking and dancing in abundance—this is the ticket for you.