Header Ads

Tractors, Trucks, and Little Towns

Tractors, Trucks, and Little Towns – Runaway Country Brings the Small Town To a Big Festival

Brad Paisley

Story and Photos by Barry Nadler

What happens when you take a guy who typically is an 80’s rock guy and introduce him to a three-
day country music festival? That is exactly the experiment I decided to take on when I offered to cover the three-day country music festival called Runaway Country.

As the yellow-orange sun was setting behind the crowd, Josh Turner was performing the most played
song of 2012 – his hit “Time is Love.” The audience is standing and singing along to all his hits.

Me...nope. I didn’t know a single song. However, I was familiar with someone he inspired. Many people know the 2011 American Idol winner, Scotty McCreery. He is known for performing two of Josh Turner’s songs on the show–“Your Man” and “Long Black Train.”

Both these artists are known for their deep, baritone voices. And, the audiences love it! Me, I was digging the sunset and the people watching.

I really had no idea what I was in for.  I was at work one day, speaking with a co-worker about how I was looking forward to submitting to cover some large rock festivals over the middle part of the year. I was also commenting that it might be fun to try something a little outside my lane. She recommended that I submit for Runaway Country. There were national acts, like Josh Turner, Brad Paisley, and Jason Aldean.

Lauren Alaina
Other performers were High Valley, Tayler Farr, and Lauren Alaina. Some of these artists were names I had heard before and I was up for the challenge. So, I submitted and was accepted to shoot the event. Lucky for me, my co-worker was going to the festival, so I at least had someone who knew what was going on and could share the experience with. This turned out to be a really good thing. She shared that Trent Harmon was from American Idol and that Michael Ray had been on “The Next.”

She was able to identify who the local celebrities were, so I could focus a little attention on them.
These included Diamond Dixie and Justin Grimes, who performed on a smaller stage within a tent.

Michael Ray
Michael Ray is technically a local artist, but he is now a national act with two #1 hits and performed on the main stage.

I have not been a large music festival attendee in the past. My experience with it was exactly two
festivals. In 1988, I attended Monsters of Rock, in Tampa, FL.

In attendance were Metallica, Dokken, Scorpions, and Van Halen. This was held in a single stadium, so the entire festival was one stage with a football stadium of people. The second experience was
in November of last year (2016), when I was invited to document the local band, Meka Nism, as they experienced Kink Music Festival. This was, what I thought was, a decent sized festival.

It was headlined by Evenesence and had artists such as Sick Puppies, In Flames, and Hell Yeah. I was very wrong. These were actually quite small, comparatively speaking.

The first day of the three-day festival was a Friday afternoon and evening. Due to my work schedule and the location of the festival, I did not attend the first day. I would have only gotten to see one artist, so I decided to pass and put my efforts into day 2 and 3.

As I drove up to park, for my first day at Runaway Country, I knew this was going to be something
altogether different. And, it was HUGE! As far as I could see...RVs, corn hole games, kegs, cowboy hats,cowboy boots, and pickup trucks. I think it was at least a 15 minute walk from my car to the entrance to the festival. I then learned I needed to go to the main entrance to get my media badge. Luckily, there was an amphibious vehicle, promoting Wild Florida, that was prepared to take people from one entrance to another, since it was a really long walk.

As I checked in,they gave me a media parking pass.That would have been useful about 45 minutes earlier...but I was definitely going to take advantage of ion Day 3.

Once I got into the festival, I was treated to the sights and sounds of a county fair. I wasn’t expecting it,but I wasn’t surprised. Lazy Days RV had a series of RVs you could explore and there were grown adults racing around a go cart track on motorized coolers.

There were dozens of food vendors– including portable versions of restaurants and a brick oven pizzeria. In the middle of all of it was a
Ferris wheel. As I looked out at the festival, there was a main stage with various vendors lining each side. This included large blow-ups of various alcohol brands.

There was also a secondary stage under a tent, called “My Apartment.” I don’t know why they named
it that. Many people had these blow-up hammock/couch - like things. The funniest part was that the idea was cool, but you could see that people had a challenge filling them up. You had to wave it around in the air, like a giant garbage bag, so it would fill up. Once you did, though, it became a very cozy seat and there were typically people cuddling them with their feet up.

As a supporter of the Orlando, FL music scene, I wanted to get an opportunity to see and meet some of the local country artists. Sadly, I just missed seeing Diamond Dixie. But, I did get a chance to chat with them a little and they gave me one of their CDs. We happened to have a few people we both knew in common, which was nice to share. Diamond Dixie is two sisters– Gabriella and Bianca LeDuc.

They regularly travel and record in Nashville, TN.

Once I was done speaking with the ladies of Diamond Dixie, I decided to head over to the main stage
and see what was happening there. To my surprise, there was no photo pit, as I was used to being in.
Instead, there was an area on each side of the main stage for fans to gather. These were obviously
higher-priced festival tickets. There was a long runway from center stage out to the soundboard.

It was obviously longer than normal because one of the artists commented how long it was and that he needed to change out his boots for Nikes.  Just past the audience pit, there was a second runway that ran parallel to the stage to create a “T”.  I was seated in the media section, just off to stage right.
Most of what I did for the next couple of hours was observe and people watch. As I have said, this was a whole new type of people watching for me.

The average age of the crowd was around mid-40’s. There were older people mixed in with high-
school aged kids, as well. There were women in tiny jean shorts, lots of cowboy hats, a ton of red, white, and blue clothing. One of the most bizarre things I saw was a guy with “daisy duke” shorts, boots, and a cowboy hat (with no shirt on) going up to every girl he could find and dancing with them
–sometimes in a scary, scummy way. He did this for hours and I kept seeing him all over the festival doing it.

Brad Paisley
I was excited to see Brad Paisley. He would be my first real country star that I was experiencing live. I really didn’t know what to expect – would he be like Garth Brooks, who is an entertainer and puts on a rock show wrapped in country music?  Would he be a singer, who stands still and plays the guitar?  Something I found very interesting about most of the artists at this festival is that they aren’t really like rock bands, in that country artists tend to be more like Billy Joel, Elton John, or Bruce Springsteen. They are a primary personality that has a backup band.

The singer is really who you are paying attention to. I was surprised by how
Brad Paisley
crowd- friendly Brad Paisley was– and I later saw that all the country acts were like this. They literally would sign anything that was put in front of them, while they were performing– hats, shirts, books, etc.

Brad even gave a young girl an acoustic guitar and claimed she would be at the festival in a few years as the “next Taylor Swift!” He would even take selfies with people as he performed. A few times, he would take people’s phones and take videos or selfies with them.  All of this happened while he was still performing. This was an interesting lesson that I thought should carry over to some rock shows I have seen.

There was a moment in his show where it looked like he was having a problem and he kept laughing and holding his mic out while telling the crowd to help him out. It turns out that he actually forgot the words to the song. So, how big is Brad Paisley, actually?  He has three Grammy’s, Two American Music Awards, 14 Academy of Country Music Awards, and 14 CMA awards, including Entertainer of the Year. He has 23 #1 singles and has been on the charts since 1999.  He even has an exclusive line of Jeans, hats, T- shirts, jewelry, and belts. This guy is big!

With Day 1 of the festival over for me, I was starting to feel the vibe of the festival slightly and it was an average experience for me. I didn’t know any of the artists or their music. But, I didn’t hate it, so I was prepared to go back the next day.

And, between sets on the main stage, they played a Guns N’ Roses tune, so that was a bonus.
But, man was it a long walk to my car after being on my feet all day.

The next day, I got to the festival a little earlier. I also had a special media parking pass, that let me park right upfront. That was a nice bonus!

My first stop was to see the other local artist, Justin Grimes. Dressed in a cowboy hat, sunglasses, and his face covered with a big, bushy beard, Justin looks like what you would expect “old” country to look like– Think Hank Williams or someone like that.

His sound was a mix of blues, country, soul, southern rock, and folk. He has also won the title of “Favorite Local Male Solo Acoustic” artist of the year by SouthFloridaCountryMusic.com for the past three years. Given all of that, it was a surprise that he is only just now about to release his first self-titled, debut album.

After speaking with Justin Grimes for a little bit, I decided to grab some food. I gave the brick-
oven pizza vendor a shot and it was really good. Not your typical “fair-food.” As I was getting my food, I received a text from my co-worker telling me I NEEDED to get over to the main stage because the guitar player for Taylor Farr had a Mohawk and I had to see it! Yup! He was a straight-
up rock guy with a flying V guitar and a ginger beard and Mohawk. My best guess is that he is probably in a rock band on the side, but his career is in country music. But, I liked it and was starting to feel the groove. But, I was actually excited to see the next artist.

Michael Ray
I had heard of Michael Ray. He hails from Eustis, FL. I knew that because I have a close friend that also lives in Eustis. What I didn’t know was how big he had become in a very short period of time.

As they were preparing the stage for him, several of his team and people from a local radio station were handing out large, red, foam fingers. There was a guy on the stage with bleach blonde hair and a hot pink shirt with the saying “Just a small town girl".  I assumed it was someone from the band. That was an incorrect assumption. He was actually a guitar tech. But, it did set the stage for what was about to come. Over the speakers, I hear AC/DC and “For Those About To Rock!” His guitar player came out and was wearing a Metallica shirt. What? This is a country festival. Well, this guy was what I wanted to see. He was a rocker. He had swagger. I am sure the women found him very attractive. He interacted with all the fans through his whole set.  Little did I know that he already had a #1 Country hit and he just had his second #1 Country hit. Michael Ray knew how to work the crowd. His band was actually an important part of the show, as well.

His bass player was constantly working the crowd by getting them to cheer and raise their hands. After he played, I met up with my co-worker again and we chatted a bit about his performance. I had
taken some pictures off the back of my camera to post onto Facebook, so friends and family could see
that I was really at a country music festival. I then went to go get a drink, since it was becoming hot out.

As I was walking to the food area, I spotted a guy that looked just like the guy I had just seen up on the stage and had taken a bunch of photos of.  I stopped him and asked him if it was him. Turns out it was. I shared some of my shots with him, shook his hand, and told him that I was impressed with their performance. He seemed to appreciate it.

Jason Aldean
The last evening wound down with Jason Aldean. He is newer to the country scene. He has been on the scene for about 11 years now. He only did his first stadium tour last year. You can tell the audience knew his music though– they were singing many of his songs back to him. Another achievement of Aldean’s is that he recently won the Entertainer of the Year. This the Academy of Country Music’s biggest award. I enjoyed Jason Aldean. He put on a lively, rock show and I found myself bobbing my head along to a lotof the music.

For me, the last day of the festival was certainly better than my first day, when it comes to enjoyment of the music and the artists. I even knew one song– it was a cover of The Outfield’s “Your Love”. You know it! Sing with me! “Josie’s on a vacation far away. Come around to talk it over...” Yeah, the only song I knew from the whole weekend of country music was an 80’s pop cover song.

That pretty much sums up the entire experience. I was most certainly a guy at a festival that was
totally out of my lane. But, I can say that I did it and I can chalk it up as an experience in the music field. And, as a surprising side note to this adventure, I was actually able to recognize various songs that people played for me over the next few days, when I shared my stories at my day job. I could at least say “Yes, I remember him playing that song!”

- More at UnRatedMagazine.com

No comments

Brought to you by Zergnet