The best things we saw at the festival
The traveling Country Thunder music festival always brings a strong lineup to the Canyon Moon Ranch just outside of Florence and this year’s event was no exception.
Headliners for this year’s festival, the first since 2019 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, included Old Dominion, Dustin Lynch, Luke Combs and Eric Church. While the star power of these acts is undeniable, they weren’t the only standout performers to hit the stage. There were other acts in earlier timeslots who may well find their way into a starring role at future festivals.
And speaking of those future festivals, Country Thunder has announced that Morgan Wallen will headline in 2022 ahead of the start of Chris Janson’s set on Saturday.
Here are five highlights (in no particular order) our reporters saw over the four days of County Thunder Arizona 2021.
More Country Thunder highlights:The highs and lows of Country Thunder Arizona 2021
Jaty and the black stallions
This band performed on Copperhead’s smaller stage rather than the main festival showcase. The band Phoenix consisted of a cowboy-influenced vocalist, a rock bassist, and a metal-infused guitarist, but they put together some genuinely entertaining country music. The band eschewed the more pop-centric styles of other bands for something a bit more dangerous and gritty. These stallions soared between the covers and the originals, simultaneously blasting between anthemic rock, reckless honky-tonk and some slick hybrids.
It was almost like attending a Harry Styles concert when Sotillo strutted across the stage singing “Watermelon Sugar.” He could even be mistaken for Styles circa 2015 with long black hair, skinny black jeans and a printed button-up shirt that was unbuttoned in the middle of the chest. As a casual, casual listener of country pop music, I enjoyed Sotillo venturing into other genres—he also incorporated 3 Doors Down’s “Here Without You”—during his set.
— KiMi Robinson
With highlights like the hard-hitting “Martha Devine,” a dreamy cover of Brooks and Dunn’s “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone,” and the poison ballad “Voodoo Doll,” Ashley McBryde delivered a masterclass. to great country music on Saturday night. She led her group with the grace of a veterinarian and the crazy heart of a rookie. The crowd in turn gave him a real gift for his efforts.
Headlining Saturday night’s show, Luke Combs was able to truly connect with over 40,000 people in a way that never felt forced. It was an expression of pure friendship and the power of a good song. It was a gathering of like-minded people, and while some of those people were a little tipsy, we all came away feeling like a part of the bigger world of Combs.
There was a moment before playing “Even If I’m Leaving” where Combs said he wrote his songs “never knowing what it would mean to anyone else.” Ultimately, it all means seeing one man master the art of rebel, storyteller, heartthrob singer, and good guy. What it means for true country fans is that every one of them can expect to be blown away no matter what they got here for.
Review:How Luke Combs’ Greatest Hits Connected to Country Thunder Arizona Fans
Eric Church and his band summed up the festival perfectly by closing the festival on Sunday evening. Church, who has previously featured here, expressed a sentiment that many fans could also relate to as the festival had been postponed three times due to the pandemic. Midway through an extended version of “Record Year”, he told the crowd, “I dreamed many nights of being here again. We were meant for camaraderie. And for singing.” It wasn’t a simple line, and the crowd reaction proved that they connected to Church and his music on a truly intrinsic level.
It’s easy to see why people hold him in such high regard. The church is largely an encapsulation of the weekend’s other equally beloved acts. He repped HARDY’s party vibes with “Drink in My Hand.” He showed his fondness for purer art like Ashley McBryde with a dynamic version of “Jenny” and “Hell of a View”. Plus, he captured the same kind of warmth and humility as Luke Combs with something simple yet profound like “Springsteen.” It connects and inspires other artists and music fans in a kind of wonderful feedback loop.
The dream becomes reality: Why Eric Church, Country Thunder Was Worth The Wait
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