If there was any doubt that country music is still king around northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan, those doubts have been swept away one empty beer cooler and one sunburn at a time this month.
Legions of devoted fans flocked to the area’s two biggest festivals this month in record numbers.
“This was the most people we’ve ever had,” Jim Prenger, a promoter for Country Concert said after close to 77,000 fans attended the three-day event in Fort Loramie, Ohio, from July 10-12. “It’s the No. 1 genre in the nation, the economy is good, and festivals, in general, are good because you’re not just stuck to a bleacher seat.”
The previous record for the event was in 2005, when Brad Paisley, Tim McGraw, and Brooks & Dunn headlined. That event drew just shy of this year’s total, but those shows were spread out over four days.
By comparison, last year’s event drew more than 50,000. The biggest increase this year came on Thursday night, when Miranda Lambert and Florida Georgia Line were on stage. An additional 10,000 fans were on hand for the opening night of the festival compared to last year.
Lambert has been a big draw for years, but FGL, with their cutting-edge style, has been packing arenas ever since their smash “Cruise” debuted two years ago.
“The one thing country music has done in the last five or six years is to change the music. They’ve been willing to change genre to what people want to hear. It’s not your mom and dad’s country music,” Prenger said.
The weekend was capped by Luke Bryan’s appearance on Saturday, when close to 30,000 fans pushed the facility close to capacity.
The good news for loyal fans to the event is that the record-breaking year should mean an even bigger show next year.
“This year we added a new saloon stage, roads, and more screens. We always put money back into the facility, and we’ll do that next year,” Prenger said.
In Brooklyn, Mich., the Faster Horses Festival also made improvements in its second year, and the results paid off for powerhouse Nashville promoter Brian O’Connell of Live Nation for the three-day festival, which took place last weekend.
The event, anchored by Nashville heavyweights Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, and Lambert, drew an average of 25,000 fans per day, which was a big increase from last year’s average of 20,000 per day.
O’Connell’s vision for the festival has been to create a community feel and to keep the fans on the grounds from early in the morning until late at night, and he accomplished that with sand volleyball, a Whiffle ball tournament, a Ferris wheel, nightly bonfires, and a DJ that spun tunes throughout the day.
The big complaint O’Connell heard last year was about limited access to the grounds. That problem was taken care of with the addition of two entrances.
“Faster Horses this year was better than I could have ever anticipated or hoped for ” O’Connell said in a statement. “Walking around the campsites you just get the greatest sense for community from the fans, and backstage the artists are truly enjoying themselves, all around it's an amazing atmosphere.”
Brian Dugger’s column on country music appears in The Blade the last Saturday of every month.