As the temperature rose and the drinks flowed, Country Summer 2017 kicked off Northern California’s biggest country festival in sizzling fashion. Country music fans arrived early to the Sonoma County festival to stake out their spots near the shade as temperatures rose to near 100 degrees on the first day.
Amy Davis of Sebastopol said she’s been attending the festival every year since it started back in 2013, but doesn’t remember it ever being this hot. “This is such a fun weekend, great way to spend time with friends and enjoy country music,” she said.
Friday’s line up brought the classic country sound of Ned LeDoux, son of the late Chris LeDoux, to start off Country Summer. Ned LeDoux weaved in his late father’s hits like “This Cowboy’s Hat” with his own songs, “We Ain’t Got it All” and “Forever a Cowboy.” LeDoux shared stories of writing songs with his father and for his fans, it’s a great way to stay connected to the senior LeDoux and his legacy living on through his son. It was a great opening performance to start the weekend to Country Summer.
Sonoma County met William Michael Morgan and were swept off their feet by the smooth sounding country crooner from Mississippi. Morgan got the crowd singing and dancing with his hit songs “I Met a Girl” and “Missing” off his debut album “Vinyl.” He mixed in some popular hits like Mark Chesnut ‘s “It’s a Little too Late,” Train’s “Drops of Jupiter” and the classic Garth Brooks “Friends in Low Places.” Morgan got the crowd primed and made some new fans with his friendly style and classic sound.
Michael Ray cranked up the party with his high octane performance. From the moment Ray took the stage the energy level was kicked up a notch. Opening with “Another Girl” and getting the crowd fired up with his mix of rockin country sound with a mix of his own songs and the Brantley Gilbert weekend anthem “Bottoms Up,” Ray had the crowd of girls and guys in their country boots raising a glass and singing along with him. The crowd was in full party mode by the time Ray ended his set.
Leading up to the headliner was the talented female duo Maddie and Tae. They kept the party going with their hit “Stay on Your Side of Town” and “Fly.” The pair also gave a preview of their upcoming album with a new song, “Welcome to the Club,” about a first breakup. Maddie and Tae closed out their set with crowd favorite and No. 1 hit “Girl in a Country Song.”
Headliner Thomas Rhett did not disappoint those who came out to see him on the first night of Country Summer. Rhett opened with “Crash and Burn” and had the crowd on their feet the whole night. Rhett, known for his showmanship and energy on stage, is making a name for himself as one the rising stars in country music today.
Rhett shared this was his first time to Santa Rosa and Sonoma County. He commented on being in “Wine Country, where everyone drinks Budweiser,” leading into his first single “Something to do with my Hands.”
During Rhett’s performance he took selfies with the crowd and performed some hit songs for other artists he has written for like Florida Georgia Line’s “Round Here,” and “Parking Lot Party” by Lee Brice.
By the end of the evening, Rhett slowed things down with crowd favorite and No. 1 hit “Die a Happy Man,” as couples slow danced in the aisles. It was pretty easy to see Rhett had made a lot happy fans on this first night of Country Summer.
Day two of Country Summer heated up with A Thousand Horses from Nashville. A Thousand Horses had the crowd rocking to their southern style of country rock with their hits “This Ain’t no Drunk Dial,” “Heaven is so Close” and “Southernality.” Their sound is a mix of The Black Crowes, The Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd. It was easy to see those who braved the heat and sun had come to see this up and coming band who had the crowd singing every song with them. Having just released their second album, “Bridges” and already have a new single making it’s way up the charts, “Preachin to the Choir,” A Thousand Horses is well on their way to headliner status.
Hit duo Montgomery Gentry took to the stage with crowd pleasing tunes “Hell Yeah” and “Where I Come From” in the blazing sun, with Eddie Montgomery dressed in all black with his trade mark Charlie 1 Horse Tattoos & Scars cowboy hat.
Great news came to Montgomery Gentry fans when the duo announced they are working on a new album while playing new songs “Outskirts” and “Drink-a-long-song.” Saturday evening headliner Darius Rucker took to the stage and it was a dance party all night long.
Sonoma State University alumni Sean Curley of Santa Rosa was there with his girlfriend to see Rucker. “He puts on an amazing show. We saw [him] two years ago at Country Summer, he doesn’t disappoint,” said Curley. “One of the best shows we’ve been to.”
Things got started with “True Believers” and set the upbeat tone for the evening with Rucker. He brought all his classic Hootie & the Blowfish hits as well as his own solo ones. Fans danced the night away with “Radio,” “This,” “Time,” and his latest hit “If I Told You.”
Rucker is a veteran on the concert circuit from his days as lead singer for Hootie & the Blowfish, making his performance flawless and interacting with crowd with his feel good blend of songs.
South Carolina native and Gamecocks superfan, Rucker also paid tribute to being in California and raising a glass of wine to congratulate the Golden State Warriors on their NBA Finals Championship, “Quite a feat, and I just gotta say congratulations, they did it.”
The evening closed with cover song and hit “Wagon Wheel” that had the crowd dancing and singing the lyrics. Rucker is a true performer and had the fans on their feet all night long dancing and singing.
Country Summer heated up on the third and final day with the temperature climbing over the 100 degree mark, but that didn’t slow down Caanan Smith. The Nashville native opened up with “Hole in Bottle,” and kept the hits coming like “Love you Like That” and Goo Goo Dolls cover “Iris.” Smith kept this summer party going with upbeat and energetic style.
Grammy nominated and California native Cam brought her contemporary country sound to Sonoma County. With her signature curly hair and brightly colored sundress with yellow stripes, Cam was the embodiment of a country summer day. The up and coming singer sang her hits “My Mistake” and “Burning House” off her 2015 album “Untamed.” A mix of sweet and sassy had fans saying how much they enjoyed the show and Cam is one not to miss seeing perform live.
Co-headliner Randy Houser kept the Country Summer party going with rowdy style and appropriately named album “Fired Up.” Houser, hailing from Mississippi, has been on the country music scene for nearly a decade and has plenty of songs to keep the crowd going. Opening with “We Went,” followed by his hit “How Country Feels,” “Boots On” and the Trace Adkins song Houser wrote “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,” which got the crowd fired up like name of his current album. Fans didn’t seem to mind the heat as Houser rocked the stage on the last day of the festival.
Closing performer Justin Moore brought down the house Sunday night. Taking the stage with his trademark Bullhide cowboy hat, Moore opened with “Hank It” keeping the energy that had been going all weekend long. Moore had the crowd on their feet as they sang every lyric to the current single “You Look Like I Need a Drink,” “Backwoods,” and “Can’t even Bait a Hook,” without missing a beat. There was no better way to end the three day festival as Moore gave a rockin’ performance.
Newly added to this year’s festival was Country Club, where concert goers received the VIP treatment, complete with pre-show appearances by several of the artists, a private bar with food and private restrooms. Tickets went fast selling out all three days.
Country Summer goers taking a break between acts, could take in the marketplace for concert gear like hats or t-shirts, play corn hole at the Jack Daniels booth or try their luck at lassoing a bull to win meet and greet passes at the Friedman Brother’s booth. Another highlight was the world famous Budweiser Clydesdales, which made their Country Summer debut. These magnificent horses had crowds clamoring around for pictures and videos. There was something for everyone here at Country Summer.
Despite record breaking heat, Country Summer 2017 saw attendance numbers of 30,000. Reserved seating on Friday and Saturday sold out, with Friday and Saturday Pit Passes also selling out.
Country Summer 2018 will take place June 15-17 at the Sonoma County Event Center, 1350 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa, CA.