LIVE: WGNA’s CountryFest @ Altamont Fairgrounds, 7/9/11

Brett Eldredge
Brett Eldredge

Miranda Lambert headlined WGNA’s CountryFest 2011, but some people were wondering why? Oh sure, she’s got the hits, the talent and the voice to command headlining status, but she didn’t seem to be in the party-hearty spirit of the fest.

Early in her set when a bouncing beach-ball landed on the runway of the stage, Lambert wasted no time in running up and trying to stomp it out with her cowboy boots, telling the crowd of some 30,000 at the Altamont Fairgrounds that she doesn’t like that kind of stuff.

Boo hoo… Maybe she should have gone into opera, where that kind of diva behavior is, at the very least, tolerated, if not condoned.

However, not to take away from her talent, she delivered an excellent, hit-laden set to close out the festival, the first time that CountryFest had stretched into the after-dark hours.

Though he was a last minute substitution for ailing country star Chris Cagle who couldn’t make the date, John Michael Montgomery delivered an ultra-fine retrospective of his career. This dignified country gentleman crooned a patchwork of his hits, starting with tunes from the early ’90s including “I Love The Way You Love Me,” “I Can Love You Like That” and the sweet “I Swear.” The man can sing, and half of the audience was singing right along with him. Montgomery successfully bridged the gap between traditional country music and the rockin’ style of today.

Randy Houser’s set was a good-ole-boy romp through his song bag that was filled with songs about truckin’, drinkin’ and country music roadhouses.

Texas native Sunny Sweeney pulled out all the stops during her show, which was brimming over with Southwestern charm and loads of emotion. What really highlighted her performance was the tightness of her band and the way she clearly projected the lyrics to all of her songs.

The surprise performer of the festival was certainly Brett Eldridge, who exhibited boundless energy and great stage presence earlier in the afternoon. He pranced, sang and shook hands with everyone within reach as he displayed the highest quality of the up-and-coming future country star. His rockin’ set had everyone wanting more, especially when he sung his tour-de-force, “One Mississippi,” followed by set closer “Night Moves.” Keep an eye on this man of country song because you’ll be saying, “I saw him when…”

If there was a darling of the event, it was certainly Joanna Smith. Not only is she drop-dead-gorgeous, but she’s also as sweet as they come. Smith’s the real country-music deal, and you can bet that before long she’ll break out in the Top 10 of the country charts and become a headliner in her own right.

With no Country Throwdown at SPAC this year, and surprisingly few national country stars playing around Nippertown this summer, it’s a good thing that WGNA and its fabulous staff keeps it real and puts on this fabulous annual event. You know they’re doing something right when over 30,000 fans show up to the party!

Review and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Additional photos by Michael Seinberg

Miranda Lambert
Miranda Lambert
Sunny Sweeney
Sunny Sweeney
John Michael Montgomery
John Michael Montgomery
oanna Smith (left) and the Back 40 Band
Joanna Smith (left) and the Back 40 Band
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