Last Friday I went to Thunderfest 2011, an annual country music festival held by the radio station Thunder 106 in Holmdel, NJ., starring Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton, and Jerrod Neiman as part of Brad's H20 II Tour.
I was definitely apprehensive and not completely sold when a friend asked if I wanted to tag along to a country concert. Though I'm definitely more of a pop-rock girl myself, I still have a strong appreciation for all genres of music. Still country music never fails to bring back fond childhood memories of sitting shot gun in my dad's truck listening to Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney's greatest hits as he drove around my hometown in South Jersey or to our vacation house in upstate New York. Or even memories of years not too long ago -- laying across the grass in my college years listening to Rascal Flatts and Lady Antebellum, relating their saddest songs to the melodramatic boy dramas in my life. Isn't that the magic of all music? The fact that just hearing a song can completely transport you back in to another time? Country music has never failed to be that time machine for me.
Now let me just say that I witnessed not just a concert, but a culture in itself on Friday. I didn't get far in to the parking lot before I realized just how immersed in to the county lifestyle these concert go-ers were. I saw grandparents, grandkids, and everyone in between decked out in western gear -- hats, boots, plaid, and all! From the BBQs taking place in the parking lots to the western tunes blasting from car speakers, I knew I was in for one great festival. Vendors, water rides (including a Slip n' Slide which I haven't seen in years that my friend just had to try out), and excited Paisley fans were everywhere. A variety of performers including Sunny Sweeney, The JaneDear Girls, and Eden's Edge took to a smaller makeshift stage outside of the arena for people to listen while they waited for the arena doors to open. After a good hour of wandering around, it was time to go inside. Cowgirl boots slipped on and a straw cowgirl hat on my head, I was ready!
The show most definitely didn't disappoint. After the Pledge of Allegiance (a country concert tradition, I was told), Jerrod Neiman took the stage and got the crowd pumped with his catchy singles "Lover, Lover" and "What Do You Want." Blake Shelton, who was last seen as a judge on NBC's The Voice, took the stage shortly after Jerrod. In-between playing his hits including "Hillbilly Bone," "All About Tonight," and his latest single "Honey Bee," he bantered about his country crooning wife Miranda Lambert, joked about his family, and even did a fun cover of medleys including "Play That Funky Music" and "My Prerogative" that had the audience members dancing and singing along. "I can't believe I'm actually singing this," Blake paused midway through "My Prerogative," laughing. "Only for you guys in Jersey!"
Everyone was on their feet screaming (including me!) by the time Brad Paisley made his first entrance -- making his way through the crowd in the pit, hugging fans as they passed by, audience members lifting their hats with respect. Playing for over an hour, Brad filled his set with fan favorites, awesome guitar solos, and personal stories in front of a vivid backdrop that alternated between camera close ups and hilarious music videos for songs such as "Working on a Tan," "Celebrity," and even an animated video he did with Carrie Underwood, Reba, and other country favs. Blake and Brad's duet gained huge applause by the variety of fans and more personal songs such as "Letters To Me" brought tears to the eyes, which he sang with his acoustic guitar in the middle of the arena. If I left that night knowing one thing it is that Brad Paisley is a star, no doubt about it.
Though it had been one long evening, as I limped (my boots were killing me!) back to my car, not one person didn't have a smile on their face.
Click "Read More" to check out some photos I took.
Honky Tonk On!
Nicole, J-14 Photo Assistant
Photos: Courtesy of Nicole Mazza