Country Thunder Day One Wrap Up: Party country, covers on covers and crazy fans!

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First day of the iconic Country Thunder is in the bag, and it sure went out with a bang with a thunderstorm that rocked Twin Lakes through out the night but it was well worth it and is definitely something that is just part of the experience! The first day is always a bit of a warming up day for the festival as people are still getting settled in and falls unfortunately on a work day, but that didn’t hurt the crowd for the new wave of country music, with Sam Hunt closing out the first day!

Sam Hunt is a huge face of the latest country movement and it showed with the fans who were out! While the crowd didn’t really come out till Midland or so, it was a group of passionate fans beginning with Fillmore, an act we definitely wouldn’t see back in the day but fit right in with Thursday’s bill. Clad in ripped up black skinny jeans, a gold chain and a shaved man bun, Fillmore gave more of a mainstream country performance. With a good balance of covers (Walk the Moon’s smash ‘Shut Up And Dance’ and the classic ‘Stand By Me’) and his own material with hits like ‘Highway’ and of course closing with current smash ‘Slower’, he had the crowd in his palm. Introducing the last track of his set, ‘Shower’, he chimed ‘I want to thank Spotify for changing my life this year. This’s song’s called Slower”. He left a lasting impression on the audience and even could be spotted sticking around for the fun, when he was jumping into the crowd for Sam Hunt’s set!

Country Thunder isn’t all just music though. I indulged in my classic Country Thunder treat of a large bag of freshly popped kettle corn which is a definite must do for the festival. There are also tons of food options with food tickets just at a dollar a pop and definitely worth it. Well maybe not those 18 dollar tacos but for the most part you can find some good deals when you’re walking on. And of course, there is the iconic corn dog which can be found at multiple locations around the grounds.
Just after Fillmore jumped off the stage, a bit more of a classic country vibe was in the lineup for Adam Sanders. Sanders has already established his name as a well known songwriter, responsible for tracks for Luke Bryan, Dierks Bentley and Cole Swidell amongst others. As well as an established songwriting career, he just released his first EP of original music, aptly self titled ‘Adam Sanders’, which he told me in an interview earlier in the day is titled that way because it is a collection of music that he feels truly defines him. He played several of the tracks through out his set including his first single, “Thankful For”, “Burning Roses”, which is already at 1 million plays within four weeks, and “Thunder” which is around 17 million streams in. Each song was filled by a huge round of applause and after he worked his way through his EP, he jumped into a few of the tracks he has written for other people including his first # 1, “Ain’t Worth the Whiskey”. Which was made famous by Cole Swidell and the track Sanders ended his 50 or so minute set.

I took a break from the music and listened to Cale Dodds from my campsite as I ate a delicious feast of pulled pork, kale slaw and fresh sweet potato fries. We all need a little nourishment on a busy day like Country Thunder. And I promise you, Dodds sounded like perfection from our super close site for the weekend. Post dinner, we headed back in just a song into trio Midland who I believe can easily be the next Rascal Flatts’ award winning trio. Just give it a year or two. But hey, just with a debut record under their pockets, the band is already performing in the main support slot so maybe it’s even closer then I think. The band’s vibe was a bit LA meets country which makes sense after the band saying they were from Tucson, Arizona. They walked on stage with frontman Mark Wystrach starting the crowd interaction off with ‘Usually we like to say we made it rain but tonight we stopped the rain!’
The first track I truly swooned over was ‘This Old Heart’, with it’s precious lyrics and serious country vibes. The band also covered ‘Stand by Me’ which made it the second time today. Keep a tracker for the rest of the weekend? The band was all about crowd interaction and the crowd was eating it up. With the majority of their set being originals, they had the perfect two cover choices with the aforementioned ‘Stand by Me’ and then the track that left me jamming with Tom Petty’s ‘American Girl’ which made me fall in love with Midland even more. The crowd interaction and their chemistry on stage became even clearer after some research this morning, Wystrach is also an actor/model and Cameron Duddy is a music video director. So clearly they have a bit of experience at creating a performance but I was hooked either way. The band rocked their way through hits like “Altitude Adjustment” which was inspired by Willie Nelson telling them they needed one when they were on tour with him, wink, wink! The band played their huge smash, “Drinking Problem”, a few songs to the end of the set which included a straight moving of the boots till they ended their set with the clutch quip by Wystrach after being the last to be introduced with, “Put your hands and your buttcheeks together”. Oh Midland, you’re a little wacky but the crowd and I really liked it!

To close off the first night was aforementioned Sam Hunt who had the crowd wrapped around his finger for the length of the show. For his set, I escaped the craziness of being in the front row after reserved, which is always a goal for my family. It’s my first time attending the festival in around thirteen years and things have definitely changed. When there used to be a chair race down the hill and chairs were already set up at least half way up the hill, last night was a bit different. The kids were a little bit more cut throat, trying to slam their way in front of my family’s seats and I was just not having it. Especially since a large amount of the crowd only showed up with about twenty minutes left in Midland’s set. The fam still loved it thought and I deposited myself in the reserved section for Hunt’s set.
Hunt destroyed and just as I had been told, rocked his way through out the set. Constantly walking out on to the catwalk and signing kids hats, he also ran to the front row past reserved and ran through slapping hands (with constant security of course), but the crowd clearly still appreciated it as they screamed their heads off. Opening his set with his recent single, ‘Downtown’s Dead’, he kept on rolling through the hits including ‘Ex to See’ and ‘House Party’ to ‘Back of a Cop Car’ which he said was about the woman he made his wife just a few months ago in April. As well as playing all the hits, he gave a lot of love to growing up in the country and the legendary country songs. My favorite portion of his set and one where I was told a lot of the crowd went silent for on the hill seating, was a medley of songs that he performed with his band that included Jo Dee Messina’s ‘One Way Ticket’ and The Dixie Chicks, ‘Earl Had to Die’. I departed just before he went out for his encore to beat the crowds and apparently beat the massive thunder storm that was about to strike, for the most part. As I was leaving, the heat lightning began and Hunt still finished up his set


The second I hit the campground, the lightning was getting serious and the rain started to pour. It was a great first day of music but make sure to keep safe as this weekend is looking real wet which included already some serious downpours already today and more in the future for the rest of the festival. Reported by the Milwaukee Journal, a unidentified woman was even struck by lightning last night and was unconscious. So please, use the buddy system, best wishes to the injured patron and keep your friends close.
On a brighter note, with it being the second day and Dierks Bentley being the headliner tonight, it’s going to be a great day. Highlights for me are the ladies who rock today with both Runaway June and Ashley McBryde, as well as definitely checking out some of the second stage today who are bringing in some of Nashville’s next brightest. Find me living my best life this weekend and hope to see you doing the same!

About Author


Colleen has been writing about music since 2009. Interviewing bands since the glory days of Warped and has continued to do so for now over fourteen years. As well as doing freelance for other publications, the love for everything rock continues today.