Country Thunder returned to Osceola Heritage Park behind the Silver Spurs Rodeo arena in Kissimmee, Florida for three days of country music, sun, and fun! The estimated crowds were to reach 30,000 fans a day. Friday is typically a slower day as the campers are getting settled and the party really doesn’t get cranked up until after 7:00pm a few hours after folks get out of work.
Originally named Runaway Country, the festival traveled from its home in Melbourne, Florida of many years to relocate inland and near Central Florida’s attractions in Kissimmee at the rodeo grounds. In 2019, Country Thunder took over managing the festival to add the current number making eight locations in North America, and making Kissimmee the last stop of the year. This years lineup for day one included , Jackson Dean, Phil Vassar, Kameron Marlowe, Niko Moon, Ashley McBryde. The headliner for Friday night was a member of the Grand Ole Opry, Chris Young.
Festivals of this magnitude with some of country music’s best performers doesn’t just happen. There needs to be a build up and some hype. Country great, Blake Shelton, opened his Orlando location of Ole Red on International Drive to host a kick off party on Thursday night October 20, 2022. Ole Red hosts live country music almost every day of the week with multiple artists daily. The day’s line up included, Foley & Burns from 11:30am to 3:00pm, Jason Link from 3:30pm to 7:00pm, Shane Profit from 7:00pm to 8:00pm, and finished the night with Bryan James from 8:30 to 11:00pm.
Country Thunder media was treated with a VIP section in the upper balcony with a birds-eye view of the live stage below. Included in admission were two drink coupons and a complimentary buffet with salad, redneck nachos, four flavors of wings, three types of sliders, shrimp and grits, and a great dessert bar to top off the meal. The staff was courteous and very attentive. From what I was told, the party got a bit crazy as country music fans partied into the night.
The party at Ole Red was a classy touch!
I have been covering festivals the past four years and have never been treated to a VIP party and meal the day before the festival. Well done Blake Shelton and thank you very much!
Jackson Dean kicked off the festival off at 2:00pm to a sparsely filled audience in front of the stage. I always feel bad for these bands as the fans are filing into the venue, stopping by the merchandise table, the restrooms, stopping for food and drink, and then they actually start paying attention to the background music as they head for their seats. But, the three day concert has to start somewhere. Maybe next year these opening bands will move up in the festival roster.
Jackson Dean signed to Big Machine Records in 2021 and has charted with the single “Don’t Come Lookin'” at number 10 in 2022! Their future looks bright!
Phil Vassar was the next performer of the day at 3:30pm. The audience was steadily streaming in, and people were staking out their sections with folding chairs and holding on to their real estate despite not all in their parties being present. Phil Vassar is currently on his “Piano Bar Tour”. Vassar made his debut in country music in the late 1990’s co-writing singles with several country artists, including Alan Jackson and Tim McGraw which earned him the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, ASCAP Country Songwriter of the Year in 1999. Phil was everywhere on the stage and headed out the runway often to visit up close and personal with the fans. Pattie Cossentino was fantastic on the saxophone supporting Vassar on the keyboards! This was a high energy show and the crowd was actually getting involved and warming up.
Kameron Marlowe‘s time started at 5:00pm. Marlowe was born and raised in Kannapolis, North Carolina. I remember as the MC’s mentioned that he was from the same town as auto racing’s, Dale Earnhardt. Marlow headed out the runway and his guitar player even ventured out to perform a solo.
Some pictures of the atmosphere and the crowd during the festival!
At 6:30pm, it was time for Niko Moon! The party was about to get into high gear. The joy this performer resonates on the stage goes directly into his music and out into the audience. Everyone had perma-smiles pasted to their faces, you just couldn’t help it. Niko is a great performer and an equally great songwriter. He has written songs for Zac Brown Band, Dierks Bentley, Morgan Wallen, and Rascal Flatts, along with his 2020 number one country hit “Good Time”, the epitome of his existence from the smile on his face! The set was upbeat and you felt pure joy as Niko performed!
The sun had set for the day. The crowd settled in. Temperatures dropped below 70 degrees. It was 8:00pm and time for Ashley McBryde who has become the new Nashville darling. She won the Academy of Country Music Awards New Female Vocalist of the Year in 2018, Country Music Association Awards New Artist of the Year award in 2019 and has been nominated for the 56th Annual Country Music Association Awards, Female Vocalist of the Year, Single of the Year, Song of the Year, Musical Event of the Year, Video of the Year, and International Artist Achievement Award on November 9th of this year. If you haven’t seen this lady perform, you are really missing out on a great show. It was really warming as she smiled and waved at a toddler in the first row in her mothers arms. Ashley made the comment that that child may someday be inspired to be on the stage as she once was. Another great moment that brought smiles to the fans.
At precisely 9:04, multi-platinum singer and songwriter Chris Young took the stage in front of over 20,000 screaming fans. Everyone was in their place, the stage was set, and this country star who has 13 songs that have charted number one since he was the Season 4 winner of Nashville Star in 2006 came out. The performance was to great visual lighting and a two tiered stage with great production. The headliners always delivers at Country Thunder.
Day one wound up at about 11:45pm and by all accounts everyone in attendance had a great time. But the buzz in the air is always about Saturday night when the hair gets let down and the cowboy boots start rocking in the party tent, Electric Thunder after the shows on the main stage! Here the night turns into early morning and the fun continues after hours!
Stay tuned for all three days of coverage in All Music Magazine!
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Photographer and Editor/Founder of AllMusicMagazine.com. My love of live music has taken me to incredible experiences with the top bands of all time in stadium shows to the smallest venues with equally inspiring musicians. Using the medium of photography and my publication, these memories will last forever.