There are country artists who are bigger household names, but there are few who are rising as fast through the ranks as Thomas Rhett.
The 27-year-old Georgia native — who headlined the second day of Country Thunder Alberta Saturday night — comes from solid country stock. His father, Rhett Akins, was the voice behind the 1996 Billboard number one, Don’t Get Me Started, but Akins Jr. really has only one foot planted in the country music genre.
As he’s explained in interviews, Rhett comes from the ‘playlist generation’, meaning he’s just as comfortable laying down a funky soul jam as he is belting out a country barnburner.
His diverse tastes seem to mirror the youthful crowd who crammed in close to the stage to see Rhett deliver a lively, pop-infused set.
Wearing a long-sleeved Kawasaki-emblazoned white sweat shirt, Rhett began his show on a more mellow note, accompanied by a soulful saxophone before ramping things up with funkier — but overly slick — numbers such as South Side and Make Me Wanna.
He may annoy country purists, but even they can’t deny he’s got charisma. Plus, he gets extra points for a rousing singalong version of Garth Brooks’ Friends in Low Places.
There was a definite chill in the air when Rhett took to the stage (“Why is it so cold in August?”, he asked at one point) but earlier in the day sunny skies and a light breeze made for perfect festival-going conditions.
Canadian country supergroup The Road Hammers set the energy bar high for the day with their boisterous set of outlaw trucker country.
Jason McCoy thanked the crowd for coming to the festival early saying, “You know what bands say, a show without an audience is just a rehearsal.”
If that’s true, then some of the earlier acts on the smaller Country 105 stage on the opposite end of the Prairie Winds Park festival site got some good practice time in.
It’s too bad more of the 18,000 people who showed up for day two didn’t stop to watch the up ’n’ coming Canadian and local bands on the stage, although later acts such as the hugely talented Trinity Bradshaw started to draw bigger crowds as the tables next to the nearby beer sales tent filled up.
Bradshaw was among very few female artists booked for this year’s Country Thunder Alberta festival.
Only two women performed on the mainstage all weekend, including Medicine Hat’s own Terri Clark. She joked about it, but it’s disappointing that with so many successful women in the genre, Country Thunder could not add a few more to their mainstage lineups.
As the biggest female name this weekend, Terri Clark more than held her own.
A veteran performer, Clark charmed the crowd with her usual entertaining banter, bringing out all the hit singles from her 30-year career.
Her voice was a little shaky on No Fear — a track she wrote with Mary Chapin Carpenter — but she was back on form for the rest of the hour-long set that featured several new numbers.
Joe Nichols, another veteran of the country music scene, also came armed with a few new tracks.
He seemed to have trouble with his in-ear monitor during his first song, What’s a Guy Gotta Do? It didn’t faze him too much though as he continued seamlessly into his next few songs, without nary a glance at his sound guy.
Nichols threw in some great covers of Tom Petty’s Runnin’ Down a Dream and The Band’s The Shape I’m In and dipped into his latest album, Never Gets Old. The record’s been getting a lot of attention recently thanks to the inclusion of his hilarious, but surprisingly good country shuffle version of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s hip hop classic Baby Got Back, which he did to the delight (and some confusion) of the Country Thunder crowd.
By the time big-voiced Mississippi singer Randy Houser hit the stage, more than few festivalgoers were worse for wear. (Pro tip: Stay hydrated if you’re going to spend eight hours drinking outside in the sun.)
That said, his party-ready, redneck country was a suitable soundtrack for the swaying masses, who sang along loudly to Hauser’s honky tonk hits, including They Call Me Cadillac, How Country Feels and the wholly ridiculous, Honky Tonk Badonkadonk, which was written by Hauser and became a Top 5 hit for Trace Adkins in 2005.
Country Thunder Alberta continues Sunday with headliner Blake Shelton.