Country Thunder: Your guide to the biggest music festival of its kind

FILE - In this April 17, 2015 file photo, Luke Bryan performs at ACM Presents Superstar Duets at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. Bryan will perform at halftime as the Dallas Cowboys host Carolina on Thanksgiving Day to kick off The Salvation Army's annual Red Kettle Campaign. The Cowboys on Tuesday, Oct. 27, announced Bryan will be the featured entertainer Nov. 26 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

 

BY LISA WILTON, SPECIAL TO POSTMEDIA

Some of music’s hottest artists will be storming the city this month as part of the inaugural Country Thunder Alberta festival.

Taking place Aug. 19 – 21 at Prairie Winds Park, Country Thunder is headlined by Nashville superstars Tim McGraw, Luke Bryan and Big & Rich.

“It’s going to be very cool,” says Country Thunder Alberta general manager Gerry Krochak.

“We have a great lineup in a beautiful city setting. This is something that’s going to grow and we’re going to learn a lot from year one and make it one of the best summer events in Calgary.”

It’s been 23 years since the first Country Thunder music festivals took place in Wisconsin and Arizona, and almost a decade since the current ownership group took over, turning it into one of the most successful music festival brands in North America.

L-R, Bruce Williams from Williams and Ree Comedy Duo, Troy Vollhoffer Executive Producer Country Thunder, Gerry Krochak, General Manager Country Thunder Alberta, Brian Andrews, Festival Producer Country Thunder and Terry Ree from Williams and Ree Comedy Duo were on hand to release the details of a major three-day outdoor country music festival to be held in Calgary from August 19-21, 2016 during a press conference at Hotel Arts in Calgary on Wednesday October 28, 2015. Darren Makowichuk/Calgary Sun/Postmedia Network Darren Makowichuk/Calgary Sun

L-R, Bruce Williams from Williams and Ree Comedy Duo, Troy Vollhoffer Executive Producer Country Thunder, Gerry Krochak, General Manager Country Thunder Alberta, Brian Andrews, Festival Producer Country Thunder and Terry Ree from Williams and Ree Comedy Duo were on hand to release the details of a major three-day outdoor country music festival to be held in Calgary from August 19-21, 2016 during a press conference at Hotel Arts in Calgary on Wednesday October 28, 2015. Darren Makowichuk/Calgary Sun/Postmedia Network

Darren Makowichuk/Calgary Sun

“Country Thunder is one of the biggest, bangin’-est, funnest music festivals going on,” says Big Kenny of Big & Rich.

“They’re always just rockin’. Those guys really know how to throw a show. They’ve always been there for Big & Rich. They’ve always been at the forefront of pushing Big & Rich out there.”

Country Thunder Alberta is the latest addition to that brand, which includes Country Thunder Arizona, Country Thunder Wisconsin and the longest-running multi-day music festival in Canada, the Craven Country Jamboree in Saskatchewan.

Heading down? Here's the line-up and when they're playing

“The idea has been to get the biggest and best names in country music and put a real focus on the Country Thunder ‘experience’," Krochak says.

L-R, Troy Vollhoffer Executive Producer Country Thunder and Brian Andrews, Festival Producer Country Thunder were on hand to release the details of a major three-day outdoor country music festival to be held in Calgary from August 19-21, 2016 during a press conference at Hotel Arts inin Calgary on Wednesday October 28, 2015. Darren Makowichuk/Calgary Sun/Postmedia Network

Darren Makowichuk/Calgary Sun

“That means paying close attention to the details. Once you get on site, it’s all about the customer service, the environment and the amenities on the site. It’s about the interactive stuff, the fun stuff that goes along with not just the music, but the whole festival.”

Krochak, who is also a music journalist and record store owner, joined the Country Thunder fold in 2015 and says Calgary is the perfect place to hold the festival.

“There’s a reason why the city is known as Nashville North,” he says.

“I’ve known the people from Country Thunder and Craven Country Jamboree going on 30 years. Every time I’d see them at a festival like Lollapalooza or Austin City Limits, I would always suggest a country music day festival would be good in Calgary. Once the franchise had built up to a significant level and the brand became well known in the U.S., they made the decision to bring it here.”

In keeping with Country Thunder tradition, the Calgary festival boasts some hugely popular names, as well as up-and-coming local and Canadian talent.

Krochak says organizers wanted to make a statement with Calgary’s first Country Thunder festival.

While it’s the smallest of the Country Thunder festivals (Wisconsin, Arizona and Craven are camping festivals, which attract about 40,000 fans) it could be argued that Calgary boasts the strongest lineup.

“Luke Bryan was definitely a big get,” Krochak says.

MORE: Luke Bryan's living life to the fullest, and giving back

“He’s just one of those guys who has transcended the pop-country landscape. He’s become one of the most consistently good artists in the genre and has won every industry award.

“He seems to have those intangibles on a live concert stage that have made him a favourite in country music. To have him in the first year of Country Thunder Alberta is something we’re really proud of.

“Tim McGraw loves Calgary and the feeling is mutual judging by the past few times he’s been here. And Big & Rich bring that really great party atmosphere.”

MORE: Tim McGraw has found a career sweet spot

Other big-name acts include veteran country singer Neal McCoy, 2006 Nashville Star winner Chris Young and Missouri native Chris Janson, who has been called the ‘Hillbilly Mick Jagger.’

Rounding out Country Thunder Alberta are rising stars of the Canadian country music scene such as Lindsay Ell, Autumn Hill and Foxx Worthee.

“Foxx Worthee have been playing on some big stages lately,” Krochak says. “They won the Country 105 Rising Star contest and the chance to play the mainstage on Friday. We also have them on the Country 105 stage later that night. They’ve been working hard and deserve everything they’ve been getting.”

MORE: Big & Rich's long and hard road to the top

Big & Rich perform at the Texas Thunder Country Music Festival, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015, in Gardendale Texas. (Courtney Sacco/Odessa American via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

Located in the northeast, Prairie Winds Park is a beautiful 40 acres of greenspace, which Krochak says works perfectly for the festival environment.

He says Country Thunder Alberta organizers are working closely with the City of Calgary and nearby community associations to ensure Country Thunder runs smoothly and to alleviate stress on nearby neighbourhoods.

“The reception has been really, really positive,” Krochak says.

“I think some people are not 100 percent sure what to expect, but overall, people have been really great. We’ve formed relationships with a number of places in the community, starting first and foremost with the Baitun Nur Mosque, as well as some the bigger companies in the area.

“The biggest question from them seems to be, ‘How can we help?’" Krochak is encouraging Country Thunder ticket holders to leave their cars at home and take the LRT or shuttle services instead.

Prairie Winds Park is a short walk from the McKnight-Westwinds LRT Station and there will be shuttles to and from a few northeast hotels.

“I realize that everybody in Calgary likes to drive their cars and trucks, but there’s no better way to get to Country Thunder than the LRT,” Krochak says.

“Take the LRT, have a couple of beers, eat some food, take some line dancing lessons, shop around, have a great time.”

 

Country Thunder three-day passes and single-day tickets can be purchased online through CountryThunder.com, or over the phone by calling 1-844-470-2822.