Imagine country music's biggest stars playing their most popular hits in your own back yard with 10,000 of your best friends. This is how I would describe The Citadel Country Spirit USA weekend music festival held Aug. 24 to 26.
Chester County's Brandywine Valley was transformed into a YouTube mix come to life for a crowd as far as the eye could see. There was something for everyone as famous and rising stars were brought together on two stages. Whether a country music fan or not, it would be super hard not to have a good time.
Some said Mother Nature must be a country music fan because each day was super perfect for an outdoor concert. This weekend was also the last before the start of school and the festival was a great way to make summer vacation last just a little bit longer.
As I walk into the pit to take pictures, I realize there must be many country music fans in Pennsylvania; almost everybody is wearing a cowboy hat, including myself.
As everyone waited with anticipation, loud drums played and a silence fell upon the crowd. Dustin Lynch sang “Small Town Boy,” “Cowboys and Angels” and “I’d Be Jealous Too,” which are popular among fans. To mix it up, he sang Flo Rida’s “My House” and even covers of Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar On Me" and Blink 182's "All The Small Things.”
Night began to fall as Alabama prepared to take the stage. A video played of their 40 years in music with more than 40 million albums. As Randy Owen, the lead singer, approached the crowd shouted, “Yee-haw!” They played "Song Of The South" and "Mountain Music." Alabama is one of those bands that does not need big lights, smoke, dry ice or pyrotechnics for one simple reason, their music is what gets people to see them. The audience knew all the words to every song and they were happy just to be in the same place with the band. Alabama delivered a greatest hits package that warmed you up as the night got chilly.
More people arrived and they were more rowdy, but in a good way. The headliners were Trace Adkins and Toby Keith, a good fit to keep the level of excitement.
Trace Adkins walked onto the stage and took off his black cowboy hat, and the women around me in the pit looked like they were going to faint. He worked hard at entertaining the crowd who danced to the music. Everyone was on their feet singing along to "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk.”
Toby Keith closed out the second night with a few surprises. His set began with a video of him performing for the military as AC/DC's "War Machine" blared over the speakers. When he took the stage, he joined his band which included a horn section and backup singer. This was going to be a little bit different than the other acts. Yes, all the hits were performed with the light show but he also performed songs he wrote in the early 1990s. His performance had a party feeling as he was holding a red Solo cup in his hand, and then singing the song of the same name. The set wound down with “How Do You Like Me Now?"
The final day's lineup included Danielle Bradbery, one of the winners of NBC's television show "The Voice,” and closed with country megastars Jake Owen and Brad Paisley. Brian McConnell, on the secondary stage, is an interesting artist who seems to be on his way to being very well-known. Brian won the Citadel rising star competition through fan votes which gave him the opportunity to perform at the festival. He answered some questions
Rodeo: When did you first decide to pursue music and did your parents approve?
Brian: "I've known since I was very young that I wanted to pursue music although it wasn't until my parents bought me a guitar when I was in college that I decided to pursue it. So yes they were very supportive of me, my two brothers, and whatever made us happy. We are blessed to have such supportive parents."
Rodeo: Do you think music education is important in our public schools?
Brian: “I think it's important that kids have access to everything in public school systems. Whether it's music, arts, math, or history, it's all important so kids can discover what interests them the most. I think when students find what they are most passionate about, I feel that educators should embrace that fire."
Rodeo: What's it like to play with Robby Krieger of The Doors?
Brian: "Playing with Robby Krieger was a dream come true. I can't thank Robby enough for his support and guidance. Those are memories I will never forget."
Rodeo: What is it like to have David Lee Roth of Van Halen as a boss?
Brian: "David Lee Roth is the greatest front man of all time! He taught me everything I needed to know about the music business and more."
His latest single “Neon Shades,” which he wrote with Rob Snyder and Jeremy Parsons in Nashville, features a video shot on Grand Cayman Island. Find on YouTube or download on iTunes. He plans to shoot another video in L.A. for his next single "Hollywood," set to release this fall.
Rodeo would like to give a special thanks to Brian McConnell for being super, awesome, cool!