Thunder hits Mulberry Mountain as new country festival debuts

June 7th, 2013 at 10:55 am

Big & Rich. All photos by KEVIN KINDER, NWA Media.

Big & Rich. All photos by KEVIN KINDER, NWA Media.

Upon arrival at the Mulberry Mountain event grounds north of Ozark on Arkansas 23, you could immediately tell something was different from the previous weekend.

The clothes — camo instead of tie-dye — were different. The beverages — Bud Light instead of Boulevard — were different. And the grounds were actually kind of dry, a huge difference from the weekend before. And, of course, the music was very different too.

The first Thunder on the Mountain country music festival kicked off yesterday (June 6) on Mulberry Mountain, just less than a week after the conclusion of Wakarusa, which turned the normally pretty hillside site into a soggy, muddy mess when a crowd of that magnitude (perhaps 25,000?) was mixed with several rainstorms.

Crews worked throughout the break between the festivals to make sure the grounds were in some kind of order. And, for the large part, they were. Straw covered vast sections of the concert watching areas. It worked as a drying agent, but it made me think (especially with the music being played) I was watching songs at a county fairground. But I didn’t wear mud boots, and I actually sat down on the ground during one show, something absolutely unthinkable during last weekend’s affair.

I’ve been told all along this will be a local festival, meaning the bulk of the attendees will be coming from Arkansas and Oklahoma. Perhaps they’re all waiting to finish the work week to make the short drive down to the mountain, because there just weren’t many people around on Thursday afternoon. The crowd filled in some for headliners Big & Rich, but there was still plenty of room in the main stage viewing area. And during the afternoon, it was more sparse, as performers like Roger Creager drove up from Houston for the day to play for 100 people or so. The crowd was so small they let everyone who showed up into the VIP area whether they had tickets for it or not.

I’m curious to see how the venue fills today (June 7). Some of the bigger names, including Luke Bryan, perform today, and I suspect we’ll start seeing a crowd, especially if the weather holds, and it should (though I know better than to trust the mountain after last weekend).

Here’s a roundup of what I watched yesterday:

Roger Creager

Roger Creager

Shooter Jennings, 2 p.m., Country Pavilion

Shooter Jennings, the son of Waylon Jennings, has always been a rebel. He still carries a lot of attitude with him, and his band thrashed about stage. But he also showed his versatility on Thursday afternoon, slowing down for what could ALMOST be considered a piano ballad before getting back to stomping rock ‘n’ roll. I only caught 20 minutes of his set, but he was compelling the whole time.

Roger Creager, 3:45 p.m., Country Pavilion

He drove up for only one show, and, sadly, only about 100 people were there at Roger Creager‘s afternoon set. He was playful and conversational, and quite funny in between his songs, playing piano to let the crowd sing a couple verses of “Don’t Stop Believing” and Garth Brooks’ “The Dance.” He muscled through a few of his own, too. Creager handled the crowd, and any disappointment he had with it, like a pro.

The Cadillac Three

The Cadillac Three

The Cadillac Three, 5:15 p.m., Country Pavilion

I stuck with the Country Pavilion because it’s where the Outlaw Country artists were based, and I stuck around for The Cadillac Three because the lead singer was wearing a Rolling Stones shirt and I figured I couldn’t go wrong there. The trio, from Nashville, Tenn., arrived at their sound strangely — with an electric guitar, a pedal steel guitar, a drum kit and a dash of attitude. They were very much a rock band, and their better material reminded me of early Kings of Leon (especially because I couldn’t always understand what the lead singer was saying).

Greg Bates, 6:15 p.m., Main Stage

Greg Bates got bumped into a bigger timeslot on the main stage due to Thompson Square‘s last-minute cancellation. He chose to fill his prime-time set with a series of covers. No one is going to complain at a fun take on another artist’s song, but Bates’ set was half covers and I wish I saw more of him instead. During his 75 minute set, he covered Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw, Joe Diffee, Garth Brooks and Tim McGraw. Those are all fine choices, but I expect more out of an artist on the main stage.

Randy HouserWEBRandy Houser, 8 p.m., Main Stage

For moments on the main stage, Randy Houser proved why he’s such a fast riser in the ranks of country music — his catchy songs and crackshot band made for a great soundtrack to the beautiful mountain sunset. His songs “Somewhere South of Memphis,” “Boots On” and the group’s excellent cover of The Allman Brothers Band’s “Whipping Post” were all top notch. But as an up-and-comer, there’s a certain level of polish he still lackes in his stage presence. He asked the crowd no fewer than 10 times how they were doing, which translates to about once per song break. It was unlikely they changed moods between songs, but he kept asking anyway.

Big and RichWEB002He often stopped the rhythm of his songs to interject … something, but it never did much more than stopping a song already in progress. When he sings and plays, he’s fun to watch, though.

Big and Rich, 10 p.m., Main Stage

As country music’s resident funk band, I think I’d like Big & Rich. And their band dove in that direction for brief covers of several songs in a funk medley. But as the genre’s semi-serious comic relief, I’m not so sure, and they went that route, too. About the time a scantily clad woman came out on stage to tell audience members a number they could text to enter a raffle for a guitar, I was headed elsewhere. I needed to sleep, and to process some photos.

I’m headed down about as soon as this goes live, though. See you down there today?