Country 500 (Day Three)
with Kid Rock, Keith Urban, Mark Chesnutt, Asleep at the Wheel, Kip Moore, Chris Janson, Eric Paslay, Jamey Johnson, Easton Corbin, Maggie Rose
Daytona Motor Speedway / Daytona, FL • May 28, 2017
by Christopher Long
For the record, the Seattle grunge sound of the ’90s didn’t exterminate the arena rock sound of the ’80s. Dirty rocker boys and naughty party girls merely abandoned their sparkly spandex attire and donned cowboy hats, western shirts and Wranglers – then they adopted authentic downhome drawls and marketed their new brand of over-produced, twangy-style, good-time party pop as “country.” Lo and behold, the clever survival scheme actually worked. And 25 years later, country music has morphed into a type of digital “stuff” more closely resembling current sounds by Bieber and Beyoncé than classic songs by Porter and Patsy. Hence, the annual Country 500 event is described best by its subtitle – “The Great American Music Fest at Daytona.”
Easily as impressive in scope as any modern, multi-day rock spectacle, The Great American Music Fest returned to Daytona in 2017, once again converging on the infield of the world-famous International Speedway throughout the Memorial Day weekend. Daily crowd estimates exceeded 50,000 – dedicated fans who had traveled from around the country in well-stocked motor homes – all eager to soak in the steamy celebration – a monstrous three-day affair that offered two separate stages, food, soft drink and liquor vendors, shaded “chill” zones with games and pool tables, an artist meet-and-greet area, a procession of port-a-potties and plenty of – “Great American Music.”
This year’s bumper crop line-up offered a little something to suit everyone – from popular up-and-coming farm-flavored pop acts including Simba Jordan and Maggie Rose to more authentic-style newcomers like Margo Price and Mo Pitney to such solid gold headliners as Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert, Brooks & Dunn, Martina McBride, and Hank Williams Jr. And while the gi-normous outdoor main stage presented primarily “modern-type” headliners, the more intimate-sized, semi-enclosed Bluebird Theater boasted acts that were typically a bit more “traditional.” But before the weekend-long party wound down, the sizzlin’ Sunday sets revved up.
Commandeering the Bluebird Theater stage, the iconic Texas-style country swing band, Asleep at the Wheel kicked off the show at 3pm. Led by legendary co-founding frontman / guitarist Ray Benson, the eight-piece combo proved the most formidable band of the day – delivering a bona fide tour de force. Literally defining “Great American Music” the 45-minute set oozed authenticity with irresistible standards, including a re-vamped rendition of the Bob Wills classic “New San Antonio Rose,” a burnin’ version of “Milk Cow Blues,” a suped-up remake of “Hot Rod Lincoln,” and a tip of the hat to George Strait with the crowd favorite, “Big Balls in Cowtown.” Enjoying an overall impeccable reputation for nearly 50 years, Asleep at the Wheel is endeared to by many for its signature fiddle factor. And in that regard, mad props are owed fully to the group’s current fiddle player, Katie Shore. Vocally and musically, the Texas native brought her “A-Game.” A beacon of golden sunshine, Shore was easily the day’s MVP.
Introduced as “One of the last great honky-tonkers,” Texan Mark Chesnutt also took the Bluebird stage on Sunday. And in short order, the human ’90s hit machine, fired off a slew of career-spanning singles – from such early chart-busters as “Bother Jukebox” and “Blame it on Texas” to more recent releases, including “Oughta Miss Me by Now” and “I’ve got a Quarter in My Pocket.” Appearing somewhat out of sorts, Chesnutt revealed early on, “I’m sweatin’ so much, I lost my buzz.” But that rather genuine confession could have been disputed, as the 53-year-old superstar actually stopped playing and singing at one point for several awkward seconds in mid song. Bzzzz… Chesnutt, did however, rebound quickly, and along with his superb six-piece backing band, delivered a simply outstanding set. Kudos to Darla Rae Perlozzi – stylistically, the tastiest drummer of the day.
Up on the gi-normous outdoor main stage, Eric Paslay and Kip Moore kept things cookin’ throughout the afternoon – knocking out rock-driven sets that led up to the festival’s conclusion – a grand finale that included a stadium-size pop set from co-headliner, Keith Urban. The ever-hunky Australian heartthrob took the stage around 7:30 – but not before treating his country fans to 20 minutes worth of hip hop music that blasted over the massive festival sound system prior to Urban taking the stage. The award-winning mega star delivered an entertaining show – a hit-packed, 75-minute onslaught in which Urban engaged with the audience – signing autographs in between songs, giving away his guitar, and THE heartfelt highlight of the day – bringing a completely ecstatic 13-year-old girl onstage for a once-in-a lifetime selfie experience.
Referring to the crowd as “you country people,” southern-fried hip hop evangelist, Kid Rock stormed the main stage at 9:30 for his festival-closing performance – a chest-thumping, Jim Beam-soaked, F-bomb-filled revival that was brimming with all of his best-loved, platinum-selling hits.
By 11:15, the throngs of festival fans began lengthy journeys back to their cars and RVs – sun burnt and weary, yet seemingly satisfied, as countless members of the friendly and professional Speedway staff, smiled, waved and bid them all adieu.