Every year Country Thunder rolls into the small Arizona town of Florence and turns it into one of the hottest places to be. Some of country music’s biggest stars have played the four day festival during their careers and this year’s lineup was one of the best Arizona has seen. The nightly headliners included Miranda Lambert, Keith Urban, and Kid Rock. I was able to get away from the city of Mesa to go catch a few artists performing on Friday.
The entire Friday lineup included newcomers Love and Theft, Trailor Choir, and Randy Houser as well as fan favorite Luke Bryan. In a rather odd choice, Kevin Costner and Modern West performed in the slot immediately before headliner Keith Urban. Usually I’m able to enjoy a full day of music but this year I was only able to catch Bryan, Costner, and Urban.
While walking onto the grounds Luke Bryan was getting his one hour set started with the title song of his second album, “Doin’ My Thing.” Having seen Bryan for the first time a couple years ago at Country Thunder, I knew what to expect. His set included radio favorites “Country Man,” “We Rode in Trucks,” and his current single, “Rain is a Good Thing.” The highlight of his set came when he delivered his first number one hit, “Do I,” which had most of the rowdy crowd singing right along. Bryan closed his set with his debut single, “All My Friends Say,” which he mashed up with Metallica’s hit, “Enter Sandman.” Though he made the most of his one hour time limit, it’s a little strange to wonder why he didn’t occupy the slot right before Keith Urban.
After a fairly short intermission, Kevin Costner and Modern West took the stage. To be honest, I didn’t really pay attention to his set. However, judging by the remarks of the drunk people behind us, he didn’t quite live up to the final opening slot. From what I saw and heard, Costner spent most of his set talking about the songs rather than just singing them. As far as the music’s concerned, it sounding most like southern rock than country.
Once Costner ended his set, there was a 30-minute intermisison before Keith Urban kicked off his nearly two hour set with his hit “Kiss a Girl.” As usual, the opening number lead right into his early hit, “Days Go By.” Accompanied by his usual gigantic high resolution screen in the background, Urban sampled most of his biggest hits while showing off his masterful guitar skills. Among the early songs were “Stupid Boy,” “Who Wouldn’t Want to Be Me,” and “Sweet Thing.” Unlike Luke Bryan and Kevin Costner before him, Urban took full advantage of the provided cat walk throughout his entire set often finishing songs at the end of the catwalk.
Urban has become a pro at creating a setlist that not only includes plenty of his uptempo hits but also plenty of his ballads, which were among his set’s highlights. Among the ballads were his recent hit, “‘Til Summer Comes Around,” the extended version of his hit “You’ll Think of Me,” and the somber “Tonight I Wanna Cry.” The highlight was when Keith sang a couple of his hits acoustically, including “Only You Can Love Me This Way.”
The general admission crowd got a little bit closer to Keith when he ran through most of the field during his song “You Look Good In My Shirt,” which was a bit of a surprise. After closing his main set with the smash hit “Better Life,” he came back to close the night with his smash hit “Somebody Like You.” I’ve attended several Keith Urban concerts and I have to say they never get old. Though the sound is better in an arena, Keith was still able to sound fantastic at the outdoor festival. He was also able to captivate the entire audience, from the VIP seating area up front to all the partiers in the general admission area. It’s no wonder he’s been a mulitple nominee, and winner, of the Entertainer of the Year award.
If you live in Arizona, the annual Country Thunder festival is always a must-see. If you don’t live in Arizona, another festival is always held in Twin Lakes, Wisconsin every year as well. Even if you don’t want to go to the festival, you should still see Keith Urban in concert if you have a chance.