RANDALL — As County Thunder makes it rounds each year throughout the United States and Canada, there is one stop unlike any other.
“Ultimately, it comes down to the fans,” said Gerry Krochak, director of marking and media relations for Country Thunder. “It’s a very lively, fun group here that are loyal and knowledgeable country music fans. They love to have a good time and take care of each other while doing so.”
Despite heavy flooding and dangerous heat — two yearly staples at the local tour stop — Country Thunder drew a near-record crowd on Thursday night and only gained momentum heading into the final two days. After delivering one of the hottest musical acts around in Luke Combs Saturday night, the four-day festival wraps up with main headliner Chris Stapleton today.
The crowd. The performances. The unpredictable weather.
It’s everything that makes Country Thunder one of the most unique, and successful, music festivals running.
Enjoy the campgrounds
“This is my first time at Country Thunder,” said Tom Gibbons, 44, of Schaumburg, Ill. “And it’s fun as (crap).”
Gibbons was one of many who chose to camp all four days at the Country Thunder grounds. While most others braved the heat in wind-blown tents surrounded by dozens of empty liquor bottles and crushed beer cans in abandoned hay fields, Gibbons signed up for Glamping, a $3,000 luxury package complete with air-conditioned tents, hardwood bathrooms and VIP concert access.
The air conditioning certainly came in handy on Friday and Saturday when the heat index topped 100 degrees.
Steve Craig, 38, of Janesville sipped beverages in the general camping area before heading into the festival on Friday.
“This is definitely the hottest it’s ever been since I’ve been coming to Country Thunder,” Craig said. “You have to make sure you get lots of hydration and drink responsibly. The heat doesn’t affect me as much as much as others. There’s always rain and heat. Last year, we took off early on the first night to avoid the storm.”
Rains cause early traffic disaster
The festival overcame a potentially disastrous start on Thursday when heavy rain flooded the entrance gates, creating huge traffic backups for miles and long delays. To complicate matters, the festival’s ticketing software temporarily went down, preventing those who waited hours in traffic from entering.
Festival staff ordered over a dozen truckloads of gravel to soak up standing water and safely route traffic onto the grounds.
“It was a horrible mess,” Kenosha Sheriff’s Department captain Robert Hallisy said. “All of the entrances were affected, but the worst of it was the preferred campground entrance. It was as bad as I’ve ever seen it. There were a lot of people upset but there was nothing we could do.”
Hallisy said the traffic finally cleared around 8:30 p.m. Thursday, allowing patrons to arrive in time to watch headliner Jake Owen. Country legend Tim McGraw took the stage Friday night.
In addition to numerous medical calls for heat exhaustion and dehydration, deputies patrolling the area issued 56 underage drinking tickets on Wednesday and Thursday. Citations were also written for cocaine and marijuana possession and fraud for those attempting to sneak into the grounds.
“The deputies said the campgrounds were rowdy (Thursday) night because they couldn’t get out in the rain the night before,” Hallisy said. “For the most part, it was nothing unusual. There was nothing crazy at all.”
Tickets for final show available
Tickets are still available for today’s final act featuring Stapleton, one of the biggest stars in country music. Stapleton put on a legendary show in front of a packed house at Country Thunder’s stop in Saskatchewan on July 14, according to Krochak.
“I was fortunate enough to see it,” Krochak said. “When I think of the all-time great performances on a Country Thunder stage, I sometimes think of Eric Church. But this one was incredible. There were jaws on the floor all the way around. Fans are in for a treat.”
Single-day, general admission tickets are $75 and can be purchased at www.countrythunder.com or Menards. Tickets are also available at the gate.