Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Brad Paisley’s Virtual Reality Tour - Xcel Energy Center St. Paul, MN 1.14.12

Spotted at the Brad Paisley Virtual Reality tour show in St. Paul, Minnesota:

  • puffy-painted “Camouflage” t-shirts
  • Brian Setzer
  • Scotty McCreery in a speedo
  • not actually Carrie Underwood

15,000 fans packed the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul on Saturday night for the third show on the sold-out opening weekend of Brad Paisley's 2012 Virtual Reality World Tour. It's clear a few kinks are still being worked out with the program, but Brad Paisley is a seasoned professional that knows how to deliver a performance worth every dollar the fans spend to see the show. Not one detail was spared to make the Virtual Reality tour the best possible experience; a healthy mix of classic Brad comedy, high-tech staging and good ol' fashioned country music. Spanning more than a decade of hits, from “I’m Gonna Miss Her” to “Camouflage,” Brad Paisley has been awarded the CMA’s top prize —Best Entertainer— and has set out to demonstrate just why he’s earned that title. Offering equal parts wit, novelty, incredible skill and raw emotion — Brad’s 2012 tour leaves nothing behind. Supported by two of the newest and most popular acts in mainstream country music, Brad Paisley brought Scotty McCreery and The Band Perry along for the ride.

18-year-old American Idol winner Scotty McCreery is the new kid on the block, but was awarded the opening slot on one of the biggest country tours. Sing a couple songs on TV, get some blue-hairs to vote for you from their rotary telephones and BAM! get a fast-pass to sing in the biggest venues across America. Jackpot! Scotty opened the show to what may have been the loudest cheers I’ve ever heard for a first act. I’ve never understand those fans that pay for a ticket and only show up for the headliner. That wasn’t the case here. It was probably one of the few shows I’ve been to that the majority of the audience was present for the first act, thanks to his enormous Idol following. I wouldn’t doubt there were probably young girls that had bought tickets just to hear Scotty’s 25 minute, seven song set… and they were LOUD! Backed by this week’s platinum certification of his debut album, Clear As Day, he gave a perfectly adequate milquetoast performance of the blandest country songs that country music’s predominantly female demographic loves to lap up. Since I last saw him at K102’s Class of 2011 show [post], he’s taken up playing rhythm acoustic guitar, for which I’m obliged to give him some points. He closed with the upbeat “Walkin’ The Country,” likely his next single, which pains me to hear because I’ve known and loved the Keith Urban (with The Ranch) original for many years. Scotty, hit the road and come back in ten years when you’ve lived some of your life. There are exceptions to this theory, but in general I believe that if you haven’t starved for your music you don’t deserve to be making it.

The Band Perry, St Paul 1/14/2012

Described by the night’s headliner as the “Hottest Band in Country Music,” The Band Perry’s set was the longest I’ve personally ever seen them perform, which allowed them the time to cover new unreleased music (“Jason”) and songs from their 2010 debut album, to covers like Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls.” As their video introduction describes, “Daddy rocked us to sleep with the Rolling Stones; Mama woke us up with Loretta Lynn. So we get it honest. We’re The Band Perry, and we play country music.” Every time I’ve seen The Band Perry I am always impressed by their professionalism and polish. Kimberly Perry is a well-spoken, poised, talented singer/songwriter and for the lack of better words, I absolutely adore her! Her voice is sincere and distinct, and although the band’s sound edges to the pop side of country music, it’s easy to listen to and nothing short of heart-felt and honest. Although most of us have met our quota of times hearing their breakout hit “If I Die Young,” there is nothing quite like a sing-a-long moment with thousands of people (video below).

The Virtual Reality tour employs high-tech staging elements like lasers, holograms, special effects, 3D, animations and high definition video walls. As an event organizer, I appreciate the creativity and effort (and money) that goes into productions of this magnitude. Unfortunately, most of the drama is lost on fans that come for the music and not the “experience.” It’s certainly lost on the fans sitting above and/or to the right or left of the stage, as they couldn’t even see the projections. At this show, your experience depended on where your seats were, but thankfully the music made up for any gap in visuals. 

A fourth of Brad Paisley’s 120-minute set was made up of songs from his most recent album, 2011’s This Is Country Music. His singles, along with “Working On A Tan,” from that album took the place of earlier music from Who Needs Pictures and Part II, sadly. Some of my personal favorites that were missing from the set include “That’s Love,” “Love Is Never-ending,” “Wrapped Around,” “Come on Over Tonight” and “When I Get Where I’m Going” but you can’t please everyone. The usual “When I Get Where I’m Going” montage in tribute to those that have passed recently was traded for a photo montage to accompany the iconic artists name-checked in his more recent “This Is Country Music” (Jones, Twitty, Greenwood, Strait, Wynette, Haggard, Denver, Cash, Williams Jr). Unlike most of the other big-name country shows, Brad stuck to his solid catalog; only departing for a very welcomed sample of Waylon Jennings’ “Good Hearted Woman.” It was one of many memorable moments of the night — I loved it!

Opener Scotty McCreery rejoined Brad on stage to perform “Celebrity” — ironically, as Scotty found his fame in the exact way the lyrics indirectly mock Idol-ebrities (“Someday I’m gonna be famous, do I have talent? Well no. These days you don’t really need it, thanks to reality shows”). Brad Paisley took a note out of The Dirt Drifters’ book, and smartly swapped the lyrics of “Online” from MySpace to Facebook. A song about the internet doesn’t stay relevant for long. “Mud on the Tires,” what I consider (strangely enough) one of his most romantic songs, incorporated the Virtual Reality tour’s sponsor, Chevrolet, perfectly.

In one of my favorite moments of the show, The Band Perry came back on stage to join Brad for “Whiskey Lullaby,” with Kimberly Perry beautifully filling the role of Alison Krauss on the duet. It was incredible to get to see her walk to her place on stage before the lights hit her, then hear the crowd roar as she began to sing (video below). Her voice, combined with accompaniment by her brothers and Brad made for a breathtaking performance. I may or may not have teared up!

In an example of great disappointment in my fellow Minnesotans, the crowd erupted into cheers when the hologram of Carrie Underwood lit up during the duet, “Remind Me.” It was a very confusing moment, as not all angles of the audience could even visualize the hologram (myself included, although there’s no real loss here). Many people then, and I predict on many future tour dates, believe it is actually Miss Carrie Underwood, standing there to sing one (1) song with Brad. HA… not likely! What’s even worse is that some are expressing that they were fooled/tricked/’duped’ with the bit, and are upset. I’m embarrassed for them. What do people think VIRTUAL REALITY implies? If all of those people read Independent Sky, they’d have known months ago that Brad is using a hologram. Just sayin’!

Brad closed the show with one of the highlights of the night. Minneapolitan and Rockabilly icon Brian Setzer joined him along with The Band Perry and Scotty McCreery onstage for a good-timing rendition of “Alcohol.” I’ve never actually seen anyone “lampshade-on-the-head” inebriated as the song describes at the Xcel Energy Center because drinks are $9 a pop. It’s never as much fun singing along to a drinking song when you’re not soaked with libations! Instead of singing along, Scotty and Kimberly, Neil and Reid Perry shook hands with fans back and forth across the front of the stage for a strangely unnatural amount of time. Putting on my P.R. hat, I have a feeling this was deliberate, as it would be distasteful for Scotty, whom is underage, to participate. The Political Correctness Police ruin all the fun! Ending with a bit of fun was a good choice, although I could have been spared the image of a Photoshoped Scotty on a Speedo-clad body — the first of many pranks that Brad famously inflicts on his tour openers.

Brad took a few steps to engage fans in the giant venue; from three long runways jutting out from the main stage to a satellite stage mid-way back in the floor section, however his transitions and narrative felt scripted (they always are). In comparison to the last big tour in Minneapolis, Keith Urban, he paled in terms of audience engagement. You would assume Brad’s experience as a host (i.e. CMA Awards) would make this a strong suit, but Keith’s show had more energy. Bigger and flashier is not always better. What is the difference between a show this polished and listening to Brad Paisley’s Hits Alive? I guess there are worse problems to have than sounding perfect.

In whatever ways Brad may have failed at making the large-scale spectacle feel personal (which I don’t think was ever a goal in the first place), he did succeed as usual at displaying terrific skill and showmanship. I didn’t see him pause to take a drink of water, nonetheless stop for a breath. He expertly jammed on his signature Paisley guitars throughout the show, even giving one away to a young fan in the front row at one point. 

Overall, the combination made for a well-balanced, fun country show, and nothing anyone that bought a ticket expecting a great night of live entertainment would be disappointed about. It is what it is — but I like my Brad Paisley with a little more honky-tonk and a little less arena rock and my shows with a little more wood floors a little less ice rink, a little more beer taps a little less up-charged bottles, a lot more dancing and a lot less sitting!

Perry and Paisley fans can catch them both back in our area this June performing on Saturday of Cadott, Wisconsin’s Country Fest; in the outdoors, where dancing and Leinie’s* are mandatory!


Independent Sky photos [Facebook]
Paisley joins Keillor, then takes his yee-haw to the X [Jon Bream, Star Tribune]
Brad Paisley at Xcel Center: flash, but also plenty of real music [Pioneer Press]
A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor: January 14th, 2012 program featuring Brad Paisley [PBS] (skip to approx. 44 minutes in for Brad’s segment)

Videos (view all in player below)
The Band Perry “All Your Life”
The Band Perry “If I Die Young” (clip)
The Band Perry “Independence/Free Falling”
Brad Paisley “Letter to Me”
Brad Paisley with The Band Perry “Whiskey Lullaby” 

Scotty McCreery set list: Water Tower Town / You Make That Look Good / I Love You This Big / Dirty Dishes / Write My Number On Your Hand / The Trouble With Girls / Walk In The Country
The Band Perry set list: Jason / Miss You Being Gone / Hip To My Heart / All Your Life / Independence (sample Tom Petty’s “Free Falling”) / Fat Bottomed Girls (Queen) / Postcard From Paris / If I Die Young / You Lie (sample Rihanna/Eminem’s “Love The Way You Lie”)

Brad Paisley set list: Camouflage / The World / Welcome to the Future / Ticks / This is Country Music / Waitin’ on a Woman / Celebrity (with Scotty McCreery) / She’s Everything / Online / I’m Still A Guy (sample Waylon’s “Good Hearted Woman”) / Then / Letter to Me / Mud on the Tires / Tan / Whiskey Lullaby (with The Band Perry) / Time Warp instrumental / I’m Gonna Miss Her / Remind Me (with Carrie Underwood HOLOGRAM) / Old Alabama / Water / [encore] American Saturday Night / Alcohol (with The Band Perrty and Scotty McCreery)

*No, we are not sponsored by Leinie’s (nor anyone) but wouldn’t say no to it! 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Keith Urban’s Get Closer Tour — Target Center Minneapolis 10.15.11

“If you wanna sing and dance and stand on your chair… and annoy the people behind you, then this is the concert for you”

Keith Urban, as he welcomed the crowd to the final show of the Get Closer 2011 World Tour at the Target Center.

It’s rare that Minneapolis kicks off or ends a tour, so when we found out Minnesota would be the last stop of the tour we were thrilled! Nothing is worse than feeling like the artist thinks it’s “just another show.” Fans want to be part of something unique and special when they’re at a concert, and that’s exactly what they got from Keith Urban.

Florida native and rising country star Jake Owen opened the show with a lively, but slightly underwhelming performance. The audience was ready to party and were on their feet from the moment the lights went down til Jake’s chucks left the stage. The tour seemed to be taking a toll on Owen; his set was flat and lacked the enthusiasm we expected for the last night of a tour, especially on songs like “8 Second Ride” and “Yeehaw.” In addition, he played quite a few album cuts early in the set that many fair weather fans (including us) didn’t know. He recently released a new album Barefoot Blue Jean Night, and played a few from it like one Beth enjoyed called “Wide Awake.” He had the crowd waving their cellphones like lighters with a slow song called “Heaven” but the best response was for his summer hit “Barefoot Blue Jean Night.”
In general, it doesn’t seem like Jake’s music matches his personal style, considering he’s a wave boarding sufer dude, but the pop summer anthem BBJN (be honest — there’s nothing country about the song) has a completely different sound than anything he’s released previously, which suits him well.

At first I (Beth) thought that Jake Owen was an odd choice for an opener for Keith Urban, but under the big tent country genre they are more alike than Keith and Jason Aldean or Chris Young. It’s clear this tour was arranged to sell tickets to the ladies. Neither Keith or Jake are the cowboy hat-wearin’ rodeo-ropin’ field-plowin’ type of country singers. Jake is hilarious online (twitter @jakeowen) but his personality and hipster style didn’t come through on stage until he came back for the encore to sing “Jack and Diane” in a Honey Badger tshirt (haha!) and a fake moustache. Overall, Jake Owen’s performance wasn’t a flop, but honestly it wasn’t the most inspired performance either.

During the brief stage change, we could feel the nearly full arena buzzing with anticipation until finally the lights went down and the crowd erupted into cheers. Keith Urban anticlimactically walked from the curtain to the front of the small, narrow stage which had two wings that got him “closer” to the lower level seats. 
The set was downsized from his last Twin Cities concert, which was at the larger Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. This time he ditched the usual dual video screens on either side of the stage and instead used one large circular screen encompassed by roller coaster-esque scaffolding. There was also a giant disco ball that created many beautiful starry night sky inspired romantic moments, like during “Raining On Sunday.” The intimate setting created by the staging allowed Keith and the fans to get up close and personable with one another. We have never seen an artist so comfortable and relaxed in such a large setting. He even took several opportunities to stop and interact with the audience.

Keith brought a group of hunter’s wives onstage for the photos they came “hunting” for, held a “Kiss a Girl” karaoke contest, and played on two satellite stages located in the audience. Fans Got even Closer to him during his run through the crowd to perform “You Look Good in My Shirt” on the hidden back stage next to where my seats were (Beth)… an awesome moment where I got a souvenir money can’t buy: Keith Urban sweat.

For two and a half hours Keith played hit after hit, causing us to wonder “didn’t he play this already?” more than once. Enjoying his phenomenal guitar playing live was the best part of the show. There’s a reason why this guy’s picture is in the window of Guitar Center. We’ve alluded before that some other artists *coughKennyTraceTimMcGrawcough* use their guitar as a kind of “prop,” but that is NOT the case with Keith Urban. He is a musician first and foremost and a vocalist, albeit talented, secondary. It might go unnoticed by most, but we appreciate a performer who plays the lead on his songs.
If the audience was listening closely like we were, they got chills from his powerful solos on songs like “Stupid Boy,” “Til summer Comes Around,” and “Georgia Woods,” which Keith actually wrote on Waylon Jennings’ guitar. He likened the legend’s guitar to a “holy grail” who he also paid tribute to by singing “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” as an intro to “Who Wouldn’t Want To Be Me” [video]. That Lite-Bright guitar he is playing in the video was definitely NOT Waylon’s guitar… haha.

I (Aly) have been a KU fan since “Where the Blacktop Ends,” but the last few years I have fallen out of musical love with him. After taking a dark turn with Be Here and Love, Pain and the Whole Crazy Thing, he’s had a slow climb up back through my musical rotation, but his show reminded me why I was so captivated by this Australian transplant over ten years ago.

Although there were no special guests at our show, like Jack Black who played “Devil Went Down To Georgia” with Keith the week before in L.A. or Eric Church who sang his song “Springsteen” with Keith only days prior in Milwaukee, it was still a special night. For the very few cover songs he added to his set, I (Beth) can’t complain that he included one by one of my favorite bands Little Big Town! Just after he played “You Gonna Fly,” a track which actually features Karen and Kimberly of LBT, the video for “Boondocks” appeared on the screen and my heart practically stopped. It was an unexpected surprise which injected a ton of excitement into the show. Keith also surprised the audience by adding a fan favorite, “But For The Grace of God,” to his extended encore, which he rarely plays live so it made for a sweet audience singalong moment [video].

We didn’t hear any new music at the show, which was a little disappointing. By our estimate, he’s due for a new album next fall. If we were to hope for an artist to take some time off to find his sound again, and maybe even take a musical detour like Dierks did with his bluegrass album Up on The Ridge, it would be Keith.  He’s an incredibly talented musician and songwriter, but he since he’s moved on to be a family man he has become kind of generic and diluted. Keith Urban is a superstar and can afford to take those risks at this point in his career. So we say — go for it.

Keith Urban’s concerts are always high energy and have top-notch production, but they never sacrifice music for aesthetics, which is why he remains a touring fan favorite. It was one of those experiences where we didn’t realize how much we missed him til we saw him live again. Luckily, if you’re in the MN/WI area next summer, you can see him again headlining the final night of Country Fest 2012!

Aly and Beth

[The End]

Jake Owen set list: Anywhere With You / Yeehaw / Wide Awake / One That Got Away / World On Fire / Heaven / Barefoot Blue Jean Night / Alone With You / Don’t Think I Can’t Love You / 8 Second Ride
Keith Urban set list: Put You In A Song / Days Gone By / I Told You So / Raining On Sunday / Long Hot Summer / Stupid Boy / (Silly Love Songs - Paul McCartney, intro) Making Memories Of Us / I’m In / Blue Jeans / You’ll Think Of Me / You Gonna Fly / Boondocks - Little Big Town / Georgia Woods / Only You Can Love Me This Way / Til Summer Comes Around / Sweet Thing / Kiss A Girl / Without You / Somebody Like You / (Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way - Waylon Jennings, intro) Who Wouldn’t Want To Be Me / With Or Without You - U2 by Jerry Flowers / American Girl - Tom Petty by Danny Rader / It’s A Long Way To The Top - AC/DC by Brian Nutter / You Look Good In My Shirt / [encore] Tonight I Wanna Cry / Jack & Diane - John Mellencamp (with Jake Owen) / Where The Blacktop Ends / Better Half / But For The Grace of God / Better Life

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Country Fest 2012 lineup announced!

The country music festival of the past summer where we had the most fun, made the best memories, heard so many of our favorite artists (we still can’t believe we saw Miranda, Pistol Annies, Dierks and Chris Young all in one weekend), and had the best overall experience was Country Fest… and they just announced the (majority of) the 2012 lineup!

Next summer Cadott, Wisconsin will welcome Dierks Bentley, Sugarland, Brad Paisley, and Keith Urban to headline the main stage.

THURSDAY, June 21, 2012:
3:00 TBA
5:00 Ashton Shepherd
7:00 Joe Nichols
9:00 Sara Evans
11:00 Dierks Bentley

FRIDAY, June 22, 2012:
3:00 Brett Eldredge
5:00 Phil Vassar
7:00 Easton Corbin
9:00 Billy Currington
11:00 Sugarland

SATURDAY, June 23, 2012:
3:00 Steve Holy
5:00 Eli Young Band
7:00 The Band Perry
9:00 Rodney Atkins
11:00 Brad Paisley

SUNDAY, June 24, 2012:
2:30 TBA
4:30 Thompson Square
6:30 Kellie Pickler
8:30 TBA
10:30 Keith Urban

Several spots are still TBA, so I still hold out some hope that some of my faves that would be a good fit will be added to the lineup like… The Dirt Drifters, Frankie Ballard, Randy Rogers Band, or Sunny Sweeney in the early spots or Little Big Town, Luke Bryan, or Chris Young before Keith on Sunday. I’d love to see Eric Church, but he deserves to headline.

I’m SO pumped to see Eli Young Band on the lineup, even though they should probably switch spots with Rodney Atkins, but the most important thing here is that…. DIERKS IS FINALLY HEADLINING! If you remember our recap, we put up a stink when Carrie Underwood pooped on the party Dierks got started on Saturday night of Country Fest 2011. We claimed he was really the headliner that night and suggested that he come back next year and what do you know? Next year he’ll get the main billing! (You’re welcome!!) We saw Dierks play at Grand Casino Hinckley this past weekend, and it just isn’t the same as outdoors in the summer air with a cup of Leinie’s in your hand.

I can already see in my crystal ball that there will be a lot of boozing on Friday since that day’s lineup is a little lame (snooze). We hope to see great regional bands back playing the beer tents between main stage acts and to close the night. There is a poll up at about which band you liked best that played in the beer tents at 2011’s Fest. You better get your booty over there and vote for Lost Highway!

We even skipped a day (Thursday: Trace Adkins, Gretchen Wilson, Lonestar) last year so we could see The Dirt Drifters in Minneapolis, which was the best decision we’ve ever made by the way, and still had the best time at Country Fest! The four-day festival is one of the largest, so they’re able to bring in a wide variety of artists and big talent, but it still feels small thanks to the ability for general admission to get close to the stage, the huge video screens, and the four beer tents that keep the live music going all day long. Out of all of the festivals, the Country Fest crowd was by far the friendliest. We met new friends and talked with some of the nicest people and literally EVERYONE gave each other high-fives all the damn time! I managed not to get into any fights (that I can remember…), Aly got her drunk-dance on with some strangers during Josh Turner’s set, and we saw more than one liberty-loving Patriot waving a Gadsden flag at random times. The photo line/pit was the best part of the experience and made the entire fest an absolute blast. The June weather was PERFECT, Cadott is just far enough away from the Cities to feel like you’re out in the country (but not too far), and most importantly we met a Chris Young lookalike. The only thing I’d change… take down the wooden banister on stage that is in all of my photos (who needs balance?) and persecute the chair thieves (just kidding….! Not really. I have to buy a new chair now).

Check out our posts from Country Fest 2011 [fest recap and photos]

If we were to upgrade to VIP at any of the festivals in the area (WEFest, Winstock, Country Jam, Country Fest) we think Country Fest would be the best bet. Since we decided at the last moment not to drive back and forth from the Cities and instead had to stay at an overpriced former funeral home-lookin’ hotel in Chippewa Falls, we’d also recommend camping (anyone have a camper?). Tips from experience: there are not a lot of hotels nearby, but there is a shuttle that runs to/from the hotels to the Fest for a fee. We decided to drive ourselves so we could tailgate and hang out between acts, BUT found out later that you can stick your cooler in the storage bins below the coach bus. That’s so redneck! If you’re going to do that, I’d say book your hotel room now.

Are you going to Country Fest 2012?! 253 days to go!! 


Ticket Info:
*VIP Pre-Sale through Friday, Oct 14
*General Admission On Sale Sat, Oct 15 at 8am CST

Note: We’re not paid or compensated to say anything, whatsoever. Ever. We’re fans just like you, and want to give you our honest opinion from the fan perspective!  

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Chippewa Valley Country Fest 2011: Summer Shandy, High-fives and Great Music. (Part III)

continued(from Part I & Part II)

If you thought our raving about Miranda Lambert, Chris Young, and Dierks Bentley meant the rest of the Country Fest weekend couldn’t be any better — you’d be wrong. On the final day of the 2011 Chippewa Valley Country Fest, we made the Day of Rest a Sunday Funday!

Bucky Covington started off the last day with a set of mediocre slow to mid-tempo songs, like “I’ll Walk” and his first single after his stint on
American Idol, “A Different World.” While Bucky was an adequate start to what could have been a slower day of music on the main stage;  it was Jerrod Niemann who proved that just because it was Sunday didn’t mean we couldn’t party!

This was my (Aly) third time seeing Jerrod in the last year [Class of 2010] [Rodeo] and each time his intro music comes on, I know I am in store for a phenomenal show. What I like about Jerrod is his easy going, yet commanding stage presence that captures an audience. Thankfully, the Saturday night party-ers were still shaking off their hangover and so we were able to make quite a few laps around the photo line. We high-fived, danced and held our Leinie’s high in the air to “One More Drinkin’ Song” and “For Everclear,” then went to the rodeo with “The Buckin’ Song” and “Good Ride Cowboy.” Jerrod took the pace down a notch with his second single “What Do You Want,” then closed it down with his breakout hit “Lover, Lover” which left us begging for more.

Riding our musical high, we headed back to the Miller Fest Zone tent for another cold beer and additional Sunday rowdiness with Lost Highway before Clay Walker’s set. Like Collin Raye, some festival attendees might not immediately recognize Clay Walker’s music, but song after song, even these two country girls were saying “OMIGOD. I love this song!” as he sang a string of hits from the early 90’s “Live, Laugh, Love,” “You’re Beginning to Get to Me” and “If I Could Make a Living” up to his most recent single “She Won’t Be Lonely Long,” which is one of my (Beth’s) favorites of his.

Opening for the last act of the festival, Josh Turner melted the ladies’ hearts with his warm, rich vocals and charismatic smile. Josh is known for his crooning a la “Your Man,” “Long Black Train” and “I Wouldn’t Be a Man.” However, unlike Carrie the previous night, he understood the venue and knew exactly what fest go-ers were looking for, playing the perfect summer tunes “All Over Me,” “Firecracker.” He finished out his set with his mega hit “Why Don’t We Just Dance,” which had EVERYONE dancing with friends and strangers alike.

As the lights went down for the final time at Country Fest 2011, the weary audience came back to life and gave the powerhouse trio of Lady Antebellum a standing ovation as the first riffs of “Our Kinda Love” echoed through the Chippewa Valley. Performing on a simple stage setup and backed by a small army of musicians, Lady A started their set off with the perfect festival tunes from their repertoire: “Stars Tonight,” “Run to You” and “Long Gone” and kept the favorites coming throughout the night. Country Fest was treated with a sneak peek of their upcoming album with the title track “Own the Night” as well.  By the flavor of the song, which has a hint of the Kelley brothers’ “Georgia Clay” in the beginning chords, Lady A’s third album (Own The Night, release date 9/13/11) will be more like Need You Now than their freshman album. We both agree the latter is the better of the two, but we digress until we can hear more of the latest project.

Hillary Scott, Dave Haywood and Charles Kelley have been at the height of success over the past two years, and although they are a relatively new group on the country and popular American music scene, they headlined on Sunday evening with all of the conviction of the legends they will eventually become. As a staple of radio, TV and music award shows, Lady Antebellum’s image and sound risk overexposure, however humble roots and stripped down arrangements showcased the talents that have driven this group to where they have come to be.

Our favorite part of the set was a “Songwriter Showcase” where they each sang a sample of a song they had a hand in crafting. From Dave’s rendition of “Do I” (recorded by Luke Bryan), Charles’ “Georgia Clay” (written with and recorded by his brother Josh Kelley) and Hillary’s “Stronger” (Sara Evans’ latest #1 hit) it was an interesting
and unique feature of their performance. As music fans, it’s refreshing to see one of our favorite mainstream acts demonstrate that they are not only successful recording artists, but three of the top songwriters in their industry.

As the first time at Country Fest for the both of us, we saw many differences that festival organizers implemented that others in this highly competitive market should follow suit on, such as the beer tents. The downtime between main stage sets flew by thanks to a fantastic job by the four Beer Tent regional bands. In some cases, we even wanted bands like Lost Highway to keep playing instead of the night’s headliner! The general admission photo line is also something unique that we really appreciated. If we weren’t hanging in the Leinie Lodge or Miller Fest zone tents, we were in line to get down to the front of the stage. Most times we went through the photo line during the performances on the main stage, so we ended up sitting in our chairs for a total of about 15 minutes the entire weekend.

The people of Wisconsin were great hosts! The fans we met throughout the weekend were rowdy and incredibly friendly, other than the unfortunate experiences of having Beth’s chair stolen (on the last day, thankfully) and Aly having a Clay Walker guitar pick stolen right out of her hand by a hairy half naked man. (Euw…)

We made it back from our excursion with both of our feet hurt from dancing and stomachs from laughing (not at all because of what we consumed…). Happy to report no sunburns or hangovers (other than the musical kind) here either. We want to thank K102 for making this experience possible, and we hope to see YOU out at a country music festival soon!

Enjoy the Music and keep rockin’
Aly and Beth

PS: Plan on coming out to Country Fest 2012 with announced performers Brad Paisley, Sugarland and The Band Perry!

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Monday, July 4, 2011

Chippewa Valley Country Fest 2011: Summer Shandy, High-fives and Great Music. (Part II)

continued… (from Part I)

For a music festival preceding the Independence Day holiday weekend, we saw an abundance of American and even a few “Don’t Tread On Me” Gadsden flags waving, fireworks popping, and heard songs about the awesomeness of this great nation proudly sung (like “All-American Girl” by Carrie Underwood and “The Dashboard” by Chris Young, etc). On Satuday, we slapped on some patriotic temporary tattoos (our blank skin feeling very out of place amongst the inked Fest-ers) and made our way back for another day of music at the Chippewa Valley Country Fest.

Wisconsin’s own Josh Thompson was the first national performer to play the main stage of the festival, and his welcome was as warm as the heat on that summer afternoon! We had just seen Josh play at the Winstock Country Music Festival [post], so we knew he was going to put on a great show — and of course, we weren’t disappointed. Josh’s latest “Won’t Be Lonely Long” was a hit with the crowd, who must be hearing it a lot on country radio as they were singing right along.

After a break during a set by Collin Raye, who I (Beth) admit is an older country artist I don’t know much about, we staked our spot in the photo line for Chris Young to take the stage. The last time we saw Chris Young perform it was about a half-mile up in the nosebleeds at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul when he opened on the Rascal Flatts “Nothing Like This” tour in January [post]. The Country Fest photo line improved that view of Mr. Young by about 300%. There’s no doubting that Chris isn’t being marketed like a stud - he’s County Weekly’s Hottest Bachelor after all (and officially Independent Sky’s as well, congrats Chris). His set was third to last for the day, but came at a perfect time for optimal photo-taking — so you can go ahead and thank us now for our shots! Once he hit the stage and began singing “That Makes Me,” his deep baritone surely carried across the Chippewa Valley and stirred every living creature in the area. At the risk of sounding like crazed fans, we have to impartially attest that Chris Young… is… a… SUPERSTAR! He’s already more than likely on his way to that status with numerous number one singles to his name. Chris even proudly announced to the Country Fest crowd that his most recent single, the sinfully tempting “Tomorrow,” was certified Gold prior to his next album’s release (Neon, July 12). He gave us a taste of that new record, including future hits “Save Water, Drink Beer” and “I Can Take It From There.” Chris described another new one, “You,” as what you’d get if you mixed an R&B song with steel guitar. We admire a traditional vocalist like Chris stepping from the boundaries most country fans feel the need to draw.

The entire festival could have ended then and there and we’d have been completely happy, but to our joy Dierks Bentley was still on tap. A little buzzed, dazed, and star-struck — we carried on in the marathon of music. Never have we been so lucky to take in such great music all at one time. Lost Highway rocked a great first round at the Miller Fest Zone beer tent stage between Chris Young and Dierks’ sets, seamlessly keeping the night of quality country music going strong.

Dierks Bentley was our headliner of Saturday night at Country Fest; and others agreed. He did what he did best — entertained the country crowd with his solid string of hits and a great selection of covers (i.e. George Strait “All My Exes” and “Pride (In the Name of Love)” by U2) backed by an incredibly skilled band. Dierks transformed the festival crowd from a lot of strangers to a gathering of friends.
His easy-going humble attitude resonated well with the Midwestern audience, and near the end of his hour and a half set he even painted the picture that we were all hanging out together in the back of the bus, when the band lets everything go and jams. We were glad to see Dierks throw in a dash of bluegrass from his project Up on The Ridge, like the single of the same name and “Fiddlin’ Around.” Mostly, he gave the people exactly what they wanted — sing-a-long drinkin’ songs for a great party!

Then, Carrie Underwood. After an incredible performance by Dierks Bentley, Carrie had the difficult task of following a completely different kind of country music artist. Dierks was a perfect fit for the atmosphere of Saturday night’s fest; a wild rockin’ party that everyone could dance and sing along to. She also faced the pressure of following a fellow blonde female vocalist Miranda Lambert’s headlining performance just the night before. Carrie Underwood came to the stage glittered and gorgeous — but just at the wrong place, at the wrong time. Fighting with technical difficulties from the start, once Carrie regained her sound she wandered down a road of slow ballads, abstract covers, religious references, and outdated vocal solos that left the Wisconsin crowd in the wake of her diva attitude.

It’s common knowledge that festival line-ups are kind of a grab bag: you get some winners and some losers. It’s clear that you can’t please the entire crowd — but with a very young fan base and drastically different style, it would have been better suited for Carrie Underwood to perform earlier in the day. Unfortunately, we realize contracts and other politics of the music business makes that completely impractical.

We had the feeling the energy would decrease, due to the nature of Carrie’s style — however it was shocking to see the nonexistent response from the crowd. I could count the number of people clapping in the vicinity. We witnessed the audience’s attention evaporate, the excitement deflate, and the buzzes fade. The second song in her set “Quitter” from her album Play On might have been the worst thing we heard all day, and was a clear indicator of what was to come. Her upbeat hits like “Undo It,” “Last Name” and “Cowboy Casanova” helped regain some momentum, but they were oddly placed throughout her set list.

We were not at all surprised to see that many, many, many people left the grounds early on Saturday night, or headed to one of the beer tents on site. We conducted an unscientific random poll of audience members during her set who unanimously agreed that Dierks should have been the evening’s headliner. The general opinion was that Carrie’s style was not a great fit for Fest, and that’s putting it nicely.

It just goes to say that the best voices are not always the best performers. Not every country artist is right for a Festival.

Aly and Beth

to be continued… (Part III)

RELATED posts tagged Country Fest

Chippewa Valley Country Fest 2011: Summer Shandy, High-fives and Great Music. (Part I)

The 25th Chippewa Valley Country Fest took place June 23-26th in Cadott Wisconsin, with headliners Trace Adkins, Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood, and Lady Antebellum — and it was an incredible weekend of great music in the beautiful North Country outdoors.

We sadly missed the first day of entertainers which included Ashley Gearing, Joey + Rory, Lonestar, Gretchen Wilson and Trace Adkins due to work obligations, and it sounded like we made a good call — we heard reports that Thursday’s weather (and lineup) were miserable. On Friday morning we “put the city in the rear view” and headed to the land of cheese and home of the reigning NFL champs — Wisconsin — for the Chippewa Valley Country Fest.

We were thrilled to arrive just in time on Friday afternoon for our favorite duo Steel Magnolia! We had the chance to see Steel Magnolia last summer at Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill during an acoustic lunchtime set with K102 and have been following them ever since. Josh Jones’ soulful tone and Meghan Linsey’s powerhouse voice work in tandem, creating musical and physical chemistry, which was undeniably obvious as they played to the crowd. Meg looked and sounded beautiful on stage, complimented by her beau and partner Josh. Steel Magnolia’s bright and charismatic sound was a good way to start off the national acts on the main stage of Friday’s Country Fest.

Justin Moore took the stage with the energy of his sophomore release Outlaws Like Me on Tuesday (6/21/11) fueling his set of crowd favorites like “Small Town USA” and “Backwoods,” along with his latest single “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away.” We do have to add, Justin’s “How I Got To Be This Way” was best done by Lost Highway over in the Miller Fest Zone beer tent.

We both surprisingly enjoyed Craig Morgan’s performance, because he was the perfect fit for the rowdy Country Fest crowd. Favorites like “International Harvester,” “Bonfire,” “Redneck Yacht Club” and “Little Bit of Life” set the mood for a good-timin’ Friday night. There was a brief awkward moment when Craig sang a few lines of “Amazing Grace” — it was surely meant to be inspirational, but it didn’t feel very organic. The last “opener” for the night was Gary Allan. His California country twang and raspy vocals kept the audience grooving along with his hits like “Life Ain’t Always Beautiful,” “Right Where I Need to Be,” “Best I Ever Had,” and “Watching Airplanes.” While his songs are countrified-emo (not a bad thing!), he was a great warm-up for our outlaw girl Miranda Lambert. We especially loved the cameo from his hound, Lucy, at the end of his set!

Is it too soon to call her “the legendary” Miranda Lambert? We think not. Miranda, still riding the wave of success from the release of Revolution in September 2009, lit up the stage, making Country Fest the place to be last Friday night with her string of rockin’ Texas country sounds. She never fails to deliver one heck of an awesome live show! Miranda’s latest project Pistol Annies, an all-girl trio made up of the highly talented Angaleena Pressely, Ashley Monroe, and Miranda have been performing a few songs together on the road. Since we’ve been gushing since their formation, it was a HUGE thrill to see them perform live. The Annies sang their debut release “Hell On Heels” [now available on iTunes], “One’s Drinkin’, One’s Smokin’ and One’s Takin’ Pills,” and “Better Days Than This.” We figure, like their quippy lyrics in “One’s Drinkin’…” if you’re gonna have one, you might as well have three.

Another highlight from Miranda Lambert’s set was her mashup of Hal Ketchum’s “Small Town Saturday Night” with her own “Famous in a Small Town.” She brought the night to a close with a high-energy set fueled by spirits (We thank God Caddot, WI isn’t a “Dry Town”) and had the entire crowd singing along and dancing as much as she was on stage. She proved Friday night exactly why she is the reigning Academy of Country Music Top Female Vocalist, amongst hundreds of other well deserved accolades, but more importantly — why she is our favorite country girl!

Aly and Beth

to be continued… (Part II)

RELATED posts tagged Country Fest 

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Best of the Month: June 2011

June kicked off our summer with TWO outdoor country festivals, Winstock and the Chippewa Valley Country Fest. We also had the chance to finally see one of our favorite new bands, The Dirt Drifters, at Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill. As always, our favorites of the month are bolded and please share with us what your favorites were!
Pistol Annies — Hell on Heels [post]
Billy Currington — Love Done Gone
David Adam Byrnes — She Only Wanted Flowers
Toby Keith — Made in America
Jacob Lyda — I’m Doing Alright
Craig Morgan — This Ole Boy
The Dirt Drifters — Always A Reason [post]
Brett Eldredge — It Ain’t Gonna Be Love
George Strait — Here for a Good Time
Alan Jackson — Long Way to Go
Shania Twain — Today is Your Day
JT Hodges — Hunt You Down
LeAnn Rimes — Give
Kellie Pickler — Tough
Corey Smith — If I Could Do It Again

Randy Travis “Anniversary Celebration”
Ronnie Dunn “Ronnie Dunn”
Justin Cole Moore “Outlaws Like Me”
Mark Wills “Looking For America”
Corey Smith “Twenty One”

Music Videos

Web Videos



  • Alabama Hitting the Road in 2012? [article]
  • Luke Bryan to Headline CMT Tour this Fall [article]
  • The Band Perry go Double Platinum [article]
  • Trace Adkins House Burns Down [article]
  • Alabama relief concert for Alabama [article]
  • Blake Shelton Album Tracks released [article]
  • Glen Campbell reveales he’s battling Alzheimer’s disease [article]
  • Pistol Annies get record deal [article]

Jason Boland and the Stragglers [review]
Winstock [day 1] [day 2]
The Dirt Drifters [review]
Chippewa Valley Country Music Festival [reviews coming soon]
*that’s right we loved them all

To find out what is in store for next month, check out our calendar and twitter updates for new music, upcoming concerts, and the latest in country music news.

Enjoy the Music and Keep Rockin’,
Aly and Beth

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Pistol Annies — Hell On Heels

You’re reading Independent Sky. You must have great taste in music, like us.

I know that your music collection is just begging for a quality country-girl-power anthem. The Pistol Annies are how an all-girl group is done right.

Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angaleena Pressley’s first release “Hell On Heels” is available on iTunes today — and we’re hoping the powers that be will have this spinning on country radio all day long. It’s got the soul of the south, the fire of a shot of whiskey, the aged flavor of good bourbon, and all together goes down like sweet honey.

If you can believe it — it sounds even better live. The smokin’ hot Pistol Annies, who were recently signed to Columbia Nashville, performed a few songs during Miranda’s set on Friday evening at the Chippewa Valley Country Fest including “One’s Drinkin’, One’s Smokin’ and One’s Takin’ Pills.” There is definitely more where “Hell On Heels” came from…

He made me smart…

BUY "Hell On Heels" | iTunes
RELATED posts tagged Pistol Annies

Monday, June 27, 2011

Country Fest 2011: Sunday (photos)

Jerrod Niemann, Clay Walker, Josh Turner, Lady Antebellum

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Country Fest 2011: Saturday (photos)

Josh Thompson, Chris Young, Lost Highway, Dierks Bentley, Carrie Underwood

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Country Fest 2011: Friday (photos)

Steel Magnolia, Craig Morgan, Gary Allan, Miranda Lambert (& Pistol Annies!)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Country Fest 2011 — June 23-26th Cadott, WI

Would you believe me if I told you that you could see Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood, Dierks Bentley AND Lady Antebellum all in one weekend? 

Well you can! This weekend Beth and I will be joining in the biggest country party this side of the Mason-Dixon Line. Sadly, we won’t be able to make it until Friday due to work conflicts (yes, we have jobs outside of blogging). So, if you’re going out for the grand opening on Wednesday and the first day of the festival on Thursday, raise a beer and shake your honky tonk badonkadonk for us!

Ashley Gearing
Joey and Rory
Gretchen Wilson
Trace Adkins 

Brian Gleason Band
Steel Magnolia
Justin Moore
Craig Morgan
Gary Allan
Miranda Lambert

Lost Highway
Josh Thompson
Collin Raye
Chris Young
Dierks Bentley
Carrie Underwood

Runnin’ on Empty
Bucky Covington
Jerrod Niemann
Clay Walker
Josh Turner
Lady Antebellum

Cadott, WI. Appox 2 hrs. East of Minneapolis and 3 1/2 hrs. North of Madison WI. 

4 day general admission: $175

The party kicks off on Wednesday night at 8pm with the Beer Tent Bands. Country Fest has lined up regional bands to play in the multiple beer tents to ensure that the party keeps going all weekend!

Don’t forget to check out Country Fest’s General Policies for all the weekend’s do’s and don’ts.

Need help packing for your fest weekend? Check out our Fest 411

And of course like we did for the Winstock Country Music Festival earlier this month, we will be bringing you updates (photos, videos and more!) LIVE from the festival so be sure to follow us on twitter and connect on facebook. If you’re going to be there too, leave a comment and we will see you there!

Prayin’ for Sunshine!
Aly and Beth

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Fest 411: Your Survival Guide to Outdoor Music Festivals

The summer music festival season is upon us! I have been to a few outdoor festivals and I wanted to pass along helpful tips to make your experience more enjoyable.
1. Rain Gear

This means a poncho and/or rain boots. It always seems to rain at these things, so plan ahead and bring them along. DO NOT bring an umbrella, the people behind you will thank you.
2. Lawn Chair

You’re going to be there awhile, even if you dont think you’ll be sitting long, bring it to hold your place. People are pretty good at these types of events (especially country folks!) and will leave your chairs alone, though I wouldn’t leave ANY valuables behind when you get up to walk around.
3. Playing Cards
Like I said, you’re going to be there awhile. There is on average 20-30 minutes between performers for take down and set up, so if you’ve already wandered through the sales tents and are full on greasy food, sit down in your folding chairs and play a game of cards. You could also grab a couple lawn chair neighbors and play drinking game while you wait.
4. Camera
Do I even have to say why? You’ll want to take lots of pics of not only the performers, but catalog your experience so you can remember what you did come Sunday morning.
5. Booze
DUH! Music festivals are more than just listening to music, but a time to cut loose and enjoy the summer season. However, please make SMART decision while partying and know your limits, so that you can get home safe at the end of the weekend.
6. Layers!
The day might be incredibly hot, but after the sun sets you’ll be thankful that you brought along a long-sleeve shirt or a hoodie.
HYDRATE OFTEN! You may not realize it but after a day in the sun and drinking will leave you feeling like you ran a marathon. Its important to stay hydrated to keep your stamina up, especially if you’re going to a four day festival.
8. Snacks
During the day you’ll have time to walk back to your car, normally only a 10-15 minute walk from the main stage and I would suggest bringing light snacks to munch on, like chips, sandwiches, carrots (yes, veggies) etc…Not only will you need a break from the crowds, but you can refresh with a snack and grab a beer from the cooler. Many venues do not allow you to bring in your own food or beverages and buying your food and drinks exclusively on the grounds will break the bank.
9. Blanket
The blanket can be used to lay on, taking a nap between shows, wrap up at night if you forgot your hoodie or save your place on the grass if you didn’t bring chairs.
10. Hand Sanitizer
Let’s just all agree when thousands of people get together in a small area, it gets REALLY gross. There normally are not wash stations and you’ll want it before you eat if you’ve been hanging around your chairs or the merch tables.
11. Baby Wipes
Amazing. Good if you spill on yourself, wash hands, wipe dirty face or wipe off a toilet seat…. Don’t forget at least a little pack you’ll be glad you brought them.
12. Comfy Clothes
You’ll be outside, all day…sweating and packed in with thousands of people, don’t wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty. I would recommend wearing light, breathable fabrics that allow you to move easily as you sit, stand, walk and dance to the music.
13. Toilet Paper/ Kleenex
Bathrooms at any kind of gathering can get gross FAST. That’s why I truly believe one of the best prizes you can win at a music festival is a reserved biff!
14. Sun Protection
Your mom was right, whenever you’re outside put it on. We’ve all gotten burnt and its not fun (I just did this last weekend, NOT FUN). So think ahead, take the time and put it on. You will also want to bring sunglasses and/or a hat to protect your face and eyes, staring at the stage all day.
15. Bug Spray
Most likely the space you’re using is a field that is rented out to the festival organizers. This means there will be bugs. Granted they’ll have a variable buffet of humans to choose from, but you don’t want to go home with bug bites anymore than you do a sunburn.
16. Schedule of Acts
Know who’s on and where, otherwise you could be sitting at your camper or eating a sandwich and drinking a beer as your favorite band takes the stage to your complete ignorance. (Minnesota fans: If you follow us on twitter, you’re in luck! We’ll keep you updated!)
17. Comfy Shoes
It doesn’t matter if this means tennis shoes, sandals, flip-flops or boots. Whatever your style, I would however recommend shoes that are comfortable enough to last constant motion through rough, bumpy and littered lawn. This would mean tennis shoes, boots (though they do get hot) and sandals that strap on are your best bet. Girls: DO NOT WEAR HEELS. Your heels will only sink into the lawn and make it perilous to walk about, risking broken ankles and twisted knees.
18. Don’t Bring or Leave Valuables
You’re going to bring your camera, phone and wallet, but don’t bring any unnecessary valuables that could get broken, lost or stolen. Also, don’t bring or wear any jewelry or sunglasses that you value, because chances 

are they will get lost, damaged or stolen. If you do bring any valuables, make sure that you keep them with you to protect them, not only from theft but from the elements as well. Better safe than sorry!  
19. CASH
Most festivals make you buy drink or food tickets and/or only accept cash. So make sure that you hit up your local ATM before you get to the grounds!

20. Engage in Social Media!
This may sound like “DUH,” but don’t forget to check in on FourSquare for tips, prizes and deals at the festival. And of course, Tweet/Facebook update your status to share with your missing friends the fun they’re missing. You might be even even make a few new ones at a tweetup! psst!! we’ll be holding one at Winstock this weekend!
21. A Good Attitude!
I hope this speaks for itself. Don’t let the band’s late start, drunk frat boys behind you or the questionable toilets put you off; you’re there to have fun, enjoy good music in the sunshine and escape life for a little while.

Did I miss anything? PLEASE submit your suggestions and recommendations on what to do and what not to do when going to summer music festivals!

HAVE FUN (and be safe) as you enjoy the music,

ps: Don’t forget to share this post with your friends that you’re going to the fest with so they know what to bring too!