Scattered clouds and an occasional chilly wind didn’t stop about 8,000 fans from gathering on Friday, June 17 for the long-awaited return of the Country Summer Music Festival to the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa.
As always, the unofficial festival uniform was prominently displayed in the crowd: shorts and tank tops, cowboy boots and hats.
Founded in 2014, the festival drew more than 30,000 fans over three days when it was last held in 2019. The coronavirus pandemic led to cancellations in 2020 and 2021.
Among the first arrivals on Friday were Christina Farrell, 41, from Santa Rosa and her daughter Leah, 15, attending the festival for the first time, mainly to see the evening’s headliner, Kristina Ballerini.
“It’s a beautiful day,” Christina said. “The wind is a bit crazy, but it’s not too hot.”
Both mother and daughter are devoted listeners to country music. (“All the time,” Leah says.)
Her mother praised the themes and values expressed in many country songs. “It’s our home. It’s about country and family,” Christina said.
She saw the return of the festival as part of the greater community’s healing process after COVID-19 closures, natural disasters and social upheaval.
“After everything we’ve all been through for the past few years, we all need to come back,” Christina said.
The weekend’s first main performer, Adam Sanders, kicked off the day with “Nothin’ To Do But Drink,” working his way up to his recent hit, “Good Day to Fly.”
The festival features nearly two dozen acts in all, on two stages. Friday’s musical lineup included Russell Dickerson, Ryan Hurd, Tenille Arts and Sanders, ending with Ballerini.
The Arts singer and songwriter kept up the momentum through Friday afternoon, delivering blistering vocal performances of her songs, including last year’s “Over You is You” and one of her first. compositions, “Wildfire and Whiskey”.
The festival continues until Sunday. Tickets for Saturday, with Blake Shelton as headliner, are sold out at 12,500. Single-day tickets are still available starting at $99 for Sunday’s closing lineup, with Chris Young as headliner .
“I’m super excited,” said another first-time festival attendee, Maggie Chavez, 32, of Sebastopol. “Love that Blake Shelton is here on Saturday and Chris Young on Sunday.”
A loyal listener of country music, Chavez said she identifies with its themes of good times and problems.
“It’s so real,” she said. “Every song that comes out, I go through the same thing.”
Two young fans — Isabella Blakely, 17, and Sori Salamati, 16, both from Santa Rosa — offered their own insights into the genre.
“I love the way the songs tell a story and the rawness of the instrumentals,” said Blakely, who has attended Country Summer several times.
Her friend Salamati added, “Country music is interesting to follow. These are not just random words. New pop and rap songs just seem to repeat the same thing.
The festival layout includes rows of concession stands not far from both stages, selling beer, wine cocktails, nachos, chicken wings, vegan tacos and more. There’s also an area filled with carnival rides, including a Ferris wheel.
Doors open at noon, with music starting at 1 p.m. For more information, visit countrysummer.com. Check back here for more photos from Country Summer’s opening day.
You can reach editor Dan Taylor at [email protected] or 707-521-5243. On Twitter @danarts.