I spent Sunday at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, CA – where, as I discovered, you can’t have both a cheeseburger and a bottle of water for $10 – for what happened to be the very last day of the first annual Country Throwdown Tour. Billed as the first traveling multi-stage country music festival, the tour is sponsored by Rockstar Energy Drink and brought to you by Kevin Lyman, the same guy who does the Vans Warped Tour. The upside to the corporate tie-ins is that Lyman is able to bring an impressive lineup, including many performers who wouldn’t otherwise be coming out this way, at a low price point. I could’ve parked myself in front of any one of the tour’s three stages and gotten my money’s worth. Instead, I moved between all of them.
Here’s my day in photos and pithy commentary. Albums for most of the individual artists will be going up on our Facebook page, so be sure to ‘Become a Fan’ or ‘Like’ us over there if you want to see those as they’re posted.
Tyler Reeve reeled in some early arrivals with sturdy Texas country-rock and a regrettably fiddle-less cover of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” He also sang with this member of Heidi Newfield’s band.
Sarah Buxton and Jedd Hughes, now known as Buxton Hughes, put on what was probably the most charming small stage performance of the day, including “Outside My Window,” “Stupid Boy,” Jedd’s “High Lonesome,” and an Australian song called “G’day G’day.” They have great rapport.
Swapping songs with Buxton Hughes was Dave Pahanish, one of the parties responsible for Toby Keith’s “American Ride.” With sunglasses on, he looks like the rebel brother of Dave Haywood. His performance of “What Am I Waiting For” was especially good, though not so good as to forgive “American Ride.”
I missed the beginning of Emily West’s set because it overlapped with Sarah Buxton’s on the other small stage just across the way. Obviously someone in scheduling has a sense of humor. West was very possibly the best pure singer featured all day, with “Rocks in Your Shoes” being especially well-received by the crowd.
The Lost Trailers had the distinction of being the first act up on the main stage. They’re breaking up after this year. No word yet on when the CMT tribute special will air.
Jonathan Singleton and The Grove was one of the most rock-leaning acts in a fairly rock-leaning lineup, but that Singleton fella does have one cool voice. I wasn’t surprised to see them drawing a considerable crowd
The Eli Young Band followed The Lost Trailers on the main stage. This guy isn’t Eli Young.
Heidi Newfield wasn’t shy about reminding the crowd of her Northern California roots, and they received the local-girl-made-good’s mix of new songs and Trick Pony favorites (plus “Johnny and June”) enthusiastically. She was pulling in enough people, and has a large enough catalog of hits, that they probably should have given her a spot on the main stage. One of the later acts apparently thought so too. More on that in a bit.
Meanwhile, crowd pleaser Jack Ingram was inviting a bunch of his fellow performers to the main stage for a “Barbie Doll” chorus and giving away his boots during “Barefoot and Crazy.”
Eric Church gave a fiery, dynamic performance that likely won him some new fans. It’s hard to imagine anyone who has any appreciation for his recorded music being disappointed by his live show.
Then there were the members of Little Big Town, who are almost impossible to get in one shot when spread out across an enormous stage unless you’re sitting way back… in the boondocks. Their harmonies easily filled the amphitheatre, sounding every bit as good as they do in the studio.
Beginning with “High Cost of Living” and Keith Whitley cowrite “Lonely at the Top,” Johnson treated the crowd to the most traditional country to be heard anywhere at Throwdown. He ceded part of his time slot to Heidi Newfield, allowing her to do one song on the big stage, before calling Little Big Town out for “Macon” and dueting with Eric Church on Hag’s “Are the Good Times Really Over (I Wish a Buck Was Still Silver).” Predictably, nothing got the crowd going quite like “In Color,” which turned into a thousands-strong singalong.
Montgomery Gentry was technically the headlining act, but I weighed my desire to see them (and my suspicion that nothing could top Jamey Johnson) against my hatred for post-show traffic jams and decided to get a jump on the competition by ditching out after the first couple songs. I’ll go ahead and guess that Eddie Montgomery twirled the mic stand a few more times and there was a big finale involving other performers and explosions.
All things considered, a solid day of music and fun for anyone even remotely interested in the sounds of mainstream country music today and tomorrow. Assuming there is indeed a second annual Country Throwdown, it’d be nice to see a wider range of country styles featured and perhaps the addition of one or two bona fide legends to round out the bill and give context to the work being done by some of the younger acts.
As far as first attempts go, though, this was a pretty satisfying one.