On Saturday night, Country Thunder didn’t stop at the concert area inside the Fort Calgary fences.
As country superstar Morgan Wallen performed on stage to a sold-out crowd of more than 20,000, a second group of curious country fans gathered outside the doors of 6 Street SE and the 8 Avenue to catch a bit of the show.
There were a number of East Village residents walking dogs, scooter riders and even a few couples who appeared to be out on a date night who sat on the conveniently located park benches on the 8e Avenue, where they were able to have much the same experience as the crowds inside the doors – minus 21,000 people stuck cheek to cheek and beer.
That’s because the Country Thunder experience is as much a multimedia spectacle as it is a bit of Budweiser-infused honky-tonking in late summer.
The huge stage rising from the ground at the south end of Fort Calgary features numerous projection screens with cinematic presentations of whoever is performing on stage.
The video version of the show is so well-produced that the truth of the 2022 concert experience is that you’re most likely to watch Morgan Wallen sing on the biggest big-screen TVs ever — and even not. don’t feel like you’re missing out. the real experience of watching the real Wallen, standing on stage singing his songs.
Projected images aren’t new to live concerts, but Fort Calgary is new as the home of Country Thunder, which led to the nightly watch party outside the country festival gates.
Those screens, the sensational sound and the proximity of the doors to the real stage made being stuck outside Country Thunder almost as fun as inside – the festival even installed half a dozen porta pots that ticketless fans have access to.
MOSH PIT 21,000 PEOPLE
Inside the venue there was a combination of heat, booze, queues and youthful energy that resulted in what at times looked like a 21,000 person mosh pit – which some loved , while others (particularly the older, shorter viewers) were a bit on the fence about.
Although it was a country music festival, there was nothing subtle about the messaging if you were chatting with your neighbor.
“It’s a shit show,” said one woman, who admittedly babysat four small children, as a steady stream of spectators passed us in the intermission between Hardy’s set and headliner Wallen. .
The combination of increased capacity and what felt like much less space than the previous Prairie Winds Park location, plus the late summer heat that 2019 lacked, made for a difficult experience at times, though the music served up by Hardy and Wallen on Saturday night was top-notch country.
Hardy brought his brand of in-your-face country rock on a hot Saturday night in August, and it seemed to suit the well-lubed crowd, who knew almost as much of his song lyrics as Wallen’s. like on songs like Ain’t a Bad Day (for the end of the world).
“Let’s put on our f-in redneck, bro!” Hardy shouted, then donned a Flames jersey with his name and number 69 on the back for the final tunes.
He had the crowd singing along to his lyrics “My town is smaller than your town”, and introduced a track that sounded like he explained where a lot of country songs come from.
“I wrote this song about being proud of where you’re from,” he said. “Are you proud of where you come from?”
Then he launched into a track called “Unapologetically Country as Hell”, where the first lyric is “My trucks where my money goes”, and it’s safe to say he had 21,000 Country Thunder fans by his side. .
It was also a little shocking to arrive in downtown Calgary to experience a mecca for country music, but the crowds were as packed for the festival as the geeks are any time Comic Expo comes to town and they pull out their Groot costumes.
The only difference is that for this festival, there were thousands of hats, including a woman with a baseball cap that said, “I wish you were beer.
There were plenty of daisies and more pairs of Wrangler jeans than even Wrangler jeans could have hoped for.
It was country cosplay at Country Thunder – or, as one young woman in daisies, boots and a hat put it on her way to the site on Saturday, “It’s the most Albertan thing I’ve ever seen. ever seen in my life.”
The festival ends on Sunday. You can’t buy tickets, but if you happen to walk your dog in the East Village, the party doesn’t stop at the closing.
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