Country Summer 2015 (Santa Rosa, CA)

Country Summer 2015 // // ©Vanessa Storm Photography

Country music rolled into California wine country for a star-packed weekend, known around these parts as Country Summer 2015. In its second year, the festival grew from two days to three, drawing thousands of music fans to the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. The weather was perfect, drawing comments from nearly every artist, and the grounds provided ample space for both reserved and general admission seating. A row of vendors were on hand with artist and festival merchandise and plenty of accessories. Beer box hats anyone? There were plenty of food options, and of course, every festival’s staple…beer! In addition, a VIP area provided shade and tasty BBQ meals, as well as access to an elevated viewing platform.

The main draw for any country festival is, of course, the music. From the lawn to the front row, fans were loving it. Whether they were dancing, posing for pictures, or even watching the show from the bed of a pickup, the crowd was filled with smiles and singing. Fans way in the back could be seen standing and dancing throughout the performances, content just to be in the vicinity of their favorite artists.

Jared Porter // Country Summer 2015 // // ©Vanessa Storm Photography

Kicking off the weekend’s festivities was California-born/Australian-raised Jared Porter. Porter was crowned the winner of the Fender Contender Challenge, which earned him the opening spot of the festival, as well as a $5,000 prize. In addition to his onstage performance that got the crowd warmed up, we also got to catch Porter and his band jamming backstage at the artists’ Airstream trailer, which was set up for the performers to relax between sets.

Porter also took a few moments to speak with us afterwards, explaining that while he and his band flew out to the US specifically for Country Summer, they planned to extend their trip to take in 7 weeks of craziness in Nashville. With CMA Fest kicking off upon their arrival, they are definitely in for an unforgettable experience. Porter recently wrapped up a 2 month tour in Australia and if you’re looking to learn more about this talented guy, you can do so on his website.

Jared Porter // Country Summer 2015 // // ©Vanessa Storm Photography


Parmalee // Country Summer 2015 // // ©Vanessa Storm Photography

Don’t deny it – every time you hear “She feels like Carolina, looks like California…”, you can’t help but sing along. Whether “Already Callin’ You Mine” or telling you to “Close Your Eyes For This”, this foursome has a knack for harmony and catchy tunes. Country Summer fans easily settled into their set, while the guys gave them everything they had.

Parmalee // Country Summer 2015 // // ©Vanessa Storm Photography

Chris Young turned out a solid performance, as if that’s ever a question. After cranking out several of his biggest hits, Young treated the crowd to his recently released single “I’m Comin’ Over”, which was very well-received. We’re not sure exactly how it happened, but at some point, Young managed to tear his shirt and stepped away momentarily for a mid-set costume change. Rolling with it, Young returned with a new shirt, donning a pair of sunglasses. With a smile he told the crowd that any show he plays where he gets to throw sunglasses on in sunny weather is A-OK with him.

Gary Allan // Country Summer 2015 // // ©Vanessa Storm Photography

Up next was California native Gary Allan, who delivered all the hits we’ve grown to love him for, including “Watching Airplanes”, “Every Storm” and “It Ain’t The Whiskey”. He shared a story about a Stevie Wonder concert he had recently attended, where the set was largely comprised of songs nobody knew. Realizing that fans want to hear their favorites, he immediately reworked his own setlist. Allan’s latest release, the catchy “Hangover Tonight” is the lead single from his upcoming album. Drinks in hand, many in the crowd were already familiar with the lyrics, singing along and quite possibly working on hangovers of their own.

We last caught up with Jake Owen at Stagecoach, and he’s spending much of the year opening for Kenny Chesney on The Big Revival Tour.  As well as he pairs with Chesney, it was good to see him back in the headlining slot. Owen bounded onto stage barefoot just before sunset, ready to take everyone “Beachin”. Having just played the previous night in Indiana, getting the band, crew and equipment to California was no easy feat, requiring a red eye trip on a rented cargo plane. It wouldn’t have been surprising if the energy level wasn’t at a solid ten, but this is Jake Owen we’re talking about. He was pegged at eleven, delivering perhaps the best performance we’ve seen from him yet and we’ve seen him, well, a lot.

Jake Owen // Country Summer 2015 // // ©Vanessa Storm Photography

“We are all here to sing together with strangers and friends and family,” Owen told the crowd, and that’s just what happened. During a mid-set acoustic break, he led a sing-along of 90’s country favorites like “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” and “Chattahoochie.” Turning back to his own work, Owen shared that after taking a couple of years off, he’s back into songwriting. Alone on stage with his guitar, he gave the first-ever performance of a song titled “LAX”, about a love lost when a girl decides to move to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. “You see what I did there?” he asked with a grin.

Owen has mastered the feel-good summer anthem and his latest release “Real Life” fits well alongside fan favorites like “Summer Jam” and “Barefoot Blue Jean Night.” He can get away with dropping in a little Sublime, a little Shaggy, a little Snoop. It seems that Owen could win over even his biggest skeptic purely on charisma and enthusiasm. He’s just the kind of guy you’d want to hang with on a Friday night.

Jake Owen // Country Summer 2015 // // ©Vanessa Storm Photography

Colton & Zach Swon, or as their closest friends call them, The Swon Brothers, kicked off day two of Country Summer and did so with a fun, high-energy set. They may not have taken home the title on NBC’s The Voice, but these two have done quite well for themselves, touring with several of country’s biggest names and playing to plenty of packed houses on their own. When they weren’t delivering great harmonies on songs like “Pray For You” and a cover of soulful classic “Ain’t No Sunshine”, they were entertaining the crowd with their playful sibling rivalry.

The Swon Brothers // Country Summer 2015 // // ©Vanessa Storm Photography

Frankie Ballard is like a bolt of lightning, taking the stage with tons of energy and never slowing down. The California crowd was loving every note, every guitar solo, and every joke, including Ballard telling them that adding a little rock to your music is like the hot sauce, Sriracha – a little goes a long way.

Ballard is very interactive with his audiences, whether he’s chatting them up or in the case of Country Summer, high-fiving the tiniest of country music fans. Another very cool (albeit, scary) moment came after Ballard had made his way through the crowd. He paused only for a moment before deciding to climb the scaffolding surrounding the soundboard, just to bring the show a little closer to his fans in the back. It’s safe to say that Ballard had made a fan out of just about everybody by the end of his set, except perhaps the security staff.

Jerrod Niemann // Country Summer 2015 // // ©Vanessa Storm Photography

Jerrod Niemann always has a fun time onstage, which guarantees his audience does too. His time at Country Summer was no different, as he jammed with his band, sang alongside a banjo-playing donkey, and treated the crowd to “The Buckin’ Song” – which you need to go listen to now, if you haven’t yet. Prepare to laugh. Laugh. Repeat. Niemann never takes himself too seriously, which is a remarkable quality for someone who’s had plenty of success and all the talent to back it up.

If you conducted an exit poll of Country Summer attendees, it’s fair to say that most would declare themselves to be members of the “Drinking Class”, making this the perfect crowd for Lee Brice. While he’s the life of the party singing about “Beer”, he can also hit you right in the gut with songs like “I Drive Your Truck” and “More Than Memory”. Brice is an artist you can count on to give his all every time he takes the stage.

Lee Brice // Country Summer 2015 // // ©Vanessa Storm Photography

On deck to close out Saturday night was sibling trio The Band Perry. From the moment they stormed onto stage with “Done”, the crowd was mesmerized by a solid mix of musical ability, stage presence and choreography. Kimberly Perry is a force of nature with her strong vocals, but brothers Neil and Reid are fully capable of stealing the spotlight from time to time. “Uptown Funk” may not be the first cover you’d expect at a country concert, but the trio killed it, and for a few minutes it was everybody’s jam. The trio rounded out the evening with an encore that included debut smash “If I Die Young” and ended with the haunting “Better Dig Two.”

The Band Perry // Country Summer 2015 // // ©Vanessa Storm Photography

Cassadee Pope was the lone female solo artist in the festival lineup and she wasted no time in proving that she belonged. Pope showcased her soaring vocals on “I Wish I Could Break Your Heart” and “Wasting All These Tears”, among others from her debut album Frame By Frame. She delivered strong covers of Eagles classic “Hotel California” and Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” Nearing the end of the set, Pope announced that she’d be signing autographs after leaving the stage. There was a near stampede as fans rushed to get a spot in line, a surefire sign that she’d won the hearts of the crowd.

Easton Corbin has managed to elude us for the past couple of years and we were thrilled to finally get a chance to see him perform live. Corbin has a more traditional sound than most artists getting play on country radio, and he sounded every bit as good as he does coming through the speakers in your car on current single “Baby Be My Love Song”. The setlist included hits like “Roll With It” and “A Little More Country Than That”, but Corbin was not afraid to stray from his own material, bringing everyone to their feet by taking them on a musical tour of the country songs he grew up on.

It’s been nearly a decade since Trace Adkins hit the top of the charts with “Ladies Love Country Boys,” but it’s clear that they still do. With a whole lot of swagger and his unmistakable baritone voice, Adkins had full command of the stage. Fans who swayed and sang along to tearjerker “You’re Gonna Miss This” were also bobbing their heads to lighter Adkins fare more than willing to get down to a little “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk.” We’re happy to report, however, that there was no actual slapping of grandmas.

With just one artist left to take the stage, one look at the rowdy crowd would tell you who it was they came to see. There were plenty of devoted Brantley Gilbert fans in attendance, decked out in BG Nation t-shirts and waving his signature flags. California is a long way from home for the Georgia native, but he was quick to mention that he’s learned that fans out west are “a different kind of country, but still country as hell.”

Gilbert has a reputation as country’s bad boy and songs like “Kick It In The Sticks” and “Hell on Wheels” back it up, but keep listening and you’ll find that this is a rebel with a soft side. It’s there in the grin on his face as he introduces “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do”, explaining that it’s a bit awkward now that he’s back together with the girl. His sincerity is apparent paying tribute to those serving in the military with “One Hell of an Amen.” Taking time to interact with fans, signing autographs and slapping hands, he made sure Country Summer didn’t go out quietly.

Just like that, Country Summer 2015 was in the books. It doesn’t get much better than three days of great music from some of your favorite country artists in the beautiful California sunshine. Plans are already underway for 2016, we can’t wait to hear who will be in the lineup!

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