Saturday, June 7, 2003

Folks mingle and listen at Country Stampede

Solid performers may lure large crowds

By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Michele Halcomb holds Charlle Barrett, 7, both from Hamilton, Ohio, on her shoulders for a better view of performers at the Country Stampede on Friday.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
SPARTA, Ky. - With 31 country acts and three mechanical bulls going full tilt through Sunday, the Country Stampede at Kentucky Speedway is the Warped Tour with cowboy hats.

April Hamlin of West Chester decked out her 4-year-old daughter, Abby Hammonds, in a pink cowboy hat and boots for Friday's opening day.

"She's never been to a concert," said Hamlin, who plans to be back today for Lonestar and Sunday for Diamond Rio. "All these bands, all weekend long. I've never been to anything like this."

The biggest country festival in the region, the Stampede features two large stages and an informal Jack Daniels Saloon tent. By mid-afternoon Friday, the crowd was estimated at 8,000, sitting on lawn chairs and in the reserved VIP seating.

Like a lot of other country fans, Steve Dunaway of Rising Sun, Ind., "took off work to be here. We bought our tickets weeks ago." Travis Tritt fans, Dunaway and two friends had $200 VIP seats for the show.

Five-hour drizzle doesn't dampen Country Stampede
But before the country-rocking Tritt was to close Friday's main stage, there was the pop rock of singer Jolie Edwards and the bluegrass/jazz of Robinella & the CC String Band. The band opened the American Music Stage, which featured a bluegrass festival lineup Friday.

That stage was considerably smaller than the massive main stage, but the Stampede, in the first year of a five-year contract with the Speedway, is still ironing out the kinks.

Some of the problems couldn't be avoided; an accident on I-71 delayed some of the entertainers and much of the crowd that could not skip work. But a steady stream of country fans continued to fill the infield through the afternoon. A crowd of 25,000 was expected Friday, with projections of 30,000 for today and Sunday.

Along with the music, there were dozens of booths offering everything from funnel cakes to Jack and Coke to cowgirl fashions. There were displays of products aimed at country fans, including John Deere lawn tractors, Coleman camping gear and Copenhagen snuff.

Copenhagen's large trailer/tent area featured free games, including a mechanical bull operated by Frank McIlwain, a Dallas-based rodeo clown whose broken leg came courtesy of a genuine bull.

"I can rock you to sleep or throw you all the way back to your seat," he said with a gruff chuckle. "We've had 100 come through so far, and we'll probably do twice that before the night's over."

But with the parking lots filled with cars from Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, it was the dozens of top country acts that drew the fans.

"I really like who they have," said Gail Sandlin of West Union. "And just to get them all, for one price, this is great."

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