By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer
SPARTA, Ky. - Here at the Kentucky Speedway, it's how you finish that's important. Friday, veteran country stars Ricky Skaggs and Travis Tritt closed the first day of the weekend's Country Stampede festival in winning style, playing to thousands of loyal, rain-soaked fans.
The event, the largest country show ever held in the Tristate, drew around 20,000, despite a steady rain lasted from the Del McCoury Band's 6 p.m. show through the end of Tritt's set five hours later.
The crowd wore anything remotely waterproof, as comedian Jeff Foxworthy noted during his monologue on the main stage. A redneck, he said, defining the term central to his signature shtick, is someone possessing, "a glorious absence of sophistication, such as sitting here in a Hefty bag watching this show." For more than an hour, Foxworthy pulled off the remarkable feet of being funny -- and clean enough for the family audience.
The rain fell heaviest during Skaggs' set at the secondary stage (which few in the main stage area knew about, this being the first Stampede). But it didn't matter, as an adoring crowd of bluegrass lovers huddled under umbrellas or just danced in the puddles, as the proud Kentuckian led his Kentucky Thunder band through a 55-minute set of bluegrass classics from Flatt & Scruggs ("I Heard My Mother Call My Name In Prayer") , the Stanley Brothers ("How Mountain Girls Can Love") and Bill Monroe ("Uncle Pen"), as well as his own prior incarnation as a bluegrass-tinged country chart-topper ("Highway 40 Blues").
Tritt also had a deep catalog to draw from and the result was another satisfying performance. For 85 minutes he swung from country-rock rave-ups like "T-R-O-U-B-L-E" to his solo heartbreak ballad "Anymore" to hard-core honky tonkers - "The Whisky Ain't Workin''," "Ten Feet Tall and Bullet Proof,' and the pre-cell phone "Here's a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)."
Throw in a taut version of Steve Earle's hard-rocking redneck dope dealer anthem, "Copperhead Road" and a few of his latest hits, "Strong Enough to be Your Man" and "Country Ain't Country," plus a soulful delivery recalling country greats George Jones and Waylon Jennings, and Tritt, seemingly washed up just a couple years back, now seems headed straight back to the top. Tim McGraw better watch his back.
Trace Adkins put on a fine show as well, with his own mix of hard-country and country-rock, alternating his own hits ("Chrome," "I Left Something Turned On at Home" ) with a wide range of covers (Merle Haggard's "The Running Kind," Wilson Pickett's "634-5789").
The early part of the day was devoted to new artists, mostly female. The standouts were pop-rocker Jolie Edwards (whose bassist, Sara Beck, provided harmonies more reminiscent of the Go-Gos than the Carter Family) and bluegrass/jazz singer Robinella Contreras and her CC String Band.
The Country Stampede continues today and Sunday at Kentucky Speedway. As many as 30,000 people a day are expected to attend.
If you go
What: Country Stampede
When: Today through Sunday. Music starts at 1 p.m.; to midnight today, to 9:30 p.m. Sunday. Gates open at noon.
Where: Kentucky Speedway, Sparta
Tickets: $55 at the gate; $200 limited reserved seating.
Information: Web site
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