Blake Shelton or that artificial turf?
Dierks Bentley or those puppies?
Florida Georgia Line or a chilled carafe of white wine?
While the hours and hours of live country music at Chicago’s Country LakeShake Festival last weekend (June 22-24) were easily the very best part, there were a lot of serious contenders for the next best part.
This was the fourth annual LakeShake, and judging from the record-breaking attendance at the three-day event, they really nailed it this year. Here’s everything we loved, above and beyond the country music.
Fields of fake grass
Chicago had had a week of rain leading up to LakeShake’s opening day (June 22), so 100,000 square feet of field turf was installed to prevent the muddy mess so common at other outdoor summer festivals.
General indifference about the mud, anyway
Even with all that fake turf, the ground was wet enough to seep through and cause a few muddy patches on the ground. But nobody I saw seemed to care. At all. It was almost as if your mud-soaked shoes were a badge of honor. I know mine were.
The sets between the sets.Tim Mosenfelder/WireImage
I’ve heard just about everything playing in a venue before a country artist takes the stage. The walkout music usually ranges from heavy metal I hate to pop songs I don’t know. But this was different because Dee Jay Silver knew exactly what this crowd wanted to hear. He was spinning hits from his personal throwback machine, and even the youngest fans were singing along to songs from 90s country to southern rock. When CMT.com asked Silver how he pulled together such a perfect set list, he said he never does. “I just try to play to the crowd, keep them drinking and playing music they all know and sing along to,” he said. “We usually start the day off with a little slower music like Zac Brown ’Chicken Fried,’ FGL ’Meant to Be,’ all the way to Chainsmokers and Imagine Dragons, anything they can vibe to, sing along, make some new friends and make the festival their own. As the day goes on and the headliners are up, I just turn the party out…build up the anticipation and play banger after banger! A few songs that really stuck out to me this weekend were Jason Aldean ’She’s Country,’ Taio Cruz ’Dynamite,’ Sam Hunt ’House Party,’ Lil Jon ’Turn Down For What,’ Pitbull ’Don’t Stop the Party,’ Post Malone ’Congratulations,’ Drake ’God’s Plan,’ all the way to the classics like Bon Jovi ’Living on a Prayer,’ Bruno Mars ’Uptown Funk,’ Luke Bryan ’Country Girl (Shake It for Me),’ and any Justin Timberlake song. The crowd was so loud you could feel them on stage!”
The land and sea settingMichael Hickey/Getty Images
This festival sits on a man-made peninsula called Northerly Island outside of Chicago – it used to the city’s one-runway airport – and is surrounded by the waters of Lake Michigan. So from nearly every vantage point, you could see a country artist, a handful of yachts on the water, and the city’s iconic skyline all at once.
That group sway
Some puppy love
PAWS Chicago — the local and loyal no-kill animal shelter — brought out their best when they gave fans the chance to adopt a rescue puppy right there at the fest.
Line-dancing lessonsMichael Hickey/Getty Images
You can take country fans out of the 90s, but you cannot take the 90s out of the country fans. Day and night, the crowd was lining up to learn how to two-step.
Carafes of wineMichael Hickey/Getty Images
Beer is notoriously the unofficial drink of summer festivals, but wine is definitely honing in on that territory. Especially when you consider the large female demographic listening to country music. And especially when it’s being sold in carafes, so no one has to walk around with wine spilling out of those tiny little plastic wine glasses.
Or a taste of sobriety insteadMichael Hickey/Getty Images
I’m not sure if this could be considered a trend yet, but it will definitely be a welcome one when it is. Sober Shake was a fellowship of fans who chose to stay drug-free at LakeShake. Organized by a division of Harmonium , the group welcomed fans and even hosted two recovery-style meetings each day.
Easy-to-navigate stagesMichael Hickey/Getty Images
You know those festivals that boast having 120 stages? You are constantly running from stage to stage, missing parts of every show you wanted to see. But LakeShake only had two stages, which made it entirely possible to see all the acts, all day and all night long.
Some rookie loveMichael Hickey/Getty Images
With enthusiasm usually reserved for headliners, the fans at LakeShake seemed to be singing along on the new songs and country cover tunes from some of Nashville’s new guys: Mitchell Tenpenny, Runaway June, Dillon Carmichael, Delta Rae, Charlie Worsham, Jackie Lee, Jillian Jacqueline, Russell Dickerson and Muscadine Bloodline. They might’ve been the ones on stage before the sun went down, but fans embraced them like they were the main event.
The LS sign
It was the first year that LakeShake gave fans a photo opp to make them instantly Insta famous. Much like Chicago’s Lollapalooza sign, the towering letters were the most popular spot for photo shoots.
Michael Hickey/Getty Images
I’ve lost and never found so many things over the years at concerts, and have had to go back to the venue and rummage through their real-life lost and found bin. But this year’s LakeShake had the distinct advantage of a virtual lost and found, full of car keys, phones, wallets and more.