ENTERPRISE, Ala. -- Hank Williams Jr., Kenny Chesney, Dierks Bentley and Miranda Lambert spent part of the weekend in a 600-acre field where the cash crop has changed from peanuts to live music, thanks to the BamaJam Music and Arts Festival.
The third annual event took place Thursday through Saturday (June 3-5) in this community north of Dothan, Ala. Early estimates put attendance at more than 100,000 for Friday's show headlined on separate stages by Williams and the rock band, Train. In addition to country acts such as the Zac Brown Band, Jamey Johnson, Jake Owen, Travis Tritt, Gretchen Wilson, Chris Young, Randy Houser, Danny Gokey, Rodney Atkins and Blackberry Smoke, BamaJam also featured an array of rock and blues performers such as Gregg Allman, Edgar Winter and Buddy Guy.
Gates to the festival opened at noon daily, and visitors staying on the grounds' campsites, RV sites and nearby hotels raced alongside the locals to the main stage to secure their view of the performances. At this point, the event has become a bit of a family tradition with music lovers and artists alike making a habit of attending.
"I was here two years ago," Lambert recalled during her performance. "I was sitting on top of an RV right over there, drinking Bud Light and watching Hank Jr. sing his ass off!"
Lambert must have been taking notes that night. Onstage this year, there seemed to be a bit of added glimmer and energy throughout her set. Knocking out "Kerosene," "Famous in a Small Town" and her new No. 1 hit, "The House That Built Me," the former Field & Stream magazine Hero of the Year took the lyrics literally when she held up a shotgun at the end of her hit, "Gunpowder & Lead."
Fans weren't the only ones taken by Lambert. Bentley, who followed her onstage, brought her back out to join him for "Midnight Rider," adding, "She's taken the title of female vocalist this year [from the Academy of Country Music], and she's gonna keep that title for a long time."
With his upcoming album, Up on the Ridge, hitting stores Tuesday (June 8), Bentley made his BamaJam entrance to a bluegrass tune. In typical Bentley fashion, he quickly covered every inch of the stage, went into the crowd and even turned over his microphone to the fans for a singalong. Energetically, he cranked out hit after hit including "Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go)," "Lot of Leavin' Left to Do" and "What Was I Thinkin'."
"I can't dance. I'm not a smooth talker. The only thing that ever got me the girl was playing my guitar," he said as he went into "I Wanna Make You Close Your Eyes."
The Zac Brown Band gained fame with the hit single, "Chicken Fried," but one of the highlights of their BamaJam performance was another poultry-related song that appears on their album, The Foundation. Introducing "Sic 'Em on a Chicken," Brown noted, "This song is in response to a reviewer who claims we're cruel to chickens. I wanna make it clear to you: You have to treat the chicken as good as you can -- until you eat it." Playing for more than two hours, the band's set included other favorites from the album, including "Whatever It Is" and "Highway 20 Ride."
Johnson came out with a story to tell -- swollen fingers and a black cast on his right wrist -- but he never actually got around to sharing it. At one point between songs, he held up the hand and gave it a look, as if on the verge of giving an explanation. Instead, he just rolled into another tune before closing out his show with "Give It Away," the George Strait hit he co-wrote.
Fortunately, Johnson was the only performer wearing a cast, although Owen could have been a prime candidate for one. After a solid hour of rain, Owen ran out for his performance barefoot, hit a puddle, slipped and landed flat on his back. Lying there for a moment, he popped up with a smile on his face and a wet backside and supplied the audience with an energetic show that began with "Yee Haw."
Showering the fans with nonstop hits from the past 20-plus years, Tritt opened his show with "Put Some Drive in Your Country" and went on to perform crowd-pleasing songs such as "Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde" and "It's a Great Day to Be Alive."
It was a great day to be in Alabama, too, as Hank Williams Jr. kicked off his Friday night show to a sea of sunburned faces. Wearing an Alabama ball cap, he took the crowd on a journey through his life and music. He treated his audience to an extended set that included "If Heaven Ain't a Lot Like Dixie" and "Kaw-Liga" before recruiting Johnson and Tritt to join him for rowdy rendition of "Family Tradition" to wrap up his show.
Chesney's Saturday appearance was one of only a dozen or so concerts he's scheduled this summer. Many have gotten used to seeing him with his own elaborate stage production, but his fans didn't seem to miss the high-tech elements at all. Considering his lengthy string of hits, it's virtually impossible to play all of the songs at a single concert, but he made a worthy effort by delivering material such as "Beer in Mexico," "Ain't Back Yet," "Young," "Big Star," and "Back Where I Come From."
"I was down around here last weekend visiting some friends in Florida. With everything going on ... I just want to send a big prayer to people in this part of the world," he said, referring to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. "This song goes out to them and to my friends in Jamaica who helped me with this song." With that, he launched into "Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven."
After three solid days of performances, unpredictable weather conditions and massive crowds, Chesney wrapped up the entertainment on the country stage for 2010 BamaJam Music Festival. As the slow-moving masses headed towards the exit, there were countless conversations about what next year's Jam has in store.
View photos from the 2010 BamaJam Music Festival.