PANAMA CITY BEACH, Florida -- At the third annual Pepsi Gulf Coast Jam, Mother Nature had it out for Tyler Farr, Sam Hunt sported a massive beard, and Lady Antebellum's Charles Kelly revealed his admiration for fellow headliners Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert.
It was a storm and star-packed Labor Day weekend in Panama City Beach, Florida, where this year’s festival lineup featured headliners Lady Antebellum, Lambert and Urban and included Hunt, Gary Allan, Hunter Hayes, Dwight Yoakam, Martina McBride, Ronnie Milsap and Kellie Pickler, Scotty McCreery among others. The American Idol alum and 2013 Dancing With the Stars champ’s upcoming CMT series, I Love Kellie Pickler, features the spirited North Carolina girl and husband Kyle Jacobs.
With the festival taking place Friday through Sunday (Sept. 4-6), the final two days were rain-delayed with a precautionary evacuation on Sunday, resulting in Tyler Farr being dropped from the lineup. Friday was another story. Apparently, even the kooky Florida weather wanted to see Sam Hunt perform.
Long before he was a multi-platinum-selling superstar, Hunt was an accomplished songwriter. His set was sprinkled with tunes that he penned for other artists, including Urban’s “Cop Car” and Billy Currington’s “We Are Tonight.”
All three of his consecutive number ones from his debut album, Montevallo -- “House Party,” “Take Your Time” and “Leave the Night On” -- had the crowd on its feet and singing along.
“Thanks for making me feel at home! I grew up just north of here.” Hunt smiled as the opening notes of “Break Up in a Small Town” played. In the new video, the R&B-influenced newcomer debuts a new look in the form of a thick beard which he decided to keep for a while.
Hunt is part of Lady A’s Wheels Up tour, along with Hunter Hayes, who got serious and motivational for a moment during his set talking about his experiences with bullying as a child.
“That’s why I wrote this song. It’s for all of us.” he explained about “Invisible.”
Tourmates Lady A reminded everyone just how many hits they’ve had during their eight-year career as they flew through their massive catalog, including, “Long Stretch of Love,” “Bartender” and “Our Kind of Love.”
As Hillary Scott shared that they got to spend the day at the beach (they played on the one day without storms), Charles Kelly added, “You’ve got a great weekend planned here! I don’t think you could have a better lineup. My favorite female -- besides Hillary Scott, of course -- Miranda Lambert and my favorite male, Keith Urban! That’s true!”
“This was our seventh or eighth song we wrote together, and after we wrote it, I knew it would be our first song on country radio.” Scott explained as they rolled into “Love Don’t Live Here”
Kelly pointed out a sign in the crowd reading, “Hillary Scott for President!” to which Scott laughed and said, “You know, people do get that mixed up on Twitter! I get some mean tweets that aren’t meant for me!”
In addition to their own hits, their set included Shania Twain’s “Any Man of Mine,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” (a song also they performed on CMT Crossroads with Stevie Nicks) and Avicii’s “Wake Me Up.”
The heart of country music was well-represented between Ronnie Milsap’s classics, Kellie Pickler reaching back to Johnny Cash and June Carter (“Jackson”) and Tammy Wynette (“Stand by Your Man”) and Dwight Yoakam’s band with rhinestone shirts and jackets. Through the years, Yoakam has retained the sound, look and moves that made him famous.
Miranda Lambert, on the other hand, changed her fashion style quite a bit. She came prepared to battle the Florida heat in short shorts, studded tank top, shimmering tights and footwear from her new boot line, Miranda by Miranda Lambert.
With her personal issues being anything but personal these days, it’s hard not to notice the new emphasis on certain songs. As “Over You” began, one concert goer whispered to her friend. “This is the song that’s going to make her cry.”
During “Dead Flowers” from her Revolution album, her eyes remained closed for the first part of the song and after singing “White Liar,” she laughed, “Oh, these boys are killing me!”
As she danced under the disco balls that hung on her stage, she went from feisty (“Gunpowder & Lead”) to vulnerable (“The House That Built Me”) back to feisty again (“Little Red Wagon”).
Since Little Big Town wasn’t on hand to sing their part, Lambert enlisted the help of two female bandmates for latest single, “Smokin’ and Drinkin.’” John Fogerty’s “Travelin’ Band,” Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen,” ZZ Top’s “Tush” and the Dixie Chicks’ “Cowboy Take Me Away” made their way into the show before they called it a night.
With early crowed estimates at between 18,000-24,000 each day, Keith Urban was chosen to cap the event on Sunday night. Proving again why he’s often referred to as one of the best players in country music, guitar solos plentiful, and his audience adored him. With rock star moves and a country sound, Urban had the entire venue on their feet and hanging on his every guitar stroke. Urban knows how to work a crowd, using every inch of the stage and lying down to play and sing. Once was to hold out a note, the other was at the end when he said he was tired.
Two women in particular will never forget Urban’s performance as he shared his stage and his microphone -- not once but twice. Contest winner and stay-at-home mom Amanda Benton was chosen to sing Miranda Lambert’s part in “We Were Us,” and during “Kiss a Girl,” he invited local singer Courtney Clubbs up to sing along.
Even after “Put You in a Song,” “Long Hot Summer,” “Sweet Thing” and “Cop Car” helped fill a set that lasted almost two hours, Urban’s fans weren’t finished with him yet. While ordinances wouldn’t allow for him to play later, after the show, he stayed onstage -- signing autographs, shaking hands and taking photos.