CANTON – Tailgaters in the commuter parking lot at Country Fest were having a party on a sunny, cool Saturday afternoon before the concerts even started.
Fans sat in the back of pickup trucks or gathered around in chairs, listening to country music while sipping beer and other alcoholic beverages.
Hot dogs were grilled. Revelers played a drinking game called thump involving a hammer, nail and tree stump. Cornhole games also were happening.
"It's a constant party," Sierra Barr, 23, said of the jubilant, carefree vibe. "Country (music) people are all family.
"I took a week off work for this," the Pennsylvania resident said.
Barr's friend, Kylee McCarty, 22, of the Pittsburgh area, welcomed a passerby into their tailgate area with a smile and friendly conversation.
"I would take this over a beach vacation any day," said the elementary school teacher and college student.
"Country music is my favorite," she said. "There's a a story behind every song."
The atmosphere at Country Fest at Clay's Resort Jellystone Park was good vibes only. Earlier in the week, when campers and commuters poured into the grounds, traffic had backed up on Route 93, taking some visitors hours to get into the event. But traffic was flowing smoothly at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
Saturday was the fourth and final day of Country Fest. Closing out the event were Ernest, Larry Fleet, HARDY and Morgan Wallen. Earlier in the week, country music stars had included Jason Aldean and Brantley Gilbert.
Special events also were planned Saturday night, including a flyover conducted by Castle Aviation, based at the Akron-Canton Airport.
The flyover was scheduled for around 7:25 p.m. in conjunction with HARDY's performance.
Castle Aviation's CEO, Michael Grossmann, is a senior pilot and part of a World War II-era plane owners club. Grossmann and the other pilots flew in formation at HARDY's request, said Dana Setting, director of marketing at Castle Aviation.
A group of Country Fest fans from Pennsylvania enjoy themselves during tailgating on Saturday before concerts started. They explain what they love about the country music extravaganza. @CountryFestOhio @949WQMX @VisitCanton @CantonRepdotcom pic.twitter.com/Nkv4zS9ZuJ
— Ed Balint (@ebalintREP) June 19, 2022
A record crowd of around 25,000 people was expected for Wallen's show, surpassing the previous record by around 1,500 fans, according to Country Fest organizers. Fans also had shown up in bigger numbers earlier in the day than in past years, with some waiting up to 12 hours to get and keep a front row spot for Saturday's headliners.
Wallen is considered the hottest touring act in all of music at the moment, Country Fest co-founder Aaron Green had said recently.
Fans on Saturday frequently cited Wallen as the reason for attending Country Fest.
Event attracts genuine country music fans
Country Fest also drew fans from as far away as Alaska, Ireland and Australia.
Mike Perrault, 44, of Connecticut, said he made the trip at the insistence of his daughter, Allison Perrault, who enjoyed Country Fest last summer.
"Country music in Connecticut is a whole different environment," the daughter said while standing atop a hill overlooking thousands of fans. "This is amazing.
"You'll never look at country music in Connecticut the same after you've been here."
Added Chase Eby, a member of the Perraults' group: "They are genuine and passionate about their country music (at Country Fest)."
West Virginia teen calls event 'overwhelming'
Many fans were returning to the country music extravaganza for another year. Newbies were also on hand, including Addison Newsome, 16, and Karli Smith, 17, both of West Virginia.
"It's probably going to be one of the most exciting moments of my life," Newsome said while standing near a runway connected to the main stage more than an hour before Ernest was to perform.
Smith said she wanted to attend Country Fest after reading so many positive online comments about it from fans.
Wednesday's Aldean concert was fantastic, she said.
"It was overwhelming," Smith said, wearing a black cowboy hat. "I didn't expect (the crowd) to be as big as it was."
'You get away from everything and just break away.'
Rodney Isom, 57, traveled from just a few miles away for his summertime ritual.
Cooking hot dogs, the North Lawrence resident offered one to a stranger.
"This is our eighth," Isom said of Country Fest. "It's such a good time – good music, good food, good camaraderie, good friends.
"You get away from everything and just break away," the machinist said. "For three days in a row, it's definitely a good getaway. We bought the whole (ticket) package for Morgan Wallen."
Wallen's chart-topping "Dangerous: The Double Album" is loaded with hit songs and catchy melodies, said Isom, who was joined by his wife, Colleen Isom and a relative, Renee O'Connor of Virginia Beach.
"I just think the lyrics hit home for a lot of people, and he's young and up and coming," Rodney Isom said of Wallen. "He went through a little bit of a trial there, and he fought back, and he puts his family and and love for his wife and kids first."
Morgan Wallen, beer and friends make for a great time
Not far from Isom's group was Jessica Petkac, 33, of Cleveland, who sipped a drink while relaxing in a chair. This was her fifth Country Fest.
"It's like America, friends and country music," she said of the massive event. "Everybody just having a good time. This festival is the biggest I've ever been to."
Asked what makes Wallen such a premium attraction, Petkac's friend, Tiffany Browning, 34, said: "It's like country, but it's also a little rappish."
Added Petkac: "He's very versatile; you don't have to be a country fan to listen to Morgan Wallen."
Reach Ed at 330-580-8315 and email@example.com. On Twitter: @ebalintREP.
This article originally appeared on The Repository: Country Fest has record crowd for final day with HARDY, Morgan Wallen