Fans in hats, boots cram Countryfest

More than 30,000 people turned out to the Altamont Fairgrounds on Saturday, swarming with an array o

The first person in line for WGNA’s Countryfest 2011 arrived at 10 p.m. Friday — the night before a lineup featuring Miranda Lambert took the stage at the Altamont Fairgrounds.

Others from outside the Capital Region had a long Friday night as well.

A self-proclaimed country boy through and through, Joe Milroy left his Rhinebeck home at 3 a.m. Saturday to get to the festival early. Parking lots were full by 2 p.m., when crews directed festival-goers to Guilderland High School where a bus would transport them to the fairgrounds

Milroy, 27, stayed up until 1 a.m. Saturday to cook food for the day’s festivities, which included performances by Lambert, John Michael Montgomery, Randy Houser, Sunny Sweeney, Brett Eldredge and Joanna Smith.

More than 30,000 people turned out to the fairgrounds, swarming with an array of cowboy hats, boots and flags on a clear, sunny day.

“I feel country’s coming back big time,” Milroy said, as Sweeney belted songs from her upcoming album. “It’s the only thing that speaks truth. Any song that you listen to with country music can be related to your life, especially mine right now. A lot of people say it’s too sad, but a lot of it’s happened. I love country music. It’s my life.”

Along with most in attendance, Milroy said he looked forward to hearing headliner Lambert.

The lineup this year was good, he said, but he enjoyed the last two years’ performances more.

Travis Lapine and Jacklyn Therrien don’t have anything similar to Countryfest back home in North Adams, Mass. The hour and a half drive to Altamont was more than worth it for Therrien.

“Some people come here to get drunk,” said Therrien, 16. “We’re here for the music.”

They hung back away from the main stage to better appreciate the music rather than the craziness, they said. The teens left North Adams at 7 a.m. with their friends, Courtney Rolnick and Connor Williams, both 16, to ensure they had enough time to soak in the entire day.

“The first few performances every year they always do local or up-and-coming artists who cover songs for the first bit, and then they get to the bigger acts,” Therrien said.

rock sound

The show started with singer-songwriter Joanna Smith, followed by Brett Eldredge, whose set was more akin to a rock show than country show.

Or at least that’s how Mike Mass felt Saturday. The 56-year-old Schenectady resident grew up listening to rock, and only rock. A friend invited him to his first-ever Countryfest this year, and, he figured, why not?

“It’s just like a rock concert to me,” Mass said. “I knew maybe one name on the ticket. I don’t listen to too much country, but this is very nice, very pleasant.”

During Smith’s set, Mass took photos of the band on the stage.

“My family was saying, ‘No, no, wait for the bigger acts,’ ” Mass said. “But she’s been in the business two years, and she has a beautiful band that can play their butts off on those instruments.”

Devout fans went wild as longtime country singer John Michael Montgomery took the stage. Montgomery, who has produced more than 30 Billboard singles, had the crowd crooning along with him as he performed “I Swear,” “I Love the Way You Love Me,” and “Life’s a Dance,” a song off his 1992 debut album, which went triple-platinum.

In between acts people filtered throughout the fairgrounds, reconnecting with friends, buying drinks to relieve the sweltering heat, and purchasing festival memorabilia. Fairground staff kept emergency tents up around the grounds in case anyone got sick or dehydrated.

Crowd favorite Lambert capped the Saturday festival, in her second appearance at Countryfest. She opened the show about eight years ago in Saratoga.

Since her 2005 debut album, “Me and Charlie Talking,” Lambert has risen to star status in the country music sphere. She has been honored by the Grammy Awards, Academy of Country Music Awards and Country Music Association Awards. Her fourth studio album, “Four the Record,” will be released later this year.

For every group of country music fans at Countryfest, there is a group that comes just for the food, fun and spirited atmosphere. Dustin Thomas and Amanda Gaidusek, of Duanesburg, said they brought some friends to their first Countryfest. They live in the area and wanted to be a part of the fun.

“I don’t even like country music,” said Thomas, 16. “I just came for the festival today.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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