The first night of the first Taste of Country Festival at Hunter Mountain on Thursday offered more than just a taste, giving the crowd two up-and-comers and a legend in surprisingly good form.
Celebrating his 80th birthday this year, Willie Nelson and his family headlined a soggy evening of drinking, dancing and partying. While the rain never let up, the crowd, which packed the field in front of the stage, didn’t seem to care, and attendance for the three-day festival didn’t look like it was effected much.
By the time Nelson and family hit the stage at 9:45 p.m., the rain had increased from a drizzle to a steady downpour, and the field was a muddy, smelly mess. Things got off to a rocky start when Nelson took the stage, sang one line of “Whiskey River” and promptly left the stage, leaving the band to jam for a few tunes as the puzzled audience looked on, getting increasingly restless.
Nelson was back five minutes later, with no explanation, singing one more verse of “Whiskey River” and breaking out into some spotty soloing on his acoustic guitar.
He was still a bit shaky on “Still is Still Moving to Me,” and was warming up through back-to-back renditions of “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “Crazy” and “Nightlife.” Everything clicked a song later on “Mamma Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” as Nelson for the first time locked in with his band.
Things only got better from there.
Nelson and company were at their best on upbeat tunes — “Shoeshine Man” saw plenty of wet and rowdy dancing in the crowd, and a trio of Hank Williams tunes mid-set, including the funky “Jambalaya on the Bayou” and the always welcome “Move it on Over,” looked and sounded like the most fun Nelson had all evening. Other highlights included “Georgia on My Mind” later in the set and a mournful “City of New Orleans,” but the finest moment of the night came with the one-two punch of “On the Road Again” and “Always on My Mind.” On the latter, Nelson even came close to hitting his old vocal prowess, prompting a massive roar from the audience.
Chris Lucas and Preston Brust, aka LoCash Cowboys, got things off to a Southern rocking start shortly after 6:30, backed by a rollicking six-piece band. At one point early in the set, Brust asked the audience if it would be OK “if we do some Southern rock ‘n’ roll,” which was patently unnecessary — that’s the bulk of what the band did — quite well — for its hour of stage time. Highlights included set opener “C.O.U.N.T.R.Y.,” party anthem “Love Drunk” and a surprising cover of Fountains of Wayne’s “Stacy’s Mom,” which saw Brust leave the stage to cheer the crowd on.
Their two best songs were the new single “Chase a Little Love” and Lucas’ heartfelt ballad to his recently deceased father, “Best Seat in the House.”
North Carolina quartet Parmalee took the stage next at 8, offering a varied sound rooted more in pop country than anything — these guys have crossover written all over them, as evidenced right from the get go with “I Bring the Music.” This band of family members — including brothers Matt Thomas on lead vocals and guitar and drummer Scott Thomas, their cousin Barry Knox on bass and Josh McSwain on lead guitar — were all about good times, even doing a hip-hop-esque call and response of the phrase with the crowd.
Even as the rain intensified, these guys never let up, barreling through such melodramatic numbers as “Back in the Day” and “Carolina” and well-placed covers, including a lengthy medley of “Midnight Riding” and “Let’s Get it On.”
Taste of Country continues today with Trace Adkins headlining and Saturday with Lady Antebellum in the top slot.