Veterans of the WYCD Downtown Hoedown were thrilled yesterday. It was only the first day of a jam-packed three-day festival, but already, the 30th-anniversary incarnation of the annual country music extravaganza, now able to spread out comfortably across its a brand-new location at Comerica Park, was already feeling like it could breathe deeper and stronger than ever. Fans had much more room to move around, and on top of that, the weather was cooperating: sunny, dry, and warm, but not overly muggy. An outdoor music festival couldn’t ask for much better.
And then there was the music, which of course is why everyone was here.
Hoedown sports three music stages. Two feature local and regional acts, which on Friday included the Kari Lynch Band, John Phillips, Paulina Jayne, and Austin Scott.
The main stage is on the north side of the stadium, and while there is plenty of room at the back, most fans packed the front fence–especially when headliners Hunter Hayes and Josh Gracin commanded the stage later in the evening.
JT Hodges and Dustin Lynch took the early spots on the main stage, and they got the crowd roused and ready. Newcomer Lynch looked the part of a sharp young cowboy, in his hat, shirt, and boots, and he worked the length of the stage, showcasing his new material, including his signature song, “Cowboys and Angels,” the centerpiece of his upcoming new album.
At first, there was plenty of space to move around in front of the main stage–one of the refreshing changes of this new and improved Hoedown venue. Eventually, though, as evening set in, the crowd thickened, the beers began flowing freely, and the place lit up and quickly got packed.
Andy Gibson, a West Coast native now based in Nashville, showcased some of the high-profile songs that have propelled his career, including “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” a song he cowrote that turned into a hit for Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson, and a Spanish version of “Lost In This Moment With You,” a song of his that Big & Rich had covered. It was that latter song, in fact, that turned Rich’s head one day in a Nashville Mexican restaurant where Gibson happened to be performing, and landed Gibson his first publishing deal.
Edens Edge was next on the main stage, and this new trio (their debut album comes out this Tuesday, June 12) proved they also knew a thing or two about working a crowd–and had perhaps learned a few tricks during their high-profile tours last year with Lady Antebellum, Brad Paisley, and Reba. As they moved from pop cover songs (“We Are Young” by Fun and, later, Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”), into bluegrass-infused barn-burners and on into ballads like “Swinging Door,” they held the crowd captivated. By the time they ended with their 2011 hit “Amen”–a knockout showpiece for lead vocalist Hannah Blaylock–the fans were hanging on every word and even singing along. The band’s mix of bluegrass, country, and rock was clearly contagious.
The screams of the fans–especially the female fans–were nearly deafening by the time Hunter Hayes took the stage. Hunter may looks almost frighteningly young, but when he grabs the mic and straps on a guitar, it’s clear he’s not just a fresh-faced teen idol–he’s got the voice and the chops to back it up. After all, he’s been playing since he was 4 years old, and as he told WYCD in an interview Friday, he can play some 30 instruments.
American Idol finalist (and Michigan native) Josh Gracin was the night’s headliner, and he came out with guns (and vocal chops) blazing.
A highlight of Gracin’s set was an eight-minute Aerosmith medley. After that, the rowdy crowd really didn’t want to let their hometown hero go home. (Gracin fans will want to hear his backstage interview as well–which went from deeply touching to knock-down hiliarious.)
Luckily for Detroit country fans, there are two more days of Downtown Hoedown shows yet to come, including sets from headliners Dierks Bentley, Montgomery Gentry, and Miranda Lambert.
– Kurt Wolff, CBS Local