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Taking a break at a picnic table Saturday during the County Summer Music Festival’s second night, Jack Balistreri of Freestone said he enjoys the genre because it’s a slice of life.

“I like it because it always seems to relate to somebody — somebody’s brother, sister,” he said. “You can understand the words. All the artists seem down to earth.”

Balistreri, 65, wearing a straw cowboy hat, said he keeps the radio in his barn tuned to country station Froggy 92.2 FM most of the day and finally made it to the local festival, now in its fifth year.

“I kept saying I was going to go the last four years and I didn’t,” he said.

On Saturday, he was waiting to hear the closing act, Little Big Town, a four-member group that hasn’t changed musicians since it started in 1998.

“They’ve been around for years. They’re top guys now,” said Balistreri, who tends a flock of laying hens while his son works a small vineyard.

Meghann McCollum, 23, of Sacramento said country is simply “happy.”

“It’s optimistic,” she said. “You’re going to lose your girl, but you’re going to get her back,” she said. “You’re always happy when you’re listening to country music.”

“It’s the atmosphere,” said her friend, Heather Brady, 26, of Santa Rosa. “The way you are with country music. It makes you enjoy life.”

Beer and whiskey were flowing freely at concession stands around the fairgrounds carnival lot, packed with portable chairs and people.

Country music and alcohol go together, the friends agreed, both on their third cup of beer.

“One hundred percent of people (here) over-drink,” McCollum said.

On stage, Maren Morris, wearing tight shorts and a loosely flowing shirt, belted out “Angel From Montgomery,” a country standard by John Prine, who recorded it in 1971.

“How the hell can a person go to work in the morning

And come home in the evening and have nothing to say.”

Justin Russotti, a festival vendor, was on hand with a story that could have been torn out of a country song sheet.

The Tubbs fire in October destroyed his Fountaingrove home, his possessions and the trailer that housed his mobile hot dog stand. Russotti, 37, and his family “barely made it out alive,” he said.

Kevin Dyche, the son of a friend, Kenny Dyche, who lost his home in the Mark West area, outfitted a new 10-foot by 6-foot trailer for free, putting Russotti back in business a month ago.

“They were awesome,” said Russotti, who grew up in Sebastopol and graduated from Santa Rosa’s Montgomery High School. “I can’t thank them enough.”

On Saturday, the whole family was at work: Tai, 34, an academic department manager at Sonoma State University; their children, Mia, 10, and Rocco, 7; and Justin’s mother, Debbie, 64.

“It’s a family thing,” he said. “That’s why it was so cool to get back on track.”

In the crowd at an outdoor Jack Daniel’s Saloon, Andrew Morgan, 32, of Cupertino had a rye whiskey and cola cocktail in hand and stars and stripes tank top on his chest.

“The songs are very real,” he said. “They either relate to you on a day-to-day (basis) or an overall life philosophy: drink some cold beer, hang out with some beautiful women, have a good time doing it.”

Told it looked as if he was doing all three, Morgan said: “I’m trying to. That’s the goal.”

Country Summer wraps up today, with music starting at 1 p.m. featuring Tyler Rich, High Valley and Joe Nichols before country star Toby Keith closes at 6:15 p.m.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.

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