The second annual Country Summer music festival gave Sonoma County a good look at the faces of contemporary music Friday, both its stars and its fans, and those faces were fresh, young and happy.
The first afternoon and evening of the three-day festival drew an estimated 8,000 fans to the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa to hear top country hit-makers, including Jake Owen, Gary Allan and Chris Young.
The uniform of the day was tank tops and cutoffs for women, T-shirts and jeans for men and — most importantly — cowboy hats and boots for both. Fans came from all over the county and beyond.
“There’s not lot of good country music down in the Bay Area,” said Shaina Friel, 27, who came up from San Mateo with several girlfriends, planning to stay the whole weekend. “These are really popular bands at a good price.”
The music blended rock-style bass and drumbeats and searing electric guitar solos with country fiddle and steel guitar. The lyrics were hip and literate, but with traditional country themes — romance, marriage, love of country, hometown memories and good times.
Donovan Dolcini, 26, of Petaluma said he appreciated music that honored local traditions of ranching and farming in a wholesome setting.
“This is a great event for the North Bay, because we don’t always have a lot of country acts here,” he said. “It’s totally positive. I haven’t seen a bigger turnout anywhere else around here.”
Headliner Jake Owen closed the night, prompting fans to fill in lines from his raplike but laid-back “Beachin’ ” and the old-fashioned country love song “Anywhere With You.” And who could resist singing along with a song like “Yee Haw”?
“We’re here together tonight to sing together with a lot of strangers, friends and family,” he told the crowd.
Chris Young, appearing in the late afternoon, won the crowd over with his “slow-dancin’ ” (as he put it) ballad “Who I Am With You” and interrupted his own traditional foot-stomper, “I Can Take It From There,” with a spot-on impression of classic country crooner Conway Twitty.
Gary Allan made a point of playing all his hits for his fans, including “Airplanes,” “Man of Me,” “Every Storm,” “Her Man,” “Hangover Tonight,” “Right Where I Need to Be” and more.
“I saw Stevie Wonder the other night,” Allan said from the stage. “He played for two hours, and there was not one song I knew. I came home and took every song out of my show that you might not know.”
The festival’s creator and promoter, Alan Jacoby of Athens, Ga., predicted a total weekend attendance of 25,000 by the time the festival closes Sunday. He partnered on the event with local country radio station Froggy 92.9, owned by Sonoma Media Group. He said he expects to return next year with an even bigger event.
Nineteen-year-old Jason Herrfeldt of Santa Rosa, home for the summer from Notre Dame University, where he’s studying film, summed up the mellow mood of the festival: “I enjoy the casual feeling, just sitting outside enjoying good country music. That’s the best there is.”
The festival continues through the weekend at the fairgrounds, with headliners The Band Perry at 8:15 p.m. Saturday and Brantley Gilbert at 6:15 p.m. Sunday.
Admission is $69 per day. More information at www.countrysummer.com.