Greg and Elizabeth Valentine of Santa Rosa were all smiles, dancing on the grass on a hot, bright Saturday evening to the country-southern rock sounds of Montgomery Gentry at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.
“Their energy is insane,” said Greg Valentine, wearing a straw cowboy hat, plaid shirt and jeans. “They blow it out of the water.”
“They are bad ass,” declared his wife, wearing a black summer dress and cowboy boots studded with sparkling rhinestones.
The Country Summer music festival, in its fourth year, transformed the fairgrounds carnival lot into a sea of humanity, mostly young, in tank tops, T-shirts, sandals, sneakers and boots, with Bud Light and other libations flowing freely.
“This is the greatest country in the world, right here,” frontman Eddie Montgomery, dressed all in black, told the crowd. “We can dream as big as we want to in this big country.”
The power band, also headed by fellow Kentucky native Troy Gentry, then launched into “Something to Be Proud Of,” one of their five No. 1 singles on the Billboard country charts.
The three-day festival, which continues Sunday, is expected to draw a total crowd of about 30,000, publicist Deb Mitchell said.
“I come every year to have a good time,” said Joe Gurrola of Santa Rosa, sporting a Steph Curry limited edition T-shirt and sharing a Jack Daniels whiskey cocktail — lemonade and a splash of Sprite — with his friend, Marissa Shafer.
“It’s country music, summer, cold drinks,” said Delia Alves of Windsor, hanging out in the shade at the edge of the field.
Her friend, Matt Cannon of Petaluma, said he was savoring “all the vibes, the people, the culture.”
Kale Olmstead of Napa had perhaps the most comfortable seat, sharing a large gray inflatable sofa with his girlfriend, Mica Languerand, amid a sea of ordinary folding chairs.
Olmstead, who attended BottleRock last month in Napa, said that high-profile multi-day event draws music fans from far and wide, while Country Summer has “more of a community feeling.”
For Olmstead and others, the big draw on Saturday was Darius Rucker, the show-closer. The former lead vocalist for the rock band Hootie & the Blowfish, Rucker switched to country and became the first African-American performer to win the new artist award from the Country Music Association in 2009.
“His songs have a homegrown feel,” Olmstead said. “Songs you can relate to.”
“He’s a big star to me,” Gurrola said.
Rucker closed with a set that included “True Believers,” “Homegrown Honey” and “Wagon Wheel,” a cover that reached No. 1 on the Country Airplay Chart in 2013.
There was music and plenty more as temperatures hit the mid-90s under a cloudless sky.
During a break between bands, Froggy radio deejay Joss — from the “Rob & Joss in the Morning” show — announced that the U.S. Army booth allowed folks to “challenge a soldier to a push-up contest.”
The U.S. Marines booth featured an 18-foot tall inflatable drill sergeant and a Marine wearing a black T-shirt that said on the back: “Pain is Weakness Leaving the Body.”
The Budweiser Clydesdales, eight magnificent chestnut horses each weighing 2,000 pounds, pulled the bright red Budweiser beer wagon onto the field, and executed a neat side-stepping gait to turn it around.