Detroit may not be the first city that comes to mind when you think ‘country music.’ This weekend, though, the Motor City is all about honky tonk, thanks to the annual Downtown Hoedown, a country music extravaganza that has been taking over downtown Detroit each summer for the past 30 years.
Friday’s sold-out show was headlined on the main stage by American Idol finalist (and Detroit homeboy) Josh Gracin, along with Hunter Hayes, Edens Edge, Andy Gibson, Dustin Lynch, and JT Hodges. The lineup was rounded out by two additional stages featuring local acts John Phillips, Paulina Jayne, the Kari Lynch Band, and Austin Scott.
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 the new and improved Hoedown venue at Comerica Park (home to the Detroit Tigers). Plus, the weather was absolutely perfect: sunny, dry, and warm, but not overly muggy. An outdoor music festival couldn’t ask for much better. Eventually, though, as evening set in, the crowd thickened, the beers began flowing freely, and the place lit up with a Friday night crowd that was ready for action.
Next up was Andy Gibson, a West Coast native now based in Nashville, ho showcased some of the high-profile songs that have propelled his career. These included “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 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 captivated the crowd. 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 appear young (he’s 20 now yet still looks like a fresh-faced teenager), but when he grabs the mic and straps on a guitar, it’s clear he’s not just a country-flavored Bieber knockoff–he’s got the voice and the chops to back up those good looks. 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, Chris Young, and Miranda Lambert.
– Kurt Wolff, CBS Local