By Annika Tomlin | October 12, 2021
After a pandemic-dictated delay, Country Thunder is revving up to welcome headliners Dustin Lynch, Old Dominion, Luke Combs and Eric Church, preceded by noteworthy country artists like Ashley McBryde, Chris Janson, Mitchell Tenpenny and Hardy.
The headliner on Thursday, October 14, Lynch makes a return visit after appearing in 2015 as an opener. This is the first time he’s headlining the Florence mainstay.
“As a band, this is something that we have been manifesting and dreamed about,” Lynch says.
He vividly remembers the “pretty legendary” parties surrounding the 2015 festival, including those in the campgrounds that featured an “oversized giant drinking seesaw.”
“As an opening act, you always get up on that big stage and think maybe one day I can be like so and so that I’m opening for tonight, and here we are,” Lynch says. “You fast forward a few years and look up and we are able to headline and blessed to headline for the first time at Country Thunder. I am so excited.”
McBryde will prepare fans for the arrival of Luke Combs on Saturday, October 16. She calls opening for Combs “a big family event.”
Returning to the stage has been a blessing for Lynch and McBryde after the pandemic hiatus. Both are ready for the high energy that comes from performing for a large audience.
“(The band and I) sometimes question if it’s too much because it just runs us into the ground every time we play the set,” says Lynch, whose audience will hear the hit song “Mama’s House.”
McBryde says she will never take her job for granted after the year-and-a-half break.
“If you had asked me in 2019 if I had ever taken any part of this for granted, I would have said ‘Absolutely not, I soak up every second of it,’” McBryde says. “But then you ask me in 2021 and I go, ‘Yep, there were things I took for granted.’
“How much I love catering on tour. I even missed tour showers, and tour showers are gross. This year everything is set apart because, even though we are always joyful on stage, there is so much more joy shining off of us and hitting the crowd right in the face. It’s tangible and it’s awesome.”
For Lynch, the hardest part about preparing for tour was mentally returning to his “go, go, go” travel schedule and making time to write.
“Physically, I was really working hard in the off season as a singer, and I’m running all over the place for most part of the show,” Lynch says. “In the off season, I was really trying to make myself sing and a lot of physical activity, cardio and stuff to be in the best shape that I can be.”
A former high school and college athlete, Lynch is used to the pressure of keeping fit, but being in “show shape is different than gym shape.”
“There was a lot of cardio and a lot of singing in the house to make sure that my vocals were going to be able to withstand such a long break from the road,” Lynch says.
As for McBryde, “at first it was creepy” seeing the large crowd again. She, too, felt the burn of touring.
“My legs aren’t used to running around on stage for 90 minutes anymore,” McBryde says in retrospect. “My lungs are not used to it anymore, and my throat was not used to it anymore. I started losing my voice every night.
“Those muscles hadn’t been used and abused and conditioned in that way in over a year. It took a minute, and I had to get some new habits.”
She quickly realized she needed to make lifestyle changes so she could finish the Combs tour.
“I used to drink before shows, but those people did not pay to see me drink before my show. They paid to see my show,” McBryde says.
“I just felt that that had been rude and I had taken it for granted. I had to make a lot of changes, and one of which is making sure that I warm my throat up every day just to talk, because if not, it’s going to be even harder to build that endurance back up.”
Outside of Country Thunder, McBryde was recently nominated for three CMA Awards, including female vocalist of the year, and single of the year and song of the year for “One Night Standards.”
When describing what it meant to receive the nominations, she says, “It’s like stepping in a boxing ring and then getting your bell rung real good. Then, right after that, you get your bell rung two more times. Just bang, bang, bang. I was very frickin’ excited.”
She initially thought that “something happened, someone is sick, someone broke a bone” after seeing text messages from various people including her manager.
“Of course, I jumped right out of bed and started screaming, and the dog thought that something was wrong at that point,” McBryde says. “It’s always very exciting getting nominated at all in any category but especially to be on there for three nominations.”
Lynch and McBryde are eager to hit the Country Thunder stage and to get out of the humidity of the south. They say they’ll enjoy being among passionate country fans.
“Those Country Thunder fans are my kind of people,” Lynch says. “It’s who I would hang out with on off days here in Nashville.
“Folks be on the lookout for (me and the band) to come through the campgrounds. Me and the guys are already planning on coming out there and hanging out with everybody. Have a beer ready for us.”
As for McBryde, she says, “I just can’t say in big enough words how much joy comes off on us on stage and how much joy comes off from Luke and his guys. Even if you don’t like country music, you should go to Country Thunder just to experience the level of joy that’s going to happen.”
When: Various times, Thursday October 14, to Sunday, October 17
Where: Country Thunder Arizona, 20585 E. Water Way, Florence
Cost: $99 to $200