It was a familiar site for some.

For those repeat Country Thunder-ers that call Florence home for four days each April, the seemingly endless array of side by side RV’s, tents, and campers filling the barren, dusty mileage at the festival campgrounds will come as no surprise, nor will the rowdy yet friendly crowds that accompany them.

For others less familiar with the four-day mega country festival, that same site might be a bit surprising, but no doubt just as exciting.

It’s Country Thunder 2014, a year that is likely to see the biggest turnout in campers since the festival earned its reputation back in 2009 as a place where some of country music’s biggest artists put on some of the biggest and best country shows money can buy.


The energy was nothing short of electric – and that’s before the show even began mid-afternoon. Country music was cranked up at each of the campsites. Cowboys and cowgirls had their gear on. People were playing games. Friends were made in no time. Neighbors said hi, or howdy. The American grassroots culture was to be seen everywhere.

By the time the first cords were struck on stage, people were more than ready to see some good, live country jams. Artist Chad Brownlee kicked that off for them at 2:30 p.m. as the first of five acts, which also included Ryan Bexley, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Will Hoge, and headliner Thompson Square.

It was a hot day. But nobody cared.

Especially not when that familiar tune of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “You and Me Going Fishin in the Dark” came on and the two-stepping began.

The fourth act, Will Hoge, kept things rolling with his widely known 2009 hit “Even If it Breaks Your Heart” as well as one of his latest hits, “Strong” – a fitting tune for Hoge to play considering that in 2008 he was nearly killed in a scooter accident when being struck by a van.

Judging by the thunderous applause Hoge received when taking the stage, country fans are happy to see him doing just fine, and even more, thriving in country music.

By the time headliner Thompson Square took the stage, night had overtaken day, a calm breeze had kicked in, and people were ready for the country duo to send them back to camp the right way.

Thompson Square pulled that off, and then some, breaking out hits from the last five years to include singles like “Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not” (2010), “I Got You” (2011), “Glass” (2012), “Everything I Shouldn’t Be Thinking About” (2013), and most recently, “Testing Out The Water.”

“It’s absolutely exciting,” Keifer of Thompson Square told The Explorer about headlining Country Thunder for the first time ever. “It’s been really cool to grow these last few years, and this year we’ll have a bigger production than last time. I don’t mind the pressure at all. I love it. The fans will get a lot more Thompson Square this year.”

And that they did, as the duo of Keifer and Shawna played out the night from 9 – 10:30 p.m. in a performance that did not disappoint, but that certainly acted as a preview of the quality shows still to come in the next three days of Country Thunder.

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