While Thursday's opening day at Country Thunder was the shortest day concert-wise, there was no disappointment in the four acts that took the stage  – especially not when it came to headliner Brantley Gilbert. 

The fan reaction as Gilbert took the stage was nothing short of chaotic – and it became undeniably apparent that he – along with fellow headliners-to-come Eric Church, Toby Keith, and Lady Antebellum – had a lot to do with the fact the ever-popular four-day concert in Florence sold more tickets to date than ever before. 

Country music fans had for the most part finished arriving before noon on Thursday – and thousands of others had arrived the night prior to set up their canopies, tents, RV’s and other forms of seemingly impromptu sleeping arrangements.

By mid-afternoon, folks had settled in, and Country Thunder felt like Country Thunder usually does – the always friendly atmosphere full of games, music, cowboy boots, and two-stepping.

The more-than 4,800 campsites (including four newly added campgrounds) were filled to the brink by the time Gilbert took stage at 9 p.m. to a light breeze and 70-degree weather. 

Gilbert finished off what prior big-name artist Kip Moore started, blasting out an onslaught of hit singles for the ears of awaiting fans.

A roar of cheers raced through the crowd as Gilbert performed such titles as “Country Must Be Country Wide,” and “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do,” both from his 2010 album “Halfway to Heaven” – the very album that helped kick of his career.

Gilbert, last year’s nominee for Country Music Awards’ Best New Artist, is planning the release of his third album later this year.

Kip Moore was a blast on stage as well. He played his songs already spirited songs of “Beer Money” and “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Truck” with an extra dose of enthusiasm that proved infectious in Gilbert’s performance.

Alongside Moore and Gilbert, the day also featured openers Chris Janson and Sweetwater Rain.

Country Thunder is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and it looks like this will be the year to beat. Keep an eye out for tomorrow’s coverage on Facebook and explorernews.com.

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