The Town of Florence temporarily grew in population over the past few days when nearly 25,000 people from across the state and country made their way to the 20th-annual Country Thunder from April 11-14.

Often referred to as the state’s “Superbowl of Country Music,” the event was bigger than ever this year, with more than 5,100 campsites sold out.

As usual, the event saw some big name performers, with Brantley Gilbert, Eric Church, Toby Keith, and Lady Antebellum serving as the respective headliners each night.

Gilbert, who has been on the rise since his 2011 album release “Halfway to Heaven” kept the first night going strong when he followed an energetic performance by Kip Moore, who sang such hits as “Something Bout a Truck,” and “Hey Pretty Girl.”

Gilbert held nothing back as he belted out hits “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do,” “Country Must Be Country Wide,” and “More Than Miles.”

Gilbert’s fiancee, Jana Kramer, was also present for the event for the first time this year.

The crowd went into a frenzy on Friday evening as the fan favorite in Church - wearing his signature aviator glasses - hammered out well known hits like “Smoke a Little Smoke” and the more recently released title “Creepin.”

Church, who was on stage for his 90-minute alloted slot never appeared to grow tired, fist-pumping and high-kicking throughout the performance, which also featured a three-song encore including Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf,” and rock song “Born to Run,” which then transitioned into Church’s most well-known single “Springsteen.”

Church’s high-energy and stage interactions no doubt made him the fan favorite for what was a mostly young population.

The rock and roll country star eventually slowed things down before his performance came to a conclusion, singing “She Loves Me Like Jesus” and “Country Music Jesus.”

Still, the most heartfelt moment came when Church allowed a young boy, wearing similar attire to himself, to take the stage for a moment and sing alongside him to “Smoke a Little Smoke.”

Church then helped the boy off stage - but not before offering the little man something in return for his backup vocals. Church signed his guitar and handed it over, no doubt making a memorable trip for the avid Church fan.

Saturday’s performance, headlined by Toby Keith, was equally powerful, and he got things started with hits like “American Ride,” “I Love This Bar,” and “As Good As I Once Was.”

His act came after a visit to Tucson, where he was making a pitstop en route to Florence to his self-named bar, located at the Tucson Mall. 

The final night of acts was a pleasant suprise to country fans. Amidst rumors that Lady Antebellum had cancelled the show due to the announcement that lead singer Hillary Scott was pregnant, the group took the stage anyway, even after having cancelled previous shows leading up to Country Thunder.

To kick things off, the trio belted out their new hit single “Downtown” and “Our Kind of Love” before introducing their soon-to-be released “Goodbye Town.”

The vocals were flawless as the band continued to wow the crowd with “Dancing Away with My Heart,” “Perfect Day,” and “Just a Kiss,” before, out the night by thanking their fans for their support.

Fans of Country Thunder will no doubt want to purchase their tickets sooner than later for next year’s event, as the event continues to grow in popularity each and every year.

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