Kenny Chesney, Jason Aldean & More Play Growing Carolina Country Music Fest

Last week was a huge week for Country Music. Of course, Music City was packed with the annual CMA Music Festival. But, the success of the genre was not just limited to what was going on in Nashville. There was another country festival in New York, heavily attended by tens of thousands of fans of the format, as well as the thriving Carolina Country Music Fest in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Over a four-night span, many of the top artists in the format performed just adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean. Names such as Kenny Chesney, Jason Aldean, Darius Rucker, and Chris Young performed for over 30,000 fans each night – proving that the market for the genre is as healthy as ever.

Bob Durkin, of Full House Productions, who organizes the event, told Sounds Like Nashville that the Festival – now in its’ third year – continues to grow each year, with fans coming from all over to the Palmetto State.

“In the first couple of years, we had a lot of people come from the Carolinas, but now they are coming from everywhere. This year, it seems like we have someone from every state, and seven different countries,” shares Durkin. “That shows how social media has really affected the event. People have seen the pictures, and it’s become a can’t miss-event in Myrtle Beach.”

Durkin admits that it might seem like it goes against the grain to have the event the same week as the CMA in Nashville, but having the artists in the same region makes it a little easier to draw talent in. “When we first started, I think people thought we were a little crazy going the same weekend as the CMA Fest, but I think the beginning of the summer means Country Music for everyone. A lot of the talent are playing the CMA Fest, so it’s easy for them to get over for a day. Of course, the CMA is the big dog, and we do everything we can to accommodate them as far as the artists go,” he says.

Though Myrtle Beach is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the southeast, the actual location of the event is in a small area. One might think that traffic would be a nightmare, but not so. In fact, the city and Full House have worked together to make things rather seamless. “We have an unbelievable ally in the city here. Myrtle Beach has been fantastic. The transportation and traffic plan has worked out better than anyone has expected. We built a small city in a day. Our core business is restaurants and bars, so it’s like opening up a brand new business,” he surmises.

Lee Brice; Photo by: Willenbrock Photography

Lee Brice; Photo by: Willenbrock Photography

The most important part of growing the brand of the festival has been to spread the word among the artists, and Durkin credits one of the locals for helping out in that regard. “The first year, we had to do some work in talking people to come and do the festival. There’s a lot of horror stories about festivals, so I know why some would be gun shy. Eric Church took a chance on us – he’s a North Carolina guy , and we found out that most people wanted to come and play Myrtle Beach, but were unsure about the festival. Once Eric and Rascal Flatts did it, people saw the pictures, and talked to the labels – and other artists wanted to play here. Kenny Chesney on the beach – he doesn’t so a lot of festivals, but there’s not an amphitheater here to hold the artists. Put all of those factors together, and it’s the perfect place for people to play.”

CCMF definitely has a special place in the hearts of the artist who played it this year. Parmalee’s Matt Thomas allowed that it was their first time to play the event, but being from the Carolinas, it was simply a natural.

“Our favorite thing about it is that this is our old stomping grounds. It’s where we come from,” he said. We played House of Blues down here, but once we heard about this, we wanted to play it, so we are just glad to be here.”

His brother Scott Thomas offered that the vibe of the event was one that was too good to pass up.

“You can go out, hang out in the tailgate area, just walk out and feel the vibe. You can’t do that in an arena. You get to mingle and see a lot of the other bands. How can you not have a good time? You’re on the beach. Put some good music, and you’ve got a great time. You can go down the street, get some slawburgers or some steamed oysters,” he says of such restaurants as the delicious Damon’s Waterfront, or The Noizy Oyster. Fans also stayed at many of the top hotels in the area, including the beautiful and picturesque Marina Inn at Grand Dunes.

For Alabama native Drake White, who wowed the sun-kissed crowd with his blues-laden performance, the festival offered him a chance to pay homage to one of his favorite musical groups in Alabama, who honed their live performing skills just outside of the festival grounds at The Bowery between 1973 and signing with RCA in 1980.

“I’m from the part of the country that Alabama is from. This area has always been a special place. We would come here for vacation, and play gold. I remember the smell of the salt and the spirit just makes you happy. I grew up hearing about this place, and where they got their start.”

One of the acts that helped kick off the CCMF was longtime fan favorites Big & Rich. The duo’s Big Kenny said he is amazed at how far the event has come. “It’s off the chart today. Looking at it today, I think you will agree that is completely over the top.” John Rich agreed, saying that he feels that the fact that Country Music can support such a busy week is quite remarkable. “You’ve seen Country Music jump from year to year, and it continues to build. From CMA Fest to the CMT Awards, and this festival. I don’t know of any genre that is tearing it up quite like Country Music right now.”

The event draws in tourists from all over, and some of them are the artists themselves. Billy Currington is another artist who says that he has plenty of memories of the area. “I grew up in South Georgia. Growing up, we didn’t come here a lot, but we would pass through every now and then. I love Myrtle Beach.” The maker of such hits as “Good Directions” and his current “Do I Make You Wanna” says that he also looks forward to seeing many of his friends that he might not have a chance to at a normal show. “A festival brings a lot more people together. It brings the artists together – artists that I love playing with that I don’t get to see a lot of, and with that, there’s about triple the amount of fans. It’s always fun to play for a lot of people.”

The event also offered a chance for newcomers such as Morgan Myles to showcase her versatile talent. The powerful songstress appeared on the stage for the second straight year. “It feels so good to come back. I love the people who are willing to come out earlier to see the up-and-comers, those are the true country fans. So many came back who saw us last year, and they’ve become fans, which is great.”

Myles, whose current single is “Holy Water,” is very realistic about her role in the line-up, and she’s glad to be taking part. “I’m usually starting at an earlier time because I’m opening. You want to keep things up and exciting. Everything is very situational. Festivals are about keeping people excited to see the main act. My job is also to get them excited about me, which is what I try to do.”

Granger Smith; Photo courtesy Willenbrock Photography

Granger Smith; Photo courtesy Willenbrock Photography

Granger Smith wowed the crowd, which was one of his biggest during his career yet. He said that festivals offer a little something for everyone, but says that he has to make sure that he keeps his attention focused on the task at hand. After all, there are a lot of opportunities to lose himself as an artist in what is going on in the audience. “The crowd jumpers are the one thing that gets the whole crowd and security involved. That’s when someone finds their way onto the stage, and tries to dive their way back into the crowd. You’d be surprised at how many times you see that. The best thing for me is to try to avoid it, and continue singing. If you engage it, it just continues on. The biggest distraction to a show is a fight. I hate seeing that. I’ve seen it from every level from a small bar to an arena. You just try to keep your composure and keep going on.” A highlight of Smith’s set was the crowd greeting him with his trademark saying “Yee Yee.” What exactly do those words mean? “We always say that ‘Yee Yee’ is more than a word. It’s a lifestyle. It could mean anything from ‘Hey, what’s up?” to ‘I’m having a great time.”

A great time seemed to be the mantra of everyone who was in attendance at the CCMF, But, according to Durkin, they haven’t seen anything yet.

“This has become one of the festivals that artists want to play. Hopefully, we are at the top of that list. We’ve had several reach out about playing next year, and we’ve already got a couple of headliners that I think a lot of people are going to be excited about.”

The 2018 Carolina Country Music Festival will be held June 7-10. For more information, visit CarolinaCountryMusicFest.com.