Country Thunder, Arizona's country music super bowl, celebrates its 20th year next weekend.
That makes the festival in Florence the longest running pop music festival in Arizona, and the most enduring country event in the state.
To celebrate the landmark, the organizers are bringing in the big guns:
• Overall headliner Lady Antebellum makes its Arizona festival debut. If its appearance April 14 attracts the kind of attention the band draws in arena shows, expect to see the sprawling festival grounds filled.
• Festival favorite Toby Keith returns to headline April 13, which seems only right given Keith's rowdiness factor. Keith has been at the festival a number of times over the years, most recently as the overall headliner in 2011.
• Young gun Brantley Gilbert, fresh off winning the best new artist award from the Academy of Country Music, returns to headline opening night next Thursday. What a difference a couple of years makes. In 2011, Gilbert played a dinnertime show opening for headliner Jason Aldean.
Gilbert has a gig in New Mexico the next day, which means you won't see him when his fiancée, rising star Jana Kramer, performs at 5 p.m. April 12.
• Eric Church takes the headlining role April 12 after several recent appearances as an opening act. Church debuted at Country Thunder as an opening act on a Wednesday night in 2010, when the festival changed to a Wednesday-through-Saturday run. That experiment proved disappointing so the organizers returned to the Thursday-through-Sunday run in 2011, when Church returned to open for Jason Aldean on opening night.
If you go
• What: 20th annual Country Thunder festival
• When: Next Thursday through April 14. The first concert next Thursday starts at 4 p.m. Concerts April 12 to 14 start at 1 p.m.
• Where: Canyon Moon Ranch, 20585 E. Price Road, off Arizona 79, in Florence.
• Tickets: $180 for the four-day pass in advance, $220 at the gate; $35 to $65 per day in advance; $70 to $100 at the gate. Get advanced tickets at arizona.countrythunder.com
• Lineup in order of appearance:
Next Thursday: Chris Janson, Sweetwater Rain, Kip Moore and Brantley Gilbert.
April 12: Run Boy Run, Greg Bates, Jana Kramer, Love and Theft, Tracy Lawrence and Eric Church.
April 13: Harry Luge, Morgan Frazier, Parmalee, Diamond Rio, Lee Brice, Toby Keith.
April 14: Desert Dixie, Edens Edge, Aaron Lewis, Jerrod Niemann, Justin Moore and Lady Antebellum.
• Details: For a list of the festival's do's and don'ts, visit arizona.country thunder.com
Urban, Brooks & Dunn and underwood have headlined Country Thunder
Some of the big stars that have graced Country Thunder over the years and some we wish would come:
• Reba McEntire and Brooks & Dunn were every-other-year headliners when the festival started in Queen Creek in the late 1990s-early 2000s. McEntire played her last festival in 2007. Brooks & Dunn were there last in 2006.
• Carrie Underwood was months removed from her "American Idol" win when she played a late afternoon slot in 2006.
• Then little-known Aussie country newcomer Keith Urban played the first slot on the third day of the 2000 festival. Ten years later, Urban the superstar returned as the overall headliner.
• The Zac Brown Band played the first show of the 2009 festival. It has since gone on to become one of country music's biggest stars.
• Kenny Chesney and Taylor Swift are two of the stars we have yet to see at Country Thunder in Arizona who have played the sister festival in Wisconsin.
• Texas party leader Neal McCoy played 16 of the past 19 Country Thunder festivals. His fans will be sad to hear he will not be in Florence next weekend. Instead he is playing the Strawberry Festival closer to home and a show in Arlington, Texas, that weekend.
• The late Chris LeDoux was an every-other-year or more performer at the festival, setting the bar high for the artists who followed him. LeDoux was off-the-wall energetic and punctuated each show with a booming pyrotechnic display. He played his last festival in 2004. He died of liver failure the following March.
Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at email@example.com or 573-4642.