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Country Thunder returns to Arizona with record crowds expected
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Country Thunder returns to Arizona with record crowds expected

Eric Church

Country rebel Eric Church headlines Country Thunder on Sunday, Oct. 17.

After having to postpone twice since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic in March 2020, Country Thunder is back on this weekend.

And the organizers of the festival, now in its 28th year, expect this one might be its biggest yet.

As of last week, they were down to their final handful of weekend passes. All of the single-day and four-day passes were gone, as were all of the VIP reserved seats and camping spots at Canyon Moon Ranch, the sprawling festival grounds in Florence, north of Tucson.

Gerry Krochak, Country Thunder’s marketing and media relations director, said they anticipate the audience each day of the festival, Thursday, Oct. 14, through Sunday, Oct. 17, will reach 30,000, matching the record-setting audience that turned out to see Luke Bryan in 2018.

With the exception of Old Dominon on Friday, this weekend’s headliners are the same ones from the canceled 2020 festival: Dustin Lynch on Thursday, Luke Combs on Saturday and Eric Church on Sunday.

Kane Brown was initially set to perform in 2020, but after he pulled out Morgan Wallen stepped in. Then Wallen canceled in April after a video surfaced showing him using a racial slur.

Many of the supporting acts on this weekend’s lineup also were set to come in 2020 including Ashley McBryde, Seaforth, Chicks with Hits, Filmore and Drew Parker.

Luke Combs makes his Arizona Country Thunder debut this on Saturday, Oct. 16, at the Florence festival grounds. The festival had been postponed twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Country Thunder had to call off its 2020 festival, which was scheduled for April 2020, because of the pandemic. Initially, it was rescheduled for October 2020, but was pushed off to this October because of the health situation in Arizona.

Krochak said the Arizona festival follows Country Thunder’s events in Iowa in June, Wisconsin in July and Kissimmee, Florida, in September, which all sold out.

Country Thunder’s newest event, a one-day concert in Bristol, Tennessee, on Oct. 30, is heading toward selling out, he said.

Krochak attributed the fan enthusiasm largely to pandemic fatigue.

“During the height of the pandemic, we were watching sports with no audience and I think we learned beyond a shadow of a doubt that the fans are the stars,” he said. “It’s the people that make these events special. I don’t think we are ever going to take live sports and events for granted again.”

Country Thunder Arizona started in 1993 as Country Jam before changing its name to Country Thunder in 1996.

Country Thunder has won Academy of Country Music awards for festival of the year in 2014 for its Wisconsin event and in 2017 for the Florence festival.

The annual Tucson folklife festival returns to Tucson Oct. 8, 2021 to celebrate the diverse communities and people living in and around the Old Pueblo.

Founded in 1974 by Tucson folklorist Jim Griffith and his wife Loma, Tucson Meet Yourself brings thousands of people from different cultures, countries, and ages together to enjoy live music and dancing and feast on some traditional cuisine from all parts of the globe.

This year's 48th annual festival will be smaller than in past years, but will still have a schedule full of entertainment. Video by Jesse Tellez / Arizona Daily Star.

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@tucson.com. On Twitter @Starburch


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