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Florida Georgia Line caps a slow Sunday at RedFest

Peter Blackstock
pblackstock@statesman.com

Editor’s note: This article was originally published May 26, 2014

“We need more rednecks in this town,” Kentucky guitar-percussion duo Sundy Best sang in their tune “Drunk Right” midway through their Sunday afternoon set on a side stage at RedFest. Though it was a fixed lyric in the song and not an observation tailored for the moment, it seemed fitting given that band members Nick Jamerson and Kris Bentley were playing for an audience of just 100 or so people at the time.

Envisioned as an all-day event stretching across the spacious Circuit of the Americas grounds, on Sunday RedFest felt mostly like a Florida Georgia Line/Jeff Foxworthy evening concert with a few other early activities tossed in. RedFest was an experiment of sorts, with outdoor recreation, military booths, go-kart racing and the like accompanying music and comedy on three stages. On Sunday, it didn’t really seem as if the experiment had clicked.

Part of the problem was that the two side stages were far-flung enough from the central amphitheater that they didn’t draw much traffic. Soulful Florida swamp-rockers JJ Grey & Mofro, one of the festival’s better acts, played a commendable midafternoon set on the Natty Light Stage, spicing Grey’s passionate vocal delivery with punches of horns and organ. As they played, the audience grew from about 100 to around 200. That’s about as crowded as it got.

Local bands booked on the Showcase Stage in an almost hidden corner on the other end of the grounds had an even tougher task. The blues-rocking Eric Tessmer Band played loud and proud to a few dozen folks wandering around near the go-karts around 5 p.m.; if you’d wanted to find them, it wouldn’t have been easy, as maps of the festival grounds were hard to come by.

Later, Continental Club fixtures the Whiskey Sisters brought slightly more folks to the Showcase Stage, though still less than they typically draw at the Continental for their Thursday happy-hour show. They made the best of it, with Teal Collins putting on an impressive vocal performance to cover for her singing partner Barbara Nesbitt, who played along on guitar but was sidelined vocally by laryngitis. The rest of the band stepped up as well, doing RedFest proud even as the stage placement hadn’t done them any favors.

The daytime crowd at the amphitheater was spotty. General-admission ticketholders filled up the back lawn nicely, having staked out their spots for a full day of RedFesting. But the reserved sections had a lot of holes for acts such as “American Idol” and “Dancing With the Stars” alum Kellie Pickler, who nevertheless provided an entertaining set of mainstream pop-country for those who’d arrived in advance of Foxworthy’s spotlight comedy performance.

After Foxworthy, the amphitheater finally seemed near-capacity for Florida Georgia Line, who closed out the festival with a crowd-pleasing mix of big hits such as “Round Here” and “This Is How We Roll” and deeper cuts from their platinum debut album “Here’s to the Good Times.”

The longer set gave them a chance to show more range than the abbreviated slot they had on the star-studded iHeart Radio Country Festival bill at the Erwin Center back in March. Backed by mostly rock instrumentation, frontmen Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley – the latter decked out in a black Willie Nelson T-shirt – pounced around the stage with moves and licks that often recalled hip-hop as much as country, following one of the dominant trends in mainstream country music today.

They promised to deliver a performance that would leave the crowd thinking, “I’ll never, ever forget the night that I partied with Florida Georgia Line,” and for their hardcore fans, that’ll probably be true. Whether most of those fans will remember that it occurred at RedFest is more questionable.