West Liberty, OH (Sept 2, 2023) – Lions Park in West Liberty is the place to be on Saturday afternoon over the Labor Day weekend. The day starts out with the park opening up to their Labor Day Festival with various activities including a farm tractor parade, arts and crafts flea market, food vendors and games for the kids to partake in. Across the drive to the other side of the park, a country music festival filled with all day non-stop entertainment is happening…the Country Legends Festival.
Founded in 2020 by co-promoters Jeremy LeVan and Matt Hull, the event came to life. Being fans of the older 90’s and 2000’s country music sounds, they entertained their direction by creating an event that is centered around that timeframe of music and artists. Starting out with one band, Little Texas the first year, they have successfully grown to having four country legends on the main stage and four current up and comers on a smaller stage for 2023.
Kicking off the 2023 Country Legends Festival Pre-Party, Chad Clark from Marion, OH jumps up on the CLFest Saloon Stage. The singer/songwriter performs music from his debut album It’s About Time that includes tunes “Deep Hollow Road” and “One Fifth At A Time.”
Tucker Munz from Zanesfield, OH is next up on the Saloon Stage for his short set. This 20 year old self taught guitar playing singer/songwriter has already started to make a name for himself as he has quite the fan following here today. Along with covers by Tyler Childers “Nose On The Grindstone,” Nolan Taylor “68” and Oliver Anthony “Rich Men North Of Richmond,” Munz includes originals “Not Forever” and “Suns On Fire.” Tucker receives a loud applause after his rendition of Zach Bryan’s “Something In Orange,” in which he strongly favors due to his raspy sounding performance.
TikTok star, Levi Foster performs his own songs “I Can’t Believe I’m Falling For You” and “Olivia I Let You Down” before covering the John Michael Montgomery hit, “Sold.” “Bright Leaf” is a song that takes him back to his hometown in south central Virginia where growing tobacco is the other option from working in the coal mines. Living in Nashville as a mash up artist songwriter, Foster has learned how to add a comedy twist to a song. “12 Saturdays” is his own way of counting time while doing time in the local penitentiary.
The first band of the day to take the Saloon Stage is Dan Wallace and The Dirt Road Disciples. Calling Marysville, OH home, Wallace is joined on stage by Logan Addis (lead guitar), Shelly Carpenter (background vocals), Matt VanOrder (bass guitar), Ryan Bushong (rhythm guitar, harmonica and keys) along with Aaron Bishara (drums). Performing songs from his 2022 debut EP I-65, “Fast Cars, Fast Living,” “I-65,” “Nights Like These” and “Shelter.” Listening to Dan in “Alcohol Systems” he has a sound similar to Danny Shirley and his 1990’s band Confederate Railroad with a bit of country rock mixed with some 90’s outlaw country. Before giving up the stage, Dan calls up earlier performer Levi Foster to assist with the Johnny Cash cover of “Folsom Prison Blues.”
Moving over to the main stage, the Country Legends Festival officially begins with an acknowledgment of 10 men and women for their services in the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force. Afterwards, the National Anthem is performed by Kenny Chaffin.
Since 1984, Grammy award winning country group Shenandoah has been burning up the roadways making music and fans along the way. The band consists of co-founders Marty Raybon (lead vocals, guitar) and Mike McGuire (drums) and joined by Donny Allen (fiddle, guitar), Andrew Ishee (keyboards), Nicky Hines (lead guitar) and Paul Sanders (bass guitar). The band enters the stage with their 1990 #1 hit song, “Next To You, Next To Me.” The band has produced 31 singles over the 39 years which have garnered five number one’s. Some of those hits include “If Bubba Can Dance (I Can Too),” “Ghost In This House,” “I Wanna Be Loved Like That,” “Mama Knows” and “Sundays In The South.”
Shenandoah was founded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, which was once known as the hits recording capital of the world with the two recording studios located there and home to the “Swampers,” (very talented group of recording sessions musicians.) The band plays a medley of hits recorded there; “When A Man Loves A Woman” (Percy Sledge,) “Mustang Sally” (Wilson Pickett,) “Family Tradition” (Hank Williams Jr.,) “Old Time Rock And Roll” (Bob Seger) and “Sweet Home Alabama” (Lynyrd Skynyrd). To show their commitment to pleasing the fans, the band has gone back into the studio and recorded the new music that included the 2023 single “Revival.” With the crowd out of the seats, Marty gets them dancing and singing “Two Dozen Roses” and “The Church On Cumberland Road” before saying goodbye to the festival.
Back over to the CLFest Saloon Stage, Taylor Austin Dye and her band are set up to play short intermission type sets to keep the music going during set changes on the main stage for the rest of the evening. The young Kentucky native is making a big impression across the country selling out venues and bringing awareness to herself. After being noticed on TikTok, she appeared on CMT for her single “Good Time Girl.” With her debut album Out Of These Hills due out on Sept. 22, more people will take notice as she hits the radio airwaves. Her whiskey-soaked lyrics and take no prisoner, do it her way attitude has made her the current day Miranda Lambert.
Standing on stage in front of her Ride Or Dyes (fan club members), she is joined on stage with Ben Williamson (drums), Scottie McClease (bass guitar) and Jason Bowling (lead guitar). Along with originals “Salt,” “The Green Truck”, “Like You Do,” “Water Me Down,” “Bible Belt,” “Mean,” “Damage Control,” and “Rest In Peace,” Taylor also performs “Rhiannon” (Fleetwood Mac), “Bye Bye” (Jo Dee Messina) and “Goodbye Earl” (Dixie Chicks) to the crowd’s delight.
Introduced to the crowd as the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry, Sara Evans is next to perform on the CLF main stage. Joining her band on stage, Evans delivers a spectacular show as she sings her top hits that have carried her through her career that has lasted 24 years and still going. Songs like “Not Over You,” “Slow Me Down,” “Perfect,” “I Could Not Ask For More” and “A Real Fine Place To Start.”
Growing up on a farm in Missouri, she feels right at home in West Liberty with the surroundings of farm land in all directions. While still at home, her family was very musically influenced and sang every chance they could. In 2020, Sara put out her 10th studio album Copy That, a 13 song all-covers album. Included on the album and being performed at the Country Legends Festival is “If I Can’t Have You” (Bee Gees), “My Sharona” (The Knack) and “It’s Too Late” (Carole King). Raising her family the way she was raised, Sara’s daughter Olivia now travels with her and is part of the band as a back-up singer. During the show, Sara takes a step back from front and center to introduce Olivia to the crowd and let her showcase her singing talents. At CLF, Olivia performs “Walking After Midnight” (Patsy Cline) as the crowd shows their approval.
Back at the front of the stage, Sara shows that she is “A Little Bit Stronger” before stepping off stage for a brief moment. With the crowd showing their appreciation and wanting more, Evans returns for an encore with her 2004 signature hit “Suds In A Bucket.”
After a quick break for a stage change, the fans appear anxious as Lonestar takes the stage singing “You’re Like Coming Home.” With the crowd dancing and singing along with the band, they continue on with “Tequila Talking.” The band originated in 1992 with all five band members calling Texas home, thus the name Lonestar. The band now consists of three original members: Dean Sams (guitar – keyboards – vocals), Michael Britt (lead guitar) and Randy “Keech” Rainwater (Drums). Lead singer Drew Womack joined the band in 2021 after the departure of original frontman Richie McDonald. When bass guitarist John Rich left in 1998 to join Big Kenny and form Big and Rich, that position has been filled by session and touring musicians. For this evening, Bobby Wilson is playing bass guitar.
In June of 2023, Lonestar releases their eleventh studio album, Ten To 1. The album is an album of their 10 number-one hit singles. Their show is a breakdown of those songs that include: “Smile,” “Tell Her,” “Everything’s Changed,” “Come Cryin’ To Me,” “My Front Porch Looking In,” “Mr. Mom,” “What About Now” and “No News.” In the middle of the show while giving the band a break, Drew performs “I Hope You Dance” under a lone spotlight on stage. Drew had recorded the song with Leann Womack.
While many in the crowd have been waiting to hear the band sing their signature single, “Amazed,” the band dedicates it to a couple in attendance who are celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary at the Country Legends Festival. The couple had gone on their first date together going to a Lonestar private show and later made this their first dance song at their wedding. The husband had reached out through Cameo to have the band surprise his wife with the song.
The band encores their performance with a melody of rock songs to get the crowd pumped up for the headliner, Trace Adkins. The melody includes: “In The Air Tonight” (Phil Collins), “Jack & Diane” (John Mellencamp), “Jump” (Van Halen), “Gimme All Your Lovin’” (ZZ Top), “Summer Of ‘69” (Bryan Adams) and “American Girl” (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers).
During the stage changeover, Matt Hull, co-founder of Country Legends Festival holds up a guitar that has been signed by all the artists appearing at this year’s event. Each year, CLF holds a guitar auction to help raise money for a local individual/family in need. Josh Rayburn is this year’s recipient. Josh is 38 years old and was born with cerebral palsy while also being epileptic. Recently, Josh was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. Josh has served as the manager for the North Union Varsity Basketball Team for 20+ years, while also going to work every morning as a volunteer at the Richwood Police Department. The winning bid for the guitar was $15,000. The winners of the guitar later turned around and gifted Josh with the guitar also.
As the stage turns dark, a steady flow of fog comes rolling out from within. Suddenly…the music rings out and the stage lights slowly come up to show the silhouette of the six foot six gentle giant, Trace Adkins. While the crowd shows excitement and sings along, Adkins starts his show off the same way he started his career off, with number one hit single “(This Ain’t) Not Thinkin’ Thing.” Trace continues his show delivering a barrage of hits that date back to 1996, with 12 studio albums and 40 singles that include: “Songs About Me,” “Hot Mama,” “Chrome,” “Every Light In The House,” “Ladies Love Country Boys” and “I Left Something Turned On At Home.”
Adkins talks about veterans and how he appreciates their service and feels that he is a better person for helping out the Wounded Warrior Project. He states that if you served or are serving in our nation’s armed services “we love you and God bless you for serving” before singing “Still A Soldier.”
Celebrating 20 years as a member of the Grand Ole Opry this year, “There’s A Girl In Texas” is the song he first performed there and also introduced him to his record label. When he was inducted into the Opry, Ronnie Milsap was the member that inducted him. Becoming dear friends with Milsap, he was invited to sing at his birthday party where he performed “Stranger In My House.”
With the crowd standing and showing appreciation for his appearing at the Country Legends Festival, Trace ended his set with his fan favorite, “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” before exiting off stage. After a brief moment, he returns to dedicate his encore “The Way I Wanna Go” to his guitar player Brian Wooten who is retiring at the end of the 2023 Somewhere In America Tour.
As the festival comes to an end, the near 3,000 people in attendance show their appreciation by giving one last applause to all the musical acts that performed throughout the day.
The Country Legends Festival is a great event that shows that people still are in support of music and artist that are not played on country radio today. Although they are not part of the mainstream, there is still a want and need for them and their music. To further support this claim, there were many young adults in attendance not yet born or even able to understand the music yet, sing along to all the songs performed today and know who the artists are.
Thank you to Matt Hull, Jeremy LeVan and the staff who put the time into creating this event. Your friendships and hospitality are greatly commended. We all look forward to seeing you all again Labor Day weekend 2024.
To continue to show support and stay up to date with the festival and all the artists that performed, click on the links below and follow along.
Country Legends Festival
Taylor Austin Dye
Dan Wallace and The Dirt Road Disciples