Dierks Bentley (and these special guests) closed out Country Thunder Arizona 2023 (2023)

Is Country Thunder Arizona really over? Well, Sunday has come and gone. And it was a four-day festival. So yes, my friends, that was it for the 2023 edition of the massive country music festival at Canyon Moon Ranch near Florence, with Dierks Bentley bringing it home not far from his childhood home in Phoenix, Arizona.

It was an eventful weekend packed with showstopping performances that you can read all about read about in our highs and lows of the fest, from Midland and a Kurt Warner appearance to Ashley McBryde and Hailey Whitters.

The Arizona Republic was on the scene all weekend, blogging live. Here's a look back at everything we saw — and what we thought.

Country Thunder survival guide:Everything to know, from the lineup to bag policy

Dierks Bentley brought the hits (and Hot Country Knights)

The Arizona-born country star closed out the music festival with a cavalcade of hits, as well as a sprinkling of surprise cover songs with his parody band Hot Country Knights. Read our full review.

Kip Moore brought the chemistry

Kip Moore took the stage as the sun began to set, making it the perfect time for the stage's flashy display.

Moore opened the show with "Damn Love," the title track from his upcoming album of the same name set for release later this month.

The chemistry of the band members was showcased, with each having an opportunity to show off their talent (there were plenty of guitar solos).And with it being the band's first show in the U.S. since touring overseas, Moore was ready to interact plenty with the crowd.

"I remember Americans being a lot wilder than this, man," Moore joked with the crowd before asking them to help out singing "Beer Money."

Many of Moore's songs walked the line between country and rock, with perhaps a touch of Americana and blues.

Most of the songs were upbeat and bass-heavy, with the crowd dancing as they sang along to songs like "That Was Us," which Moore wrote about his years growing up in the small town of Tifton, Georgia. Moore sang the popular "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" before closing out the set with the slower-paced "Last Shot."

— Alexandra Hardle

Bailey Zimmerman gives a Morgan Wallen tour preview

Bailey Zimmerman gave the folks a Country Thunder an early taste of what they can expect when he comes through Chase Field on the Morgan Wallen tour.

Zimmerman took the stage rocking a backward baseball cap and a “Nickelback: Fan or liar?” T-shirt, greeting the crowd with, “Y’-all may know me as that TikTok kid.”

He drew a large, enthusiastic crowd, especially for an early Sunday evening slot, inspiring those who know him as “that TikTok kid” to sing along, with some of his more vocal fans taking advantage of the breaks between songs to shout “Bailey, we love you."

After earning a strong to an unreleased song, he took a moment to express his gratitude.

“I thought the Morgan Wallen One Thing at a Time Tour would be hard to beat,” he said. “But I don’t know, you guys are doing a pretty damn good job, so thank you very much for that.”

Ed Masley

Pompous Beggars shout out Country Thunder staff

Over at the Copperhead Stage, the Pompous Beggars played a comedy-infused country music set. But that was majorly toned down, said singer Laura Hamlin. The band is a lot more raunchy when they play at Rooster's Country in Mesa or Roadrunner in New River.

Hamlin shouted out the staff at the Copperhead Stage, saying they always make the process easy.

"It's so nice to be able to just show up with our guitars and plug in and get to play. They did such a good job," Hamlin said.

Hamlin also plays with another band called Salt River String Band. Last year, she had a chance to play with both bands at Country Thunder.Hamlin also has her third solo album, "Room to Grow," coming out on April 23.

— Alexandra Hardle

12 years of friendship at Country Thunder

Dierks Bentley (and these special guests) closed out Country Thunder Arizona 2023 (3)

Shannon Shoemake and Joanna Mortenson, who know each other through work, have been coming to Country Thunder together for 12 years (although it's Shoemake's 14thyear at the festival).

Shoemake and Mortenson are staying in the campgrounds, which they've done since they first started coming to the festival. They said they have been around the same people all these years, making it a perfect place to make friends.

But one downside to coming in a camper is that it took them over four hours to get through the line on Wednesday. They also cited a decrease in the quality of the showers at the campgrounds over the last several years.

Shoemake said her favorite performances so far have been from Cody Johnson, Nate Smith and Ashley McBryde, while Mortenson's favorite was Luke Bryan.

— Alexandra Hardle

Chase Matthew: 'It's not about the music; it's the message'

Chase Matthew was raised in the holler. We know because he started his performance with a song about it, a defiant anthem extolling the virtues of life between the pines and how “there ain't no shame in who I am ‘cause I'm a damn proud southern man.”

It was during that opening song that Matthew shouted, “If you’re proud to be an American, take your hats off and make some noise.”

He also did a scripture-quoting song about what Jesus told him, setting it up with a heartfelt speech about his faith that he said was the most important part of every show he does.

“It’s not about the music; it’s the message,” Matthew added.

Ed Masley

What's the weather in Florence?

It's a sunny afternoon at Country Thunder Arizona as we roll into the fourth and final day with a headlining set by Dierks Bentley.

Today's high is expected to be 90 with a mix of clouds and sunshine as the day goes on. This is the hottest day we've seen so far. Tonight, the temperature will drop to 56 with clear skies.

Ed Masley

Ryan and the Renegades came raging back

At Copperhead Stage, Arizona-based band Ryan and the Renegades took the stage for their fourth set of the weekend.

The band played covers of songs by female country singers and got the crowd dancing, playing songs like Danielle Bradbery's "Heads Carolina, Tails California" ("tails Arizona" for this performance) and Sara Evans' "Suds in the Bucket."

— Alexandra Hardle

John Morgan got the Sunday lineup rolling

It’s always such a weird sensation driving into Country Thunder Arizona on the fourth and final day and seeing all those campers going the opposite direction, heading home.

(Video) Country Thunder brings music-filled weekend to Florence

Which is to say there weren’t a lot of people watching when John Morgan took the stage as Sunday’s first act at 2:30 in the afternoon.

Those people leaving missed a decent showing by an up-and-coming country act who introduced his current single, “Coldest Beer in Town,” with “If you do know one of our songs, this one might be it.” I like his honesty.

Ed Masley

Country Thunder fans set up for John Morgan

Festival-goers began to set up by the main stage a half-hour before John Morgan, the first performer of the day, was set to take the stage.

The sun is strong today, and people came prepared with hats, sunscreen and lawn chairs.

— Alexandra Hardle

Crazy Coyote campground can't wait for Dierks Bentley

Over at the Crazy Coyote campground, Lisa Norton said the area had a pretty quiet morning when she took her dogs out for an early walk.

Norton said she has been coming to Country Thunder on and off for 10-12 years. She always comes with a large group of friends and family, with one friend owning the rights to 14 different campsites.

The campsite is close enough to hear the music in the evening, said Norton, with some members of the group choosing not to go into the venue at all.

"There's a handful of us that do like to go in in the day and take our chairs and save our spot," said Norton. After saving their spots, Norton said she'll typically go back into the venue to listen to the last two or three artists of the day.

She was most excited to see Cody Johnson, Kip Moore and Dierks Bentley, with the latter two playing tonight.

— Alexandra Hardle

Cody Johnson apparently put on a Saturday campground show

At around 1 p.m., it seemed like people were beginning to wake up around the Roadrunner campground, with many festivalgoers cleaning up from the night before.

Karen McGuire has been going to Country Thunder for about 15 years and has been camping since Wednesday. Despite being in the area, McGuire only went into the venue on Thursday and prefers older country music bands.

Dierks Bentley (and these special guests) closed out Country Thunder Arizona 2023 (4)

"The party's definitely in the campground," McGuire said. Cody Johnson even put on a show on his golf cart Saturday night when he rode through the campground, McGuire said.

McGuire enjoys spending time at the campground and meeting people. McGuire even has a table at her camper full of free things to give away, including beer and candy.

— Alexandra Hardle

Country Thunder's Sunday lineup has a must-see headliner. Don't be late

With one day left, we're quickly running out of things to recommend. And frankly, Sunday is not the strongest lineup of the weekend, but you really ought to stay and see the headliner, Dierks Bentley. The man was born and raised in Phoenix, which will only get you so far here in Arizona. But having seen him countless times, I can assure you, Dierks will always be a good time. And the man loves playing Country Thunder Arizona. It's a dream that just keeps coming true. He takes the stage at 9 p.m, an hour earlier than the first three nights of headlining sets. So don't be wandering in all tipsy from your campsite halfway through the man's performance.

Ed Masley

Cody Johnson brought 'real country music' to Country Thunder

Dierks Bentley (and these special guests) closed out Country Thunder Arizona 2023 (5)

Cody Johnson’s hype man had something he needed to know before the man could take the stage.

“Are you ready for real country music?”

It’s an important distinction Johnson loves to make.

He’s a hard-twanging honky-tonk man in a cowboy hat who rode bulls on the rodeo circuit before giving country music a try.

Now he’s headlining a major country music festival, having built a dedicated grass-roots following — the CoJo Nation — largely on the strength of his commitment to keeping it real in an age of imitation cowboys.

His performance did not disappoint, setting the tone with such crowd-pleasing staples as “Let’s Build a Fire,” “Y’all People” and “Longer Than She Did.”

Ed Masley

Parker McCollum delivered a set full of future classics

Dierks Bentley (and these special guests) closed out Country Thunder Arizona 2023 (6)

Parker McCollum had people singing along from the time he hit the stage in his gold chains and the whitest baseball cap you’d ever hope to see and launched directly into one of two chart-topping singles from his latest album, “Gold Chain Cowboy,” “To Be Loved By You.”

He’s only on his third hit single, but you never would’ve guessed that from the crowd McCollum pulled in from the campgrounds for his 8 p.m. performance.

It felt like the arrival of a major talent who could headline Country Thunder two or three years down the road if that new album he has coming out in May does what it should. He was named New Male Artist of the Year in 2022 by the Academy of Country, after all.

There were plenty of moments in McCollum’s set that felt like future staples of his live show in the making, from “Drinkin’” to a soulful country song about why he stays stoned. He’s clearly got the voice (and looks) to build on the momentum of his latest hit, “Handle on You.” And he’s off to a promising start with that heartbreaking new single, “Tails I Lose.“

Ed Masley

Jackson Dean sang about having more tattoos than prisons do

Dierks Bentley (and these special guests) closed out Country Thunder Arizona 2023 (7)

Jackson Dean held down one of the opening slots the last time Country Thunder came to town. A year later, he’s already worked his way up to a primetime spot, taking the stage at 6:30 p.m. on a Saturday.

The kid is clearly doing something right.

Dean commanded the stage with a gravity beyond his years, his gritty baritone at times recalling Waylon Jennings. It’s the perfect voice to boast of having more tattoos than prisons do, as he did on an opening song called “Trailer Park,” or to snarl his way through the chorus of his breakthrough single “Don’t Come Lookin’” with conviction.

What’s weird is how that same voice also sounded right at home when he turned his attentions to touching off a massive singalong as this week’s second act to dust off that old 4 Non Blondes song. And don’t pretend you’re wondering which one I mean.

Ed Masley

10th & Main kept people dancing at the Copperhead Stage

By 7:30 at the Copperhead Stage, Florence-based classic rock and country band 10th&Main had taken the stage for their second set of the day, and their fourth set since Thursday.

While the band played to a modest crowd, people were up dancing. And the band made sure to accommodate, playing a blend of slow songs and upbeat covers like Redbone's "Come and Get Your Love."

— Alexandra Hardle

The crowd swelled as Jackson Dean took the stage

By 7 p.m., Jackson Dean took to the main stage, which had begun to see a huge increase in crowds. Many people came prepared by bringing lawn chairs, blankets and coolers to settle in to the general admission area.

(Video) What Country Thunder 2023 looked like on Day 1 #shorts

— Alexandra Hardle

Fans return after long absences

Dierks Bentley (and these special guests) closed out Country Thunder Arizona 2023 (8)

Brittany Keathley and Randee Ballas, who have been friends for six years, came to Country Thunder with no particular artist in mind who they were excited to see. While Keathley hasn't been to Country Thunder since 2011, it's her eleventh year at the music festival.

"We kind of came to hang out and see some vendors and just kind of hang out with some music," Keathley said.

Ballas said it's her sixth or seventh time attending Country Thunder. The last time she came was in 2015. Before that, she hasn't attended since 2003 when the festival was at Schnepf Farms.

Keathley and Ballas said that, so far, they've most enjoyed seeing Hailey Whitters and Randall King.

— Alexandra Hardle

Dierks Bentley (and these special guests) closed out Country Thunder Arizona 2023 (9)

Randall King brought old school vibes to the main stage

Randall King had just finished setting the tone for his early evening set with “Dent In It,” a song that had me thinking he could be the next Dwight Yoakam, when he told us, “I grew up on old school country music.”

But by that point, we already knew what he’d grown up on. You could feel those old school roots informing every nuance of the man’s performance — except perhaps the unexpected snippet of the Beatles’ “Come Together” and his bandmates getting their metal on while dusting off “Detroit Rock City” during the section devoted to showing off their chops.

He even cited Roger Miller as a role model to set up “Roger, Miller Lite and Me.”

Other highlights ranged from “Mirror, Mirror,” introduced as “probably the most country song I ever wrote,” to “Tuggin’ on My Heartstrings” and the George Strait-referencing “Hey Cowgirl.”

He also did a medley paying tribute to the country music of the ‘90s, from “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” to “That Ain’t My Truck” and “Friends in Low Places,” before signing off with a song that may be his best effort yet, “You in a Honky Tonk.”

Ed Masley

Country Thunder is 'a great place to meet friends'

Dierks Bentley (and these special guests) closed out Country Thunder Arizona 2023 (10)

Alyssa Mustacchia and Nicholas Durazo, who are both from Mesa, met when they were in kindergarten and having been dating for seven years. It's their third year attending Country Thunder Arizona together.

While they're only attending the festival on Saturday, they've already made friends at the campgrounds and around the music festival.

"This is a great place to make friends," said Mustacchia. "It's a fun environment."

While they're most excited to see Cody Johnson and Parker McCollum, the couple also enjoyed watching Hailey Whitters' set.

"I thought she was very energetic, and I thought she engaged with the crowd very well," said Mustacchia.

— Alexandra Hardle

Hailey Whitters is a real deal small town girl

Hailey Whitters was born in a small town, as she sang in a spirited cover of John Cougar Mellencamp's "Small Town," a song that felt like an extension of her latest album, "Raised" that was inspired by her small-town roots in Shueyville, Iowa (pop. 731), and her personality. Her personal connection made her afternoon performance a delight to witness. Like Ashley McBryde, there was natural joy to her performance than can not be faked. I've seen a lot of singers grinning like they learned to smile at Country Music Summer Camp. Whitters is the real deal and it makes her star shine all the brighter.

Check out highs and lows of Country Thunder for more on her inspired set.

Ed Masley

A Country Thunder reunion by the main stage

Dierks Bentley (and these special guests) closed out Country Thunder Arizona 2023 (11)

Adriana Carda and Miranda Mariscal were spending time by the main stage in between artists, right before Hailey Whitters was set to take the stage. Mariscal, who is from Florence, has been going to Country Thunder for 15 years. She met Carda through Carisa's fiancé, who is also from Florence and attended school with Mariscal. Carda, who is from Long Beach, C.A., has been going to the festival since 2019.

This year, the pair said they were most excited to see Cody Johnson, who takes the stage at 10 p.m.

— Alexandra Hardle

Reklaws chugged beer and got people singing karaoke classics as main stage opening act

Dierks Bentley (and these special guests) closed out Country Thunder Arizona 2023 (12)

It was nice to see another woman in a lead role when the Reklaws took the stage as Saturday’s first main stage act.

The Canadian siblings had the crowd singing along to a medley of other people’s hits, from Zac Brown’s “Toes” to Sheryl Crow’s “Soak Up the Sun,” inspiring the most enthusiastic crowd response when “Margaritaville” gave way "Don’t Stop Believing.”

They also covered Hardy and the Killers, but they got a good reaction to their own songs, too, including three that topped the charts back home in Canada.

Jenna Walker had plenty of folks singing along to “Middle Fingers,” a highlight of their latest album, “Good Ol’ Days,” whose chorus is “I don’t have enough middle fingers to tell you how much I’m over you.” And her brother, Stuart, got a great reaction for chugging a beer.

Ed Masley

'We've had way too many deaths':Why there are 2 breathalyzer booths at Country Thunder

ADOT closed the I-10 Eastbound, here's your best alternative

If your weekend plans for Country Thunder call for driving east through Phoenix, you should know that you can’t do that anymore. The I-10 is closed at the turnoff to the 202 East and 51 North. So, here’s what you’ll want to do: Take the 202 East to the 60 and ignore the detour signs.

Ed Masley

A sunny, warm start to day 3

The turnout Saturday afternoon appeared slightly larger than Friday with fans packing into shaded tents seeking relief from the sunny, 82 degree weather as Reklaws, the first musical act of the day, took to the mainstage.

— Jodicee Harris

Country Thunder 2023 weather:What to expect this weekend in Florence, Arizona

Luke Bryan brought the party to Country Thunder Arizona

Dierks Bentley (and these special guests) closed out Country Thunder Arizona 2023 (14)

By the time Luke Bryan hit that line about turning this cornfield into a party two songs into his performance Friday night at Country Thunder Arizona, he’d already drawn the biggest, most enthusiastic crowd we’d seen all weekend.

Which makes perfect sense. If you were there to party, Bryan was your boy. He wasn’t fall-down drunk, but you could tell he wanted you to think he might just get there yet with his tequila-swilling antics and his goofy dance moves in his backward baseball cap.

Of course, it helps that he can also pack his set full of hits, from “I Don’t Want This Night to End” and “Kick the Dust Up” to last year’s “Country On.”

Ed Masley

Ashley McBryde proved she's 'made for this'

Dierks Bentley (and these special guests) closed out Country Thunder Arizona 2023 (15)

Ashley McBryde and her band set the tone for their spirited Friday night set with a raucous rendition of "Made for This," a song about how, if you want to do music, you've "gotta be made for this." And McBryde is clearly made for this (and then some). You could see it in the smile that rarely left her face in a performance she infused with such unbridled joy, it was beyond contagious. She's got a great voice, but her gift is more in how she uses it to draw you into what she's singing, from the darkly comic "Brenda Put Your Bra On" and "Martha Divine" to songs that speak directly to the heart like her new single, "Light on in the Kitchen," and "Sparrow," a song about wanting to fly on the one hand and missing her parents on the other.

(Video) Country Thunder Arizona 2023 - Day One

Ed Masley

Lonestar took Country Thunder on a nostalgia trip

Country fans who wanted to indulge in their nostalgia for the music of the ‘90s and early 2000s had two opportunities to live the dream — or in this case, relive the dream — at Country Thunder Arizona.

The honor fell to Tracy Byrd on Thursday. Friday it was Lonestar’s turn.

Dierks Bentley (and these special guests) closed out Country Thunder Arizona 2023 (16)

As luck would have it, they were stoked to shine a spotlight on an album they have coming out in June called “10 to 1,” for which they went back in and re-recorded every song they took to No.1 (9 on Billboard, one on Radio & Records).

Playing all 10 was a bit of a flex but no one seemed to mind. Richie McDonald, who sang on the original recordings of those songs, has left the group a second time. But his replacement, Drew Womack, does a fine job of bringing the essence of those hits to life.

Ed Masley

This dancing couple stole the spotlight from Lonestar

As the sun sets over Country Thunder, many festival-goers are pulled to performances on the main stage, missing out on the line dancing fun. But one pair of Country Thunder attendees gave a taste of what the moves are like inside the tent. A crowd of onlookers stopped to watch as Rhys Freitas artfully spun Katie Boyle, ending in a dip that had all eyes on the couple. The San Diego natives participated in the couples line-dancing competition and took to dancing against the backdrop of Lonestar’s set as they waited for the results.

Dierks Bentley (and these special guests) closed out Country Thunder Arizona 2023 (17)

Line dancing is more than just a Country Thunder pastime for the pair. “He asked me to dance in a country bar in Santa Barbara and yeah we’ve been dancing together ever since,” Boyle said, smiling and giving Freitas a squeeze. The pair are now married and traveled to Florence from San Diego in an RV to see their favorite artists, including Kip Moore and Cody Johnson, play in the desert. Boyle said she is planning to participate in the line-dance competition on Sunday.

— Sydney Carruth

TFW Country Thunder is your bachelorette party

Tucked in the sunset-soaked crowd that was jamming out to Nate Smith’s "Whiskey on You" on Friday evening stood a bachelorette party who flew to Arizona from Lake Craven, Canada, to celebrate their best friend’s wedding against the backdrop of their favorite country music artists.

Tara Cardiff donned a white feathered cowboy hat with the word "bride" bedazzled in silver rhinestones. The soon-to-be bride said she and her friends are seasoned Country Thunder Saskatchewan veterans, having attended the festival together on multiple occasions. The group was drawn to Florence this year to see some of their favorite artists perform, including Arizona-born Dierks Bentley and Kip Moore.

Dierks Bentley (and these special guests) closed out Country Thunder Arizona 2023 (18)

“We heard it was really fun so we just wanted to come experience it,” Cardiff shouted over the sounds of Smith’s "Under My Skin."

While boots, bass and big names are common traits of the Canadian and American Country Thunder festivals, one bachelorette noted a distinct difference.

“It’s so dry here, our Country Thunder is sloppy and gross,” Jenna Davis said with a laugh.

— Sydney Carruth

Nate Smith: 'I like to do things that scare me'

Nate Smith also made his debut at Country Thunder Arizona, commanding the stage with the thundering rasp he calls a voice and a delivery as earnest as the songs he’s written. Highlights included an electrifying “Sleeve," the mournful “Wreckage” and a solo acoustic performance of the vulnerable “Better Boy.”

He also sat at the piano to accompany himself on a verse of “I Found You,” an unguarded love song, because as he explained, “I like to do things that scare me sometimes,” adding “I am not a piano player at all.”

Ed Masley

Dierks Bentley (and these special guests) closed out Country Thunder Arizona 2023 (19)

It's almost time for a boot-scootin' dance-off

What does the afternoon look like at Country Thunder? Line-dancing lessons, of course. Fans filed in the big blue tent and made their way toward the scuffed wooden dance floor. A few short minutes later, the previously quiet tent was teeming with energy as line dancers boot-scoot-and-boogied their way around one another. Hair flipped and boots stomped as attendees warmed up for the first dance lesson of the day. Outside the tent, the bass could be felt vibrating across the lawn. Line-dancing lessons will continue through the afternoon until they culminate in a 7 p.m. dance-off.

— Sydney Carruth

Here's what the food lineup looks like at Country Thunder

The food area has variety. If you are looking to eat a burger, Jumbo's Old Fashion Burgers is your spot. It also has nachos, Philly cheesesteaks, hot dogs, and onion rings if you want something different. A country music festival has to serve barbecue. Texas BBQ serves up ribs, turkey legs and grilled chicken sandwiches. If you are looking for a cool-down, Stizzy's sweet tea and custom lemonade is your place to go for refreshments — or Extreme Ice Cream. Expect banana splits, shakes, crunch cremes, and flavor burst combo cones.

— Jodicee Arianna

Mackenzie Carpenter made a 'special' Country Thunder debut

Mackenzie Carpenter was having what she told us was “a very special day.” It was her first time playing Country Thunder and release day for her first EP. The songs she played from that EP showed promise, especially “Jesus, I’m Jealous,” a melancholy ballad, and “Don’t Mess With Exes.” Her attempt to, as she put it, “write the country version of ‘Girls Just Want to Have to Fun’” was less successful. It was just a straight-up cover of the Cyndi Lauper hit with the lyrics rewritten to reflect what fun might look like to a country girl. She was better off letting her covers just be covers, from Miranda Lambert’s iconic “Gunpowder & Lead” to Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman.”

Ed Masley

Yes, that was totally Kurt Warner

Dierks Bentley (and these special guests) closed out Country Thunder Arizona 2023 (20)

Will call is not often the most thrilling part ofCountry Thunder. But there was an exception to that rule for the attendees standing in line behind former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner as he waited to receive his wristband. Hushed whispers traveled between excited country music fans as they tried to figure out if they were standing behind the NFL’s only undrafted player to be named NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP. As patrons exchanged these and other Warner facts with wide eyes, one man donning a straw cowboy hat and holding a Michelob Ultra stepped up to ask the question everyone was wondering.

“Tell me if I’m wrong,” he said to the NFL player. “But are you Kurt Warner?”

Warner smiled and shook his hand and the pair engaged in a quick conversation.

“I knew it!” the man said as he walked back to his group in line.

— Sydney Carruth

It's game time at the Country Thunder campgrounds

The early hours of Country Thunder are a time for campers to take it easy. Outside the main exit is the campground area for people who stay for the entirety of the weekend. Most of the RVs had people lounging outside waiting for the main acts to go on stage. One aisle had a game of spin the wheel and beer pong. Further down that aisle was a colorful school bus with a cornhole game in the front area.

— Jodicee Arianna

Josh Ross wins best Goo Goo Dolls cover of the weekend (probably)

Josh Ross was the first act up at Country Thunder Friday, taking the stage a little after 2 p.m. to offset his own best material with covers of the Goo Goo Dolls and 4 Non Blondes. As Ross explained before putting the grit in his voice to the test on a soaring rendition of “Iris,” he was a huge ‘90s rock fan growing up.

Ed Masley

Don't miss Luke Bryan and Ashley McBryde's Country Thunder sets

Between the Academy of Country Music Awards and the Country Music Association Awards, Luke Bryan is a five-time Entertainer of the Year. It may be safe, then, to expect a fairly entertaining set when Bryan tops the bill on Friday.

He'll be following an 8 p.m. performance by a rising star whose latest effort, "Lindeville," was last year's most inspired country album, Ashley McBryde.

But try to get there early for Mackenzie Carpenter. She takes the stage at 3:30 p.m. after the day's first set — a 2 p.m. performance by Josh Ross. And '90s country fans will want to make sure they arrive in time for Lonestar at 6:30 p.m.

Ed Masley

Pro-tip: You need AXS for accessto Country Thunder Arizona

Do yourself a favor and make sure you've downloaded the AXS app, created an account and found your tickets before heading out to Country Thunder. If you don't, you'll slow everybody down, including you and other people in your car who will be giving you the stink eye if you make them miss their favorite act. No one wants to see that happen. So get your act together in advance.

Ed Masley

Concert bowl opens for Friday's lineup at County Thunder

Country Thunder Day 2 is in effect. The drive from downtown Phoenix to Canyon Moon Ranch at 10 a.m. took about an hour and 15 minutes. Attendees were lounging in chairs waiting for the venue's concert bowl to open at 1 p.m. Rides to get around the venue are available to people for $5 a seat. The line for the entrance looked to be nearly a 20-minute wait.

(Video) Country Thunder traffic

— Jodicee Arianna

The highs and lows of Country Thunder:Is it too early to say Midland played the greatest set we'll see?

What's the weather at Country Thunder today? Here's the forecast

Those gusts of wind that kept threatening to blow the hat right off your head on Thursday afternoon? That's all behind us now. Friday brings plentiful sunshine and winds at 10 to 15 miles per hour (as opposed to 40). The daytime high should be 78 with clear skies and a low of 48 and 51 percent humidity at night. Here’s the complete weekend forecast through Sunday, updated daily.

— Ed Masley

'Mr. Saturday Night' made an early arrival at Canyon Moon Ranch

Jon Pardi brought Thursday to a crowd-pleasing finish with a hit-filled set that also featured several highlights of a new release that's feeling like his strongest album yet, "Mr. Saturday Night," after popping up as a surprise guest during Midland's performance — the best in show so far.

You can read about both sets in Highs and Lows of Country Thunder (under highs, not lows). He came out rocking, covering Metallica, complete with double kick-drum beats. But his best moments were considerably more subdued, from that new album's soulful title track to the yacht-rocking "Smokin' a Doobie" and "Head Over Boots."

— Ed Masley

Midland showed why they're known as a '21st Century honky-tonk American band'

The members of Midland weren’t shy about shining a spotlight on “The Last Resort: Greetings From,” their latest album, opening their set with “If I Lived Here” and the title track. And if you’ve heard the album, then you understand why that release would be a point of pride.

Their primetime placement on this bill, in the 8 o’clock slot, has been a long time coming and you could tell what a big deal it was for their singer-guitarist Mark Wystrach.

Dierks Bentley (and these special guests) closed out Country Thunder Arizona 2023 (22)

A graduate of Tucson’s Salpointe Catholic High School, Wystrach welcomed the crowd to their set with “We are Midland and we are Country Thunder virgins.” Wystrach also seemed to take great pride in being what he called a “21st Century honky-tonk American band” as he introduced a song with that same name. But they sounded just as natural rocking their way through a crowd-pleasing cover of “The Boys Are Back in Town.”

— Ed Masley

An intimate performance by Jim Bachmann and the Day Drinkers

Jim Bachmann and the Day Drinkers held court for a crowd that rarely numbered more 30 at the second stage, having been tasked with the unenviable prospect of counter-programming Parmalee’s crowd-pleasing main-stage performance.

Bachmann made the most of it, though. After Parmalee turned their attention to covering a Train song, Bachmann joked “We had a request for a train song but these mother (expletives) already played it.”

Dierks Bentley (and these special guests) closed out Country Thunder Arizona 2023 (23)

In Bachmann’s world, a train song would’ve been about a train.

He did dust off a Waylon Jennings cover to honor the request of a woman down front, giving a shout-out to Billie Joe Shaver, who co-wrote the song, “You Ask Me To,” with Jennings.

It only stands to reason that that woman thought he might be good at covering a Waylon song. He’s got the voice for it, a raspy baritone that made the most of Bachmann’s own material, from trucking songs to soulful ballads.

— Ed Masley

Parmalee put a country spin on pop hits

Parmalee’s Matt Thomas took the stage in faded blue jeans with the knees blown out to lead his bandmates in a hit-filled set that offset their own calling cards with songs made famous by a handful of non-country artists including the Killers, Usher, The Kid LAROI with Justin Bieber and Lizzo.

— Ed Masley

Tracy Byrd did the '90s proud in his nostalgia-fueled set

The only artist on the bill this year who could legitimately say “Let’s go way back to 1993” and be referring to his own hit song is Tracy Byrd, who used that line to introduce his first chart-topping single, “Holdin’ Heaven.” And he did the ‘90s proud after setting the tone for his performance with a song whose chorus said it all: “We’re from the country and we like it that way.”

The star was in excellent voice as he led his six-piece backing band, complete with pedal steel and fiddle, through old-school country hits as timeless as “Don’t Take Her She’s All I Got,” “The First Step,” “Lifestyles of the Not So Rich and Famous” and his biggest single of the new millennium, “Ten Rounds with Jose Cuervo.”

The singer introduced that last one with a story about talking to some heavy-drinking country fans that afternoon before telling the crowd: “I’m just glad as a 56-year old man to be hangin’ around with the young’uns this evening.”

— Ed Masley

The opening act of the opening day was an up-and-coming Nashville star

There weren’t more than a couple hundred people watching when Shane Profitt hit the stage as the opening act of the opening day of a four-day festival that tends to draw 30,000-some people a day. But those early arrivals were in the up-and-coming Nashville singer’s corner from the time he urged them all to join him on the chorus of a song most of them had more than likely never heard before. And they sang even louder to “Family Tradition” by Hank Williams, Jr. as Profitt was nearing the end of his performance. The man knows how to work a crowd and he brought along the weekend’s first guitar hero, who rocked a Fender Telecaster in a backwards baseball cap and a Van Halen T-shirt.

— Ed Masley

Dierks Bentley (and these special guests) closed out Country Thunder Arizona 2023 (24)

Pro tip: Not all the best acts are on the main stage

There's a reason Jon Pardi is topping the bill. He's topped the country airplay chart four times since breaking through in 2012 with two songs dedicated to what certainly appears to be his favorite footwear — "Head Over Boots" and "Dirt on My Boots."His latest release, "Mr. Saturday Night," is a neotraditional gem of an album whose highlights should sound just as good on a Thursday. He goes on at 10 p.m. after Midland, whose 8 p.m. set is guaranteed to be another highlight. And for those of you who don't mind dipping out on the back half of Parmalee's set, we highly recommend Jim Bachmann playing the much smaller Cooperhead Stage at 7 p.m.

For recommendations through the weekend, you should check our seven acts you can't afford to miss.

— Ed Masley

Country Thunder Arizona weather updates:No rain in the forecast with highs in the 90s on Sunday

Have you left for Country Thunder yet?

Traffic isn't bad yet, at least on the way down to Florence, but you know it will get worse as we get closer to Jon Pardi taking the stage, right?

This afternoon, the only traffic was on Price Road leading into the festival, up to that point was smooth sailing. From the main road to the gate, things got ugly, with 30 minute to an hour waits to get into the ranch.

As Country Thunder digital media specialist Megan Benoit told us, "Obviously, at any large event, there’s going to be a lot of vehicles, so try and plan your trip accordingly."

Getting there early "helps alleviate that bottleneck right before those headliners go on," Benoit says, adding that the heaviest traffic tends to kick in around dinnertime.

"So if you can make it here before 6 or 7 and catch those earlier acts, I think that’s the best way to go," she says. "Any time after 6, 7, it’s gonna be busy. To beat the rush, come earlier. And then you’ve bought yourself a little time so that if there are delays, you’re still there seeing the artists that you’re most excited for."

— Ed Masley

Country Thunder Arizona set times:Here's the complete lineup and live music schedule for both stages

Expect partly cloudy weather in Florence. And bring a jacket

The weather is apparently a country music fan. According to the Weather Channel, the chance of rain is at zero percent for the entire four-day weekend.

Thursday is partly cloudy with a daytime high of 82, dropping down to 49 at night, with winds that could occasionally gust at more than 40 miles per hour. So, bring a hoodie. Or a jacket. Maybe both. Unless you're made of tougher stuff than that.

— Ed Masley

Country Thunder Arizona tip sheet:These are the 7 sets real music fans shouldn't miss

(Video) Country Thunder All Access with Luke Bryan

The gates are open at Country Thunder Arizona 2023

It's the opening day of Country Thunder Arizona at Canyon Moon Ranch, where gates open daily at 9 a.m. The concert bowl, as the area where the actual performances go down is known, won't open until 1 p.m., with the first artist, Shane Profitt, hitting the main stage at 3:30 p.m.

— Ed Masley

Country Thunder traffic report:You don't have to miss your favorite artist, but you might if you procrastinate


How many people attend Country Thunder in Florence AZ? ›

30,000 fans a day ride into Florence for the largest country music festival in Arizona.

Does Dierks Bentley live in Phoenix Arizona? ›

It's been 25 years since Dierks Bentley left Phoenix for Nashville to pursue his dream of launching a career in country music.

Has Country Thunder ever sold out? ›

Country Thunder Sells Out with the Biggest Year to Date & Record-Setting Crowd of Over 27,500.

What is the average attendance at Country Thunder? ›

Number of people in attendance: The festival brought in an average of more than 30,000 people a day, including fans, staff, working personnel, law enforcement, press and vendors.

Where are millionaires moving to in Arizona? ›

Scottsdale, Arizona, rounded out the top three fastest-growing cities in the U.S. for millionaires. From 2012 to 2022, Scottsdale saw an 88% millionaire growth rate and is home to 13,900 millionaires, 60 centi-millionaires, and five billionaires, according to the report.

Where do millionaires live in Arizona? ›

Paradise Valley

Paradise Valley is the richest city in Arizona. Located in the northeastern Phoenix metropolitan area, this city is known for its close proximity to the heart of the state capitol – about ten miles from downtown.

Do any celebrities live in Phoenix Arizona? ›

When he's not performing or making an appearance in a movie, Alice Cooper is a full-time resident of the Paradise Valley section of Phoenix. He's been a longtime resident for years and owns a rather large mansion with its own music studio. Alice Cooper is also an active part of his Phoenix, Arizona community.


1. Kip Moore - Kinda Bar (Live) | Florence, AZ 4-16-23
(Matt Carnot)
2. Dierks Bentley "Gold" LIVE at TCU Amphitheater at White River State Park on May 28th, 2022.
(Mark N Butler)
3. Country Thunder kicks off in Florence
(12 News)
4. Booth at Country Thunder music festival providing breathalyzers. Here's why
(FOX 10 Phoenix)
5. 'It's a homecoming': Organizer says Country Thunder ready for return to Craven after pandemic hiatus
6. 2017 Country Thunder | Florence, AZ Recap
(Rockstar Energy)


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