FLORENCE –– If country music was represented by the 2016 Republican presidential contenders, then it was Jeb Bush on stage Thursday night at Country Thunder in the form of the eminently forgettable Chris Young.
He seems like a swell guy, and as he meandered his way through his low-energy set of country radio staples, it was easy to go “Oh, I’ve heard that before,” or “Oh, I recognize that.”
He got a good reception from the crowd during his second song, his first No. 1 hit “Gettin’ You Home.” It’s a solid song, and Young performs it well, but that was the highlight of his set.
Part of the issue is too many of his songs sit in the same key and don’t really carve out a niche for him – he sounds like he could be one of a half-dozen different country singers, and didn't bring anything particularly special to a headlining performance that historically has the thousands packing the main stage here in full throat.
Much like Bush, Young’s set didn’t leave anyone feeling anything on either side of things—he isn’t disagreeable nor is he someone a country fan would despise. He’s just, well, there.
There were others, like Jared and The Mill, Terri Clark and Brandon Ray, who brought significantly more energy to the main stage and Dierks Bentley Whiskey Row side stage for much smaller crowds, proving once again the real music lovers are wise to hold off on some of the event’s day drinking and discover some of these lesser-known jewels.
Even the main stage lead act to Young, LOCASH, were only so-so in their performance. They played last year with a little more energy and passion, though after a KMLE Country-sponsored campsite concert earlier in the day and recovery from last weekend’s ACM’s may well have left them a bit sapped.
Young was in an unenviable position—the Thursday headliner position draws the smallest crowds of the four days, typically, and particularly with this year’s lineup—Dierks Bentley, Thomas Rhett and Blake Shelton—the other headliners are all top-shelf showmen whose shows promise not to be missed. Young’s set was more easy listening for a Sunday afternoon drive by comparison.
There was perhaps no better example of this than when Young came back out for a two-song encore that wasn’t really needed, sleepwalking into a cover of Eric Clapton’s “Change The World” that was somehow slower and even more mellow than the original.
Today promises to serve up perhaps one of the most complete lineups of the four days on the main stage, with the aforementioned home state heartthrob Bentley getting warmed up by ACM new Male Vocalist of the Year Jon Pardi, along with new female group Runaway June and dynamic duo Maddie & Tae getting main stage time as well.