Concert Reviews

The WGAR Country Jam Hits with Some Misses at New Location


Well, another WGAR Country Jam is in the books.  And even though it was the 25th anniversary celebration, it was still an inaugural year of sorts with the move to Black River Landing in Lorain and with that comes a lot of changes and a lot to learn from.  The event began in 1991 and first called the Northcoast Harbor (now, Voinovich Park) home, it then moved to the county fairgrounds in Berea with a move to the IX Center and then back to the fairgrounds along the way.

The Black River Landing venue is a beautiful spot with river views and scenic landscape, but changes this year left many of those in attendance a little underwhelmed with the location due to other issues. First, the attendance was very good, and although no official numbers were announced it seemed to easily exceed the estimated 15,000 people. The Lorain Port Authority states in their press release that the venue can accommodate 10,000, add that to of all the chairs and blankets that take up much more space than needed and you end up with no where for people to view the show and gridlock when you try to move and walk around.

The sound and the production tent seemed to be another complaint for many.  The tent was probably in a bad spot considering the narrowness of the area that concert goers could watch from, and unfortunately the sound was weak as you moved further back where many of the later arrivals were forced to view from and the echo from the sound as it bounced off building across the river was distracting.  The sound at the Thirsty Cowboy Saloon on the grounds was good, but if you were seated back there to view the main stage, well, it was all you heard.

I am sure that WGAR and the sound and production companies will take all of this into account as they plan for next year’s event, which some hope will return to Berea. Other alternatives could be no more chairs and blankets, tweak the sound and schedules and add large video screens on each side of the stage.  All of that could help, but one thing to remember is that it’s hard to please everyone especially when you have so many people who have been going to the event over the last quarter century.

The Jam itself was a great show starting at noon with The Caliber Band who returned for the seventh time to the main stage with changes of their own.  It was the first time for female lead singer, Lisa Caito who joined the Cleveland based band earlier this year. As always, Caliber got the crowd going and played a great mix of foot tapping, hand clapping country music covers.

Next on stage was Lauren Alaina who had double duty on Saturday, performing at the Country Jam and then flying to Chicago to open for Alan Jackson later that night.  Her southern girl personality was evident as she seemed to be as happy talking to the crowd as she was singing with her acouistic band.  Matt Gary followed and though he is one of the lesser known on the roster, he came to perform and provided a great set. Brooke Eden was next on the lineup and proved why she is known as a beauty with the hard working blue collar attitude.

Chris Lane hit the stage with his song, “Fix” at No. 1 on the current country playlist. His set was a mix of country from his album, Girl Problems, mixed with some pop covers that seemed to go over well with the crowd.  It was my first time seeing him perform and I will say that he was very entertaining and really kept the show moving in the right direction.  He played to the crowd and even jumped off the stage to sing to the fans in the first few rows.

Love & Theft were next on stage and they are not only a good duo with great harmonies, but both Stephen and Eric have great voices which makes it easier for them to cover the set with a great mix of songs.  Scotty McCreery followed and I have to say I heard more girls scream Scotty than I ever thought I would.  His stage show was full of energy and he really likes to move on stage when he sings.  He did slow it down and take a seat with his whole band, only to turn it back up again after he got up.  His set covered his handful of hits, as well as a medley of tunes that included covers of songs by Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard.

The WGAR on air staff emceed the event with appearances by just about every one of their personalities including Brian & LeeAnn, Shotgun Taylor and Kat Jackson.  LeeAnn Sommers introduced the color guard and local artist Theresa Rose, formerly of The Caliber Band, who sang the National Anthem.

Lee Brice was next to take the Country Jam stage and the singer definitely was a crowd favorite singing all of his hits and entertaining with his sense of humor.  He seemed especially loose on stage which could have been due to the heat or possibly a couple of the beers that he presented on stage from his amplifier that was actually a mini fridge for his Bud Light that he shared with the crowd before his song “Beer.”

The Band Perry came out to a cheering Jam crowd and added to their show with their own stage and light show.  The siblings performed their hits that covered the last seven years, as well as their new song, “Comeback Kid” and some other new material from their “soon to be released” next album. As the lead singer, and the oldest, Kimberly Perry talked to the crowd and introduced all of their songs.

The other attractions at the Country Jam included the Autograph Pavilion which was sponsored by Jeep for St. Jude. The nonprofit group was on hand all day selling raffle tickets for their cash raffle and their Jeep Giveaway, as well as selling t-shirts, tank tops and hats with all proceeds going to assist the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

The Thirsty Cowboy Saloon was jam packed almost all day partly due to the fact that they had the County Line Band performing and a dance area where folks could kick up their boots with some line dancing.  The County Line Band were the winners of the WGAR Battle for the Jam at the Thirsty Cowboy’s month long competition in July at the club in Medina.

Looking back at this year’s Country Jam it was a great day with some perfect weather.  The tweaking that would be needed at the Black River Landing can easily be accomplished by the veteran promotions staff at the country station.  Some different layouts of tents and attractions and other changes would be easy to make or a move back to Berea could also be another choice.  Either way, the Country Jam provides the country music fans a great day of music with some of the best country acts that we hope will continue for another 25 years!