Passing the torch

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – A quick scan of the massive crowd at Friday night’s Jamboree in the Hills was a good indicator that this wasn’t your normal Friday night at the ‘Hills.’

While Live Nation doesn’t release official attendance figures, more than a few commented on this was the best day – perhaps ever – for single day ticket sales.

The lineup consisted of Ruff Creek, the Davisson Brothers Band, Florida Georgia Line, Thompson Square and Luke Bryan.

Good artists? Sure. Were they playing chart-topping singles that people know? Absolutely. But not one of those five bands has been nationally prominent long enough to be considered veteran artists.

Yet, when the fans who could only come one day scanned the lineup to make there selection, this was the day they picked. And they did it in droves.

Fans started pouring into the bowl early and a rash of steady rain and thunderstorms that put a 90-minute delay on the festivities didn’t turn them away.

The Davisson Brothers were the first band whose set was pushed back by the weather. But two songs in, the crowd was once again true to form and ready to party.

But when Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard of FGL started their set, it blew the proverbial roof off the place and the party continued long after Luke Bryan finished his set.

Weekends traditionally have been the best days for Jamboree in the Hills as the crowd swells to more than 100,000 people and stretches clear back to the vendors row up on the hill.

But Friday’s throng of fans nearly reached that mark and, despite the weather, they weren’t budging.

These were the bands they came to see. Florida Georgia Line, who had a mid-week spot at last summer’s Marshall County Fair, have exploded in popularity the last year with mega hits like ‘Cruise’ and ‘Get Your Shine On.’

And it’s no secret that the ladies love Luke Bryan, who’s made quite a name for himself in the two years since he last performed at Jamboree.

It’s a microcosm of the direction country music is taking as a genre.

Alabama used to sing ‘If you’re going to play in Texas, you got to have a fiddle in the band,’ but the thousands of people hanging on FGL’s every word took no issue with the fact the band didn’t employ a fiddle player.

Nashville is generating a more rocking sound these days and the fans are gravitating to it. Friday night was proof of that.

– Friday was a relatively quiet day by comparison for the officers of the Belmont County Sheriff’s Department.

The biggest issue was the traffic becoming backed up during the storm as extra officers had to be dispatched to help ease the flow of vehicles coming into the parking lots.

“It’s been real quiet,” Captain Ron Everett of the BCSO said. “The heat actually helped out because it kept some people back at their campers staying in the air conditioning.”

But the rains took care of the heat and actually created a few issues.

Everett explained the first is that people were drinking more with the cooler temperatures.

“If it’s really hot, they are drinking less or mixing in drinking water to keep from getting dehydrated,” Everett said.

Another was the inevitable issue of some fans taking to the hill and creating mudslides.

In theory it’s good fun. But in practice, it creates a host of problems from tearing up the grounds to injuries from sliding and getting cut on mashed aluminum cans to the potential for broken legs.

“If we see them we have to shut them down,” Everett said. “It can be a major problem.”

Everett noted some under 21 drinkers had been apprehended and hauled out of the bowl, but didn’t believe the numbers were any greater that previous years.

– The wet grounds led to an increase in fall injuries, twisted ankles, skinned knees and the like, for the folks staffing the medical tent.

Dehydration also was an issue, first with the humid temperatures and then later, as Everett described, with the increased drinking.

Action gets back under way this morning at 11:25 with Ron Retzer, followed by the Joseph Sisters, Raven Cliff, Hillbilly Way, Joe Zelek and the Rust Belt Kings, Jason Thomas, Chris Janson, The Henningsens, Kip Moore, Trace Adkins and Toby Keith to close out Saturday night.

– Former West Virginia and NFL fullback Owen Schmitt took the stage briefly with the Davisson Brothers, playing some bass and helping out the band. Schmitt, sporting long brown hair and a bushy beard, has been playing recently with the band, who are natives of West Virginia.

Hughes may be reached at