JingleFest has been around for 15 years, and it has seen some major acts through the years: Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert and Eric Church have all played the concert in the past. But they played the event before they were the superstars they are today, which is an aspect of the concert I really enjoy.
The show, held Dec. 8 at The Family Arena, was put on by New Country 92.3 (formerly WIL), and the station gave out tickets during events. This year, the free section was in the upper deck, but many upgrades were given out, allowing some fans to be even closer to the action.
I have seen many of these shows over the years, but in my opinion, this year was the first year the acts were well known by the station's listeners. It's hard to listen to country radio and not know who LANCO, Luke Combs and Kane Brown are. Jordan Davis was the least known of the group, but he has two songs getting a lot of play.
JingleFest starts differently than other concerts. A group brought out the American flag, and a recording of the National Anthem was played. Then, for the second year, a group of Marines were sworn in to serve their country. This is country music at its roots.
A scan of the crowd showed how far the genre's culture has come from the days of cowboy hats, rodeo-sized belt buckles and boots. Fans were still wearing those, but there were also young girls dressed for a night club and older couples barely able to walk to their seats.
First was Davis, who wore high tops and sported a hipster beard. Though not as well known as the acts who would follow, he did a good job keeping the fans engaged, and, of course, he had his two hits to end with.
LANCO would follow. Being a fan, I was very excited to see them. Despite the band bouncing around and showcasing their energy, only fans on floor level were standing and swaying during LANCO's first three songs. But once the Nashville, Tenn. five-piece started playing its radio hits, more got up from their seats. Brandon Lancaster, lead singer, woke everyone up with yelling and clapping. He even took a small drum into the crowd, while Eric Steedly, guitarist, stood on Tripp Howell's drum set.
Combs, the first performer to wear cowboy boots that night, was next. Fans were instantly engaged, and nearly everyone in the arena stood. Concert-goers were singing along, and even to the songs not on radio. Combs and his band went through a few choruses of old country songs, while he introduced the musicians. The round-robin went over well, giving faith to those who think country has forgotten its roots.
The singer/songwriter ended his set by taking off his hat and putting it on a little girl's head in the crowd, who reacted in pure excitement. But prior to that, he mentioned Brown would be be next, and the shrieks from the young girls in the audience were deafening.
As the lights went down for the final artist of the night, rap music played, proving that this is a different type of country. The screechy screams from the audience continued as Brown took the stage. During his set, he picked up a little girl in the crowd and danced with her. It was terribly cute. The crowd loved it. Brown asked the girl's name, and signed an autograph.
Drastically different from Combs, he played music from other genres, which the crowd also loved. This showed maybe there isn't much difference between the country fan who loves pure country and the one who listens to other genres of music.
Brown took a moment to talk about Tim McGraw's "I Like It, I Love It," and played a song he wrote to capture the same essence. He went on to tell a sad story of being beaten by his stepdad. He also touched on the racism he had to deal with growing up. Brown played the song "Learning," which was inspired by these unfortunate events. Of course, he also played those beloved radio hits, and left the stage to more high-pitched screams.
Overall, JingleFest was a success, and you could tell the crowd enjoyed themselves. Now, one can only guess who will be the acts at the annual event next year.