The third-annual Country LakeShake Festival brought together some of country’s biggest names, and as a result, one of its largest crowds.
The festival, which ran from June 23 through June 25 at the Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island, featured headliner Thomas Rhett on day one.
The singer-songwriter who’s achieved seven No. 1 hits on the Country Airplay charts started his set off with a stripped-down version of “Crash and Burn” while wearing a throwback Scottie Pippen Bulls shirt. Fan-favorite hits that followed included “Star of the Show,” “Craving You,” “T-Shirt” and “Vacation.”
Rhett hopped off the stage to sing among the fans at one point and even sang “Happy Birthday” to several people with birthday signs held high.
Before Rhett took the stage, four opening acts helped get the festival started. High Valley was the first duo to take the main stage. Following them was Illinois-native Mo Pitney, “How Country Feels” singer Randy Houser and “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” hit makers Big & Rich.
Miranda Lambert headlined the second day of the festival, bringing her signature edge with opening number “Fastest Girl in Town.” This was followed by “Kerosene,” the title track from Lambert’s 2005 debut album that initially solidified her place in the country music scene. Fans of the Texas native were singing along all night to hits like “Heart Like Mine,” “Mama’s Broken Heart” and one of her newest singles, “Tin Man,” a song showcasing the more somber and melodic side of the performer.
There was no shortage of talent leading up to Lambert. Craig Campbell kicked the day off to a rather decent-sized crowd for being the earliest main stage act to perform all weekend. He played hits such as “Keep Them Kisses Comin’,” “Outskirts of Heaven” and “Fish.”
Michael Ray followed Campbell, performing notable songs including “Think a Little Less” and “Kiss You in the Morning.”
Of all opening acts throughout the festival, Dan + Shay — who played after Ray — stood out as one of the most entertaining and engaging. The duo, composed of Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney, brought a contagious excitement during the entirety of their nearly hour long set. Smyers burst out of the backstage area donned in Cubs attire and only stopped running around the stage to occasionally strum his guitar and sing behind a microphone stand.
The two had the now fuller crowd singing along to their many singles and songs including “Nothin’ Like You,” “Show You Off,” “19 You + Me” and their No. 1 Billboard hit, “How Not To.”
California native Gary Allan followed the energized set with multiple hits such as “Every Storm (Runs out of Rain).”
The final group to take the stage ahead of Lambert was Grammy Award-winning Little Big Town. The four members, Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Jimi Westbrook and Phillip Sweet, sang a set of tightly harmonized hits including “Pontoon,” “Girl Crush” and “Better Man.” They concluded their time on the main stage with “Boondocks,” a choice well-received by a pavilion of fans screaming the lyrics with them.
The multi award-winning country group Rascal Flatts headlined the final day of the Country LakeShake Music Festival. The trio, composed of Gary LeVox, Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney, began their hit-filled hour-and-a-half set with “Fast Cars and Freedom.” This was followed by an abundance of their best-known songs including “Mayberry,” “Take Me There,” “My Wish” and fan-favorite “Bless The Broken Road.”
In addition to playing hits from throughout the past 17 years, the group played a handful of selections from their latest project Back to Us including “Yours If You Want It,” showing they aren’t looking to leave the music scene anytime soon.
Before Rascal Flatts’ set, William Michael Morgan, The Cadillac Three, Chase Rice and Brothers Osborne all took the Country LakeShake main stage.
The Cadillac Three brought their authentic folk, rock and country-infused sound to crowds in the likes of such hits including “Drunk Like You,” “White Lightning” and “The South.”
Rice followed playing several of his own songs as well as co-writes he’s helped pen throughout his career including “Ride” and “Cruise.” Midway through singing “Ride,” the singer-songwriter brought a couple onto the stage. After finding out the two had just married last week and the husband was a veteran, he offered to pay for a honeymoon for the two.
Throughout the weekend, the many acts performed an array of entertaining covers from country, rock and pop alike. Favorites included Brothers Osborne’s cover of the Dixie Chicks hit “Goodbye Earl,” Dan + Shay’s cover of the Bon Jovi classic “You Give Love a Bad Name,” Craig Campbell’s performance of “Royals” and Rascal Flatts’ Journey fake-out including “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Faithfully” and “Open Arms.”
Country LakeShake held an alternative to the main stage with Next from Nashville, a performance area reserved for some of the genre’s top up-and-coming acts. Some of the more notable performances came from Caitlyn Smith, Drake White and the Big Fire, Ashley McBryde and Dylan Scott.
Scott managed to have one of the largest attended sets at the Next to Nashville stage despite his midday set time on Sunday. The dad-to-be played hits from his 2016 debut self-titled album including “Lay It On Me” and “Ball Cap.” He wrapped up his short stage time with the recently gold-certified and Top Five hit, “My Girl.” Before performing the chart-topping single, Dylan said to the audience, “And I mean this from the bottom of my heart, thank you for changing my life.”
Although he was playing on the Next to Nashville stage now, it wouldn’t be a surprise to find him on the main stage soon after he releases the deluxe version of his debut album on June 30 and continues putting out country music hits.
In addition to taking in the music performances, LakeShake attendees had the opportunity to indulge in a diverse selection of food, shop around at a variety of tent vendors at the Dixie Square Mall and visit Silent Disco Line Dancing. Guests could also take pictures with Budweiser Clydesdale horses, grab a drink at the Blackhawks Bar or take in pop-up performances from country artists at the US99-programmed Opry Circle Throwdown.
For any Chicago-dwelling and surrounding country music fans, Country LakeShake is an arguably underrated, must-attend event. It’s an opportunity to take in an abundance of top country acts in an unmatchable venue and at a fair price. If it didn’t make the cut on your list of things to do this summer, it certainly should for next year.