FORT LORAMIE — Rain or shine, the show must go on. Country Concert holds to those standards and Thursday afternoon the Oak Ridge Boys kicked off the highly anticipated three-day country music event.
The Oak Ridge Boys were invited to open the show because the event’s founder, Mike Barhorst, passed away in March. Paul Barhorst, the president of Country Concert and Mike’s son, opened the festival with a tribute to his father.
“You all are a sight for sore eyes,” he greeted the fans. “This event has never been about one person or one family, so thank you for making it like that.”
Paul said the Thursday crowd would be the largest in Country Concert history, and showed a few highlights from past concerts in a video. Mike’s largest legacy continues to be Country Concert, which started in 1981 and continues to grow. This year’s headliners include Blake Shelton, Jake Owen and Florida Georgia Line. What started as a marriage anniversary celebration on a covered patio, now is housed on a 500-acre facility with 15 miles of roads and a permanent 108-foot stage and is estimated to bring in over 80,000 fans and add $15,597,000 to the regional economy.
In the video tribute, Mike spoke to the fans one last time in the form of another greeting he gave at Country Concert in a previous year.
“I tell my sons that we run this business with our hearts, not our billfolds,” he said. “We have a passion to run this, and part of that passion is you guys coming. We’re all tickled you’re here.”
For many fans, it’s more than just a concert, but a tradition. Karen Relyea, of Defiance, has been to the show 24 times. For Barbara Sisel though, she’s attended a few times, but is back to check it off her bucket list.
“This is our first time back in about 15 years,” she said, gesturing to her friends. “It’s what you make of it.”
Sisel brought her grandkids with her to the show, and was prepared for the rain with an umbrella and poncho. She said that this year would be no different from the last.
“I know the family, and it will be in good hands, even without Mike,” she said. “It’ll be the same.”
All signs point in that direction, but the opening show was bittersweet for fans, as the Oak Ridge Boys dedicated their first song –an accapella version of “Amazing Grace” – to the founder. Mary Joe, his widow, told the crowd she was thankful they were there.
“Welcome to our party,” she said, when introducing the Oak Ridge Boys. “Mike enjoyed his life and everything he did. He was blessed and so are we.
“This weekend we celebrate Mike’s life, and the biggest thing that he made happen, and that’s Country Concert. We will carry on his tradition of great country music, fun in the sun and coming together as friends.”
The Oak Ridge Boys, no longer the young performers they were when they first started at Country Concert, performed a high energy show that brought fans to their feet to sing, dance and have a good time.
“There’s a lot more than meets the eye when it comes to putting on one of these music festivals,” said Joe Bonsali, tenor in the Oak Ridge Boys. “There’s a lot of them out there and some are very special, and this is one of them – and it’s because of this family that you’ve just seen up here.”
Also performing Thursday were Blake Shelton, Justin Moore, Charlie Daniel’s Band and Jon Pardi.
Performers set to take the stage on Friday include Cam, Old Dominion, Chase Rice and Jake Owen.
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