You know that country music is one of the most popular genres in the land when its artists can sustain a huge festival. And that's exactly what they'll do this weekend at Frisco's Toyota Stadium. AEG Live and Bud Light will present the two-day Off the Rails Country Music Fest, starring biggies Blake Shelton, Eric Church, Sam Hunt and many more.
Of course, North Texans are no strangers to all-star country fests: Last year brought three days of the most famous acts out of Nashville when the Academy of Country Music Awards landed in Arlington. The Texas Music Revolution event recently expanded to two days of outdoor performances in Plano. Off the Rails kicks things up a notch by bringing its acts to a stadium normally reserved for FC Dallas games and the annual Jimmy Buffett Parrothead gathering.
For anyone heading to Frisco to take in the twangy (and, sure, the not-so-twangy), here's a look at the top artists on the bill and what they've been up to lately, plus what to expect from them at the festival.
Latest hit: "Came Here to Forget" is, unsurprisingly, about a dude on the rebound from his last love, looking for a little revenge-fueled romance. There's no doubt it serves as light commentary on his from-Miranda-to-Gwen journey, even if Shelton didn't write it. Not a bad tune, but I'm holding out for the breakup gems that his ex is sure to pen and perform in the future.
What to expect: Shelton's a dynamic performer, always in the mood to connect with fans, so it'll be a good time.
Latest hit: The fast-moving duet with Cassadee Pope, "Think of You," went over extremely well when Young and Pope performed it at this year's ACM show. Both have those pliable voices that help them reach great heights when the chorus is right. Young won't have his duet partner at Off the Rails, but he's got plenty of solo hits to keep people cheering.
What to expect: Young's a Tennessean who cut his teeth fronting the house band at Cowboys in Arlington before winning a season of Nashville Star. Since then, smooth tunes like "You," "The Man I Want to Be" and "I'm Comin' Over" have sealed the country traditionalist's stardom. There will be screams.
Eli Young Band
Latest hit: "Turn It On" finds lead singer Mike Eli attempting to re-engage an old flame. He can't turn it off, the way she turns it on. You get the gist.
What to expect: These guys got their start as students at the University of North Texas in Denton, so they'll certainly mention how good it is to be home. That's your cue to cheer crazily, in case you've never been to someone's homecoming show. What will also bring applause are the hits that elevated EYB to A-list country status: "Drunk Last Night," "Crazy Girl," "When it Rains" and so on.
Latest hit: Don't let the title of last year's "Freaks Like Me" single fool you -- Arkansas singer Nichols honors tradition not only with his lyrics but also with his honey-dipped, Haggard-like voice. He's a natural who's operated under the radar for way too long.
What to expect: Even if you don't know his songs as well as, say, Blake Shelton's, make sure you are present when Nichols goes on. He's a seasoned performer with songs of substance. You'll leave with a new favorite.
Latest hit: "On to Something Good" features a nice groove and a breezy vocal from Monroe, whose high, lonesome instrument is one of the best in the game. Here's hoping the crowd will recognize her from her duet with Shelton, "Lonely Tonight," and her contributions to Miranda Lambert's girl group, Pistol Annies.
What to expect: Monroe is one of just four female acts on the testosterone-heavy bill (see 'Also appearing' at right). Too bad more aren't on board -- the most important country music these days is made by women. Fact.
Latest hit: Church's new tune "Record Year" honors his musical heroes in clever fashion -- it's another highlight from one of country's most profound and organic megastars. He's also a forward-thinking artist, having dropped the top-notch album Mr. Misunderstood with no warning and no marketing.
What to expect: The most exciting thing about watching Church perform -- whether he's singing celebratory tunes like "Drink in My Hand" or reflective ones like "Springsteen" -- is how pumped he gets when the crowd is giving him the right energy. It's infectious -- he gets so into it that he literally shakes. It's worth going back on the fest's second day just to see him.
Latest hit: "Make You Miss Me," like Hunt's previous hits, is unabashedly poppy and draws as much influence from hip-hop as it does country. The fans will love it live, though, and they'll love the half-rapped hit "Take Your Time" even more. Hunt's on fire.
What to expect: You'll hear a lot of fan freakouts. Hunt's music has a catnip-like effect on country's youngest fans. He's also a sickeningly handsome and tall drink of water. Don't stand in any lady's way while he's onstage unless you want things to get awkward.
Waterloo Revival, Midland, DJ Rock, Native Run, Jana Kramer, Chris Janson, Chase Rice and Texas' Casey Donahew Band round out the main-stage offerings for Off the Rails. There's also a Lonestar Stage featuring Texans Hayley Orrantia (better-known for her role on ABC TV series The Goldbergs), Mike & the Moonpies and Bri Bagwell.
Hunter Hauk on Twitter: @hausofhunter