Country stars shine for Shands

Brad Paisley headlined the concert at the Alachua County Fairgrounds Saturday night.

Brad McClenny/Special to the Sun
Published: Sunday, April 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 1, 2007 at 12:11 a.m.

Five of country music's major players took the stage Saturday for the 93.7 K Country Jamboree in service of Shands Children's Hospital at the Alachua County Fairgrounds.

A sea of chairs and blankets flowed out hundreds of yards from the towering stage as an estimated 10,000 cowboy-hat-sporting, pony-tailed music fans enjoyed perfect spring weather and nearly eight hours of live music by country's top artists, headlined by multiple Country Music Award winner and Grammy nominee Brad Paisley.

A fired-up crowd greeted Paisley when he hit the stage at 9 p.m. Surrounded by three large video screens, Paisley opened the show with his latest release "Ticks," from his upcoming album "5th Gear," and followed up quickly with such popular favorites as "Wrapped Around," "Mud On the Tires," and "When I Get Where I'm Going."

Paisley kept the crowd on its feet and dancing with the help of an outstanding video mix that included animations done by Paisley himself. With updated scores from the Florida-UCLA game periodically flashed up on one screen, the evening ended with an encore of his ode to fishing, "I'm Going to Miss Her."

Hundreds of fans started lining up by 6 a.m. Saturday to stake out prime seating that was first-come, first-served. By midafternoon, the fairgrounds looked more like a country music video as girls in shorts and straw hats swayed before the banner-bestrewn stage. Beach balls bounced across the crowd while fans passed in front of the stage, taking pictures of the artists.

Katie Stafford of Satellite Beach, who turned 20 Saturday, came prepped with a sign reading "How about a kiss for the birthday girl?"

An early festival highlight came when a nervous 15-year-old Hanna Peterson, a former cancer patient at Shands, sang the National Anthem so well that artist Andy Griggs was complimenting her.

Griggs kicked off the afternoon at 3 p.m. and was followed by performances by Phil Vassar and Josh Turner. Those three stars alone can claim three No. 1 hits.

Throughout the day, fans wandered throughout the fairgrounds, enjoying a festival atmosphere that also featured film, radio promotions and food from over 20 vendors.

One of the busier tents was Hills Barbeque, where owner Mike Hill was expecting to prepare over 4,500 meals. Hill is donating all his profits for the festival to Shands. About half his staff is also volunteering.

"The ones that aren't are washing dishes," said Hill with a smile.

Sugarland took the stage around 7:30 and brought the crowd to its feet. Playing their own high-powered music, the Atlanta-based duo of Kristian Bush and Jennifer Nettles had the crowd bouncing with their hit "Mean Girls," and couples slow-dancing the next to "Want To."

The band just released its second album, "Enjoy the Ride," but are still riding high on the strength of their debut album, "Twice the Speed of Life," which garnered the band several CMA and Grammy nominations.

Nettles also picked up a No. 1 hit with her duet with Bon Jovi.

Gator fans who could not make the festival will have a chance to catch them in Atlanta as they are performing today for fans of the Final Four.

The benefit for Shands Children's Hospitals has been in the works for over a year.

In the past, Shands has used golf tournaments and art & wine events for fundraisers, but Special Events Manager Jennifer Russ wanted to create a "signature event."

The idea came from several other popular country benefits that occur regularly including Kiss FM's annual benefit in Miami.

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