Crowd soaks up music, beer and goodtimes at Guthrie’s River Ruckus
DJ and Karey Hawkins of Muscatine were all smiles, dancing on the grass on a cool, Saturday evening to the country sounds of Chris Janson at the Guhrie County Fairgrounds.
“We’ve seen him before and he’s really good,” said DJ Hawkins, wearing a baseball cap, a Jack Daniels T-shirt and jeans.
“He plays the harmonica,” said his wife, sporting a camouflage shirt, baseball cap and boots.
It was the first trip to Guthrie’s River Ruckus for the Hawkins and seven of their friends, as the country music festival celebrated its tenth year in Guthrie Center.
“We usually go to Country on the River,” DJ Hawkins said of a three-day country music event in scenic Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. “They weren’t having it this year, and Karey saw this and we thought it looked fun.”
The Hawkins nabbed one of the final four camping spots at the Guthrie County fairgrounds and enjoyed the entire weekend with neighbors, while meeting several new friends. They plan to return next summer.
The three-day festival, which began Thursday with acts on the free stage, drew a total crowd of around 10,000 each night organizer Grant Sheeder said. Sheeder and high school friend Adam Faucher organized the first River Ruckus in 2009, bringing in about 1,000 people through the gates for then up-and-coming acts Chris Young and Lee Brice. Each year they have learned and added to the experience, making the Ruckus one of the staple festivals in Western Iowa.
“It’s hard to believe this is our 10th year doing the Ruckus,” Sheeder said. “So many changes throughout those years and with the help of so many great sponsors, fans and volunteers.”
Country music artist Chris Janson, dressed in all black, launched into “Fix Me A Drink”, one of his hit singles on the country charts, and told the crowd he was glad to be in Guthrie Center.
“I mean it when I say I love Iowa and playing in the middle of cornfields,” he said.
Janson, who was the third of four acts on Saturday night, also performed “Redneck Life,” “Buy Me a Boat” and his new hit “White Trash,” which he says tells his story.
Between the trailer and the dog
And the cars on blocks and the hogs
Out in the front yard
Where us kids play
Yeah there was mama
In her house shoes
Smokin’ salem lights with the tattoss
You add it all up
That’s why they call us white trash.
For River Ruckus fans, the big draw on Saturday was Jake Owen, the show-closer. An Academy of Country Music Award winner, Owen, performed favorites “Barefoot Blue Jean Night,” “Yee-Haw,” and “Days of Gold.”
He strolled through the crowd to a smaller stage with strings of lights set up in the VIP section for a more intimate performance of “I was made for you.”
Water towers are made for hearts and names
Friday nights are made for football games
Fallin’ leaves are made for fallin’ in
Front porch steps are made for goodnight kissin’
And I was made for you, yeah I was made for you
He returned to the center stage for a set that included “I was Jack (You Were Diane),” “Beachin” and “Real Life,” as colorful videos electrified the big screen behind him.
There was plenty more music throughout the festival for guests from near and far.
Todd Blythe and Teddy Hawley drew attention from the duo Walker McGuire, who opened Saturday night. Both former Iowa State football players sang along to “18 Forever.”
“That’s right Todd, you got it,” Walker said from the stage.
Hey, back when young and dumb was beautiful
We knew that we knew it all
No one could proves us wrong
Those were the days, couldn’t wait to lose our innocence
Brag about it to our friends, Monday after prom
Swore we’d always be together, didn’t know any better
Back when we thought we’d be 18 forever
Hawley, who grew up in Vail, a town of 436 in Crawford County, Iowa, owns Beer Can Alley, a country bar in Des Moines. He helped bring the playful duo to town.
“We’ve been writing songs for six years together,” Jordan Walker told the crowd. “Teddy told us we needed to come to Iowa, and we’re happy to be here.”
Walker and McGuire toured the campgrounds and visited the river on Saturday afternoon.
“It was the most disgusting and awesome thing,” Walker joked. “A guy took a swig of river water, he’s dead now, but it was awesome.”
Fans sang along to “When it rains it pours” and their soaring new single “Lost.”
The duo finished their set by tossing cans of Bud Light into the crowd.
“We’re Jordan and Johnny and we’re not drinking alone,” Walker said.
Frontman Brandon Lancaster of LANCO also energized the Ruckus crowd Saturday.
“Where we come from it’s about people, your friends and family,” he said. “And we drink cheap, cold beer.”
LANCO played “Born to Love You” from their Hallelujah Nights album and “Pick You Up” which Lancaster said was one of his favorite songs to write. They closed their set with “Greatest Love Story,” a single that reached the Billboard’s Hot Country Top Ten.
‘Cause I was gonna be your forever
You were gonna be my wife
We didn’t know any better
Didn’t have a clue about life
But I was what you wanted you were what I needed
And we could meet in between
We were gonna be the greatest love story this town had ever seen
Friday night fans were treated to Sammy Kershaw, who shared songs from his first album in four years, Better Than I Used To Be, as well as familiar hits like “Cadillac Style:, “She don’t know she’s beautiful” and “Third rate romance.”
Collin Raye, one of the true hit makers of the 1990’s had fans dancing to “Little Red Rodeo,” and “That’s My Story.” His soulful delivery kept fans wanting more as he rocked the fairgrounds with “Little Rock” and “I Can Still Feel You.”
Joe Diffie, a multi-platinum artist belted chart toppers “Pickup Man” and “Third Rock from the Sun,” while “John Deere Green,” proved to a be a good one for a sing-a-long. Diffie met with fans on Friday afternoon at the Watering Hole, where guests were invited to wear their mullet for the “Angry Orachard, Angry Mullet Contest.” The winner won a meet and greet with Diffie before he hit the stage that night.
Closing the first full night of music on Friday was 38 Special, who brought a flare of southern rock to the fairgrounds. They sang pop smashes “Hold On Loosely,” “If I’d Been the One,” and “Back Where You Belong.” The group, who performs in more than 100 cities a year, also performed “Second Chance” and “Fantasy Girl.”
Cody Hicks and Beau Braswell kicked the weekend off on Thursday on the Buttler Free Stage. Hicks, a favorite at the Ruckus, played a lot of cover songs and as usual sprinkled in some originals too as they add songs to their set list everyday.
As artists played, law enforcement officers patrolled, using visibility to keep arrests to a minimum.
“You have to do something pretty bad to go to my jail,” Guthrie County Sheriff Marty Arganbright said. “Things went really well.”
As River Ruckus continues to grow every year, it continues to be an event with positive results for the whole community. Again, numerous vendors were present at the festival, including Zipp’s Pizzaria from Adair, who served all weekend at the Ruckus, as well as Deardorff Highland Cattle and their always popular Highland Philly.
Hometown Foods, Sparky’s One Stop and Casey’s General Store in Guthrie Center had traffic all weekend from Ruckus fans, and employees there said it again was one of their biggest weekends of the year.
Organizers thanked fans for an “amazing weekend” and a decade of Ruckus.
“It’s been really cool to have watched this festival grow more and more each year into something so amazing,” said Lilly Faucher, a Guthrie Center native who plays a big part in the event’s success. “It really is hard to believe we celebrated 10 years.”