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August 1, 2013 at 10:13 AM

Watershed country music fest sails into second year

(Dean Rutz)

(Dean Rutz)

The remote Gorge Amphitheater is a natural spot for a festival. One annual four-day event, Sasquatch!, has lured some of the biggest names in indie rock to George, Wash., for the past decade.

So why shouldn’t the Gorge host a festival featuring country music? Live Nation country-music promoter Brian O’Connell couldn’t think of a reason why not and last year launched the three-day Watershed Festival, which featured camping and some of the biggest names in country music.

“I said, ‘We’re going to do this and I hope you come over for a three-day hillbilly sleepover,’ ” O’Connell joshed.

Headliners Dierks Bentley, Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton thrilled fans and provided the kind of star power that makes festivals like these work.

Watershed returns this weekend with a lineup that spans a wide range of mainstream country. Luke Bryan, Toby Keith and Brad Paisley headline, with Watershed veteran Thompson Square, Kip Moore, Lee Brice and Chris Young — and a host of others — providing support.

In addition to keeping the music strong, the festival is trying to do a better job of providing more food and entertainment options, as well as areas for fans to escape the heat.

“We had our share of first-year faux pas,” O’Connell admitted.
Last year, fans complained about a lack of variety in food vendors and that many struggled to find shady areas as temperatures spiked. It was extremely hot last year and the forecast calls for temperatures in the mid to high 80s this weekend.

Though fan comfort will be addressed, O’Connell is doubling down on his commitment to booking local and regional acts on the second stage, even though last year they played to just a handful of people.

“That is going to be what it is,” he said. “I hope people turn out to support artists from that part of the country.”

O’Connell acknowledged, however, that camping and hanging out away from the main festival area are a significant part of what Gorge festivals offer.

This year, nearly every act on the second stage is local or has some tie to Washington. Some, like Tenino, Wash., native Adam Craig, have moved on to Nashville, while others such as David Hart Kingsberry, who opens the show Friday, are based in Seattle.

“I feel like we’re one step closer to having a great festival,” O’Connell said.

Watershed Festival, with Brad Paisley, Luke Bryan, Toby Keith, Lee Brice, Terri Clark, Kip Moore, Thompson Square, Chris Young and others. Friday-Sunday at the Gorge Amphitheatre, George, Grant County;  sold-out (800-745-3000 or Ticketmaster).

Comments | More in Country | Topics: Brad Paisley, Chris Young, Kip Moore

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