The Watershed Festival website describes the three-day festival as “Music” and “Camping.” Yeah, right. And headliner Brad Paisley is just some guy with a guitar.
The sold-out event finished its second year Sunday as nothing short of an intense all-day dance party, singalong and drinking contest at the sun-kissed Gorge Amphitheatre.
Luke Bryan, Toby Keith, Kip Moore and a host of other acts had already taken the main stage over the weekend, but Watershed organizer Brian O’Connell saved the best for last.
Temperatures that spiked into the 90s kept most people hidden at their trailers and campsites until Chris Cagle’s set, which provided the most organic moment of the day, when the veteran performer broke down in tears in the middle of playing his sole No. 1 hit, “I Breathe In, I Breathe Out.” Cagle told the surprised crowd that at many points it seemed his career was over, but the crowd’s response to the song served as an affirmation that he still had something left in the tank.
By the time Lee Brice hit the stage for a raucous if somewhat uneven hourlong set, the crowd — delirious from the heat, beer and Washington’s newest legal pastime — had whipped itself into a furious lather that would last the rest of the night.
Chris Young’s set served as a distinct counterpoint to Brice’s performance. He showed the slick polish that allowed him to win the USA Network’s “Nashville Star” in 2006, dusting off No. 1 singles “The Man I Want To Be,” “Gettin’ You Home (The Black Dress Song)” and “Tomorrow” to the delight of the crowd.
Finally, as the sun had set and the vicious blacktop in front of the stage cooled slightly, all that was left was for one of country’s brightest stars to appear. Just before 10 p.m., Paisley dashed on stage and immediately confirmed he was in top form by unleashing a stream of crowd-pleasing hits.
He touched on numerous cuts from his current album “Wheelhouse,” including “Southern Comfort Zone,” “The Mona Lisa,” “Outstanding In Our Fields” and “Karate.” But he also dipped back into his extensive catalog to bring out old favorites like “American Saturday Night,” “Celebrity” and a pretty acoustic version of “Waitin’ On A Woman.”
A somewhat surprising amount of the crowd began streaming for the exits at around 11 p.m., finally defeated by the sun, nine hours of music and a little too much of the good stuff.
However, for the vast majority of happy revelers, there were still memories to be made and a bit of summer joy left to claim. The weekend wasn’t over yet and the party — led by provocateur Paisley and his catchy seasonal jam “Beat This Summer” — raged on.
Owen R. Smith, on Twitter @inanedetails