Once again it’s time for cowboy boots, hats and bikini tops to take over the former site of the Myrtle Beach Pavilion when the Carolina Country Music Fest (CCMF) kicks off Thursday, June 9.
In its second year, the four-day festival begins Thursday night with the Kick-Off Concert and continues through Sunday showcasing some of the hottest names in country music — think Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, Florida Georgia Line, Jake Owen, Cole Swindell, Kelsea Ballerini, Chase Rice, and many more.
After a very successful inaugural event, this year looks to be no different. Attendance peaked around 19,000 attendees last year, according to Bob Durkin, President of Full House Productions, the organizers and promoters behind CCMF.
“I think the first year is always the toughest, with people not knowing what to expect,” says Durkin about last year’s festival over the phone from his office in Charlotte, NC, “but we couldn’t have been more impressed with what people said about the event, how excited they were about it, and how people in Myrtle Beach really came out for it.”
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As for this year’s fest, they only expect attendance to grow, estimating over 20,000 country music fans filling the beachfront venue.
“Now that we have videos and you can get a feel for what the Carolina Country Music Fest is all about, we expect a lot more people this year,” says Durkin.
There’s plenty of room, especially in the southeast, for more than one country music festival. The one thing the CMA’s don’t have is the beach.
While the uber country music smorgasbord that is the CMA Music Festival is also set to take place this weekend in Nashville, Tenn., Durkin says that it’s only helped CCMF rather than hinder it.
“It being the same weekend has helped us with our talent,” says Durkin.
Since most artists play the CMA’s, many of them were already set to be on the East Coast, allowing Full House Productions to book specific acts early this year.
“There’s plenty of room, especially in the southeast, for more than one country music festival,” says Durkin. “The one thing the CMA’s don’t have is the beach.”
What to expect— there’s an app for that
If you’re headed to the Carolina Country Music Fest this year, the event will feature a few improvements and new activities to entice festival goers.
For those who attended last year, the biggest change they will experience is with the wristbands, which have been updated for 2016.
Since CCMF is a cashless event, the wristband works as your ticket to the event, as well as your wallet. Attendees don’t have to bring money or a credit card, instead every purchase at the venue is done through a quick scan of the wristband.
Last year, the wristbands were released late and many people had to pick up them up at will call. Durkin says the new technology took some time for people to activate and get adjusted to, but once they did, the wristbands were a hit.
“They worked phenomenally,” says Durkin, “People could load it up and not worry about cash or credit card.”
This year, over 14,000 were already mailed out by mid-May, allowing attendees to activate them ahead of time to hit the event prepared and ready to party. Food, drinks, merchandise- all charged to your CCMF account via the wristband will be accessible through the CCMF App to reload and view activity.
“The app is going to be your key to the festival,” says Durkin. “Any question you have, the app will have the answer for you.”
The CCMF App is free to download and is available in the Apple Store and Google Play. Along with reloading money on your account, the CCMF App will notify you before specific performances you wish to see, details each day’s complete lineup, has a map of food, drink, and merchandise vendors, a list of activities happening throughout the fest, and parking and shuttle information.
Parking for this year’s fest has also been simplified, with a Weekend Shuttle & Parking Pass available for purchase. The weekend pass covers Thursday through Sunday and costs $69.99, or attendees can purchase a daily parking pass for $24.99 per day, and includes parking at the former Myrtle Square Mall site and shuttle service to and from the festival’s front gate.
As for festivities at the fest, Durkin says festival goers won’t be bored.
“A lot of our sponsors are taking it to the next level this year,” he says.
Along with more games, attendees can expect a Coca-Cola area with several activities, including a Coca-Cola truck filled with 32 flavors that attendees can purchase a refillable cup for one price all day long.
If you love to dance, you’ll want to check out Silent Disco, which will be going down in the Jack Daniel’s tent. Participants will be given headphones playing specific songs only they will hear and in turn line dance too.
Festival goers can also expect more DJ entertainment, and a variety of local and national food, drink and retail vendors. For those lucky to hit the VIP area, the main stage VIP vendors will be offering additional merchandise, food, and drink options as well.
Another big difference is in the festival this year is the talent.
With headliners like Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, and Florida Georgia Line, the lineup for the festival is sure to please with 35 artists taking the stage throughout the four day event.
The festival, which runs through Sunday evening, kicks off tonight with Gary Allan headlining the Thursday Night Kick-Off Concert. David Ray, Kurt Stevens, Gyth Rigdon, and Dee Jay Silver will also perform.
Each day is filled with a star studded roster. Popular returning artists from last year include Outshyne, Davisson Brothers, and Cole Swindell, with several well-known artists new to the festival rounding out the complete schedule.
“I think Kelsea Ballerini has had a great year, she’s going to be unbelievable. We’ve had a ton of excitement about her online,” says Durkin.
The festival will also feature several acts gaining popularity in the country music scene including Lauren Jenkins, Morgan Myles, and Lewis Brice- Lee Brice’s brother.
“It’s a great chance for people to get out and hear some great country music they haven’t heard before and get to see some great up and comers,” says Durkin. “I’ve been doing this a long time and those are the guys you will see three, four, five years from now headlining these festivals.”
CCMF will host two stages- the smaller Jack Daniel’s Fire Stage is where opening acts will perform, and the Coors Light Main Stage will feature performances by a majority of the talent and headliners.
Acts to watch on the Jack Daniel’s Fire Stage include Maren Morris, Kane Brown, Chris Lane, and Pawleys Island native Shawn Bilton to name a few.
Battling for the mic
Festival goers will also be delighted by the sounds of winners from the CCMF Battle of the Bands competitions, which were held in nearby bigger markets in the Carolinas including Charlotte, Raleigh, Columbia, and Myrtle Beach.
Durkin says the competitions were held in those markets so up and comers in the Carolinas could feel as if they’re part of the festival.
“The winners get to open up one of the nights on the second stage,” says Durkin, “so they can forward their career and we can do more to help push local and regional country music.”
One such winner is Myrtle Beach native Maddie Hunt, set to open on the Jack Daniel’s Fire Stage on Saturday during the festival.
At the ripe age of 15, Hunt’s vocal talents beat out other top contenders at a Battle of the Bands contest held this past May at the Boathouse Waterway Bar & Grill. The competition started with 17 contestants and was whittled down to four finalists, including Hunt, who was voted the winner by fans after performing a final round against Brad Long.
“It was surprising,” she says, “it meant a lot to me.”
Hunt, who began singing professionally at the age of ten, describes her musical style as modern country and counts Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift as musical influences.
As for the festival, Hunt plans to perform around eight songs, including a popular title she penned herself.
“I’m going to sing one of my original and most popular songs “Country Princess”,” says Hunt about her thirty minute set. “I’m also singing “No Chaser”, which is another one of my favorites, and the rest will be original songs.”
While she’s excited to hit the CCMF stage, Hunt is also looking forward to seeing Tim McGraw, Kelsea Ballerini, and Florida Georgia Line perform.
As for the future, Hunt has big plans both locally and nationally.
“I want to get signed, and a lot of people have been telling me to go on “The Voice”,” she says. “So hopefully, I will get to do that one day.”
This summer she’s already scheduled to perform at a variety of local venues including the stages at Plyler Park, 9th Avenue, and at the Sea Captain’s House.
As for 2017, Durkin says they’ve already started planning next year’s festival. Full House Productions is currently working on booking headliners and creating another exciting festival for country music fans on the southeast coast.
While no artist has been officially been booked or a date for the festival has been set, it’s sure to be another rowdy, good time in Myrtle Beach.