Peanut shells crunched – or, per Dothan, Alabama’s preference for the nut boiled, squished – underfoot at the National Peanut Festival Fairgrounds last weekend as music lovers crossed the grass in search of the perfect lawn chair spot for the fifth annual Toadlick Music Festival. The three day festival offered country staples as well as a rock-leaning Friday night (Kid, as well as the genre).
Though the festival ran Thursday through Saturday, tents, RVs, campers, and motorcycles decorated the grassy expanse by Wednesday. A group from Finland brought a sauna resembling an igloo, an impressive if perhaps redundant packing choice for the humid, 90+ degree days. An older woman embraced the beauty of responsibility-free living by meandering the grounds on a motorized scooter in a nightgown, drink in hand, stopping to chat with those tending grills between campers. Lest you forget you’re in southern Alabama, jacked up pickups sporting camouflage trim and both Confederate and pirate flags offered a subtle reminder.
The attendees came for music, the range of which included a rock-heavy Friday night trifecta of Aaron Lewis, the former Staind member whose upcoming project, he says, is “country as shit”; Daughtry, whose stage presence screamed rockstar from the opening notes; and Kid Rock. Days one and three featured a more traditionally country offering: Justin Moore closed night one while Alabama wrapped the festival Saturday night. “I like coming to this part of the country cause y’all can understand the way I talk,” an undeniably twangy Moore told the crowd. Attendees seeking pop-country would have been sorely disappointed; Clare Dunn, a Colorado farm girl who drove an 18 wheeler to put herself through college, offered the biggest shift from the traditional sound, her lead single “Tuxedo” featuring verses with hip hop cadence.
Predominately, the lineup deferred to a more traditional feel. Ashley Monroe, along with her dress-shirt-and-tie clad band that included a stand-up bass, drew from her recent, classically-infused The Blade. Living legend Charlie Daniels lending his renowned fiddle skills to songs like “Devil Went Down To Georgia” to a Sunday sunset. “I get a chance to play it better tonight than I did las night, and better tomorrow night than I did tonight,” he says of the song. “I’ve never played it perfect yet.” Alabama saluted the hometown crowd with “Song Of The South” and “Dixieland Delight,” the latter drawing a Crimson Tide chorus call-and-response from the crowd: “spend my dollar (on beer!).”
The Toadlick Festival had a decidedly family-friendly appeal, despite perhaps the save-water-drink-beer ethos that pervades country concerts and a particularly expletive-laden set from Kid Rock. A group of kids played pickup touch football with a some police officers on the grass, while those preferring a cooler escape took full advantage of the blow-up water slides, pools, and giant floating plastic balls they could play – or just attempt to stand – in. The festival name itself came from founder Chris Gilbert’s ten-year-old cousin, who suggested it as attention-grabbing. “Everybody that helps me put this thing on are my friends and family,” Gilbert said. During Luke Combs’ emotive “This One’s For You,” the artist brought not only Gilbert but also twenty or so members of the staff, crew, and planners onstage to toast their hard work in bringing everything together.
Perhaps the Eli Young Band, who rallied despite technical difficulties on Saturday night, let their hit “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” capture Toadlick 2016 best: “every note just wrapped around his soul, from steel guitars to Memphis all the way to rock and roll.”