The Buckeye Country Superfest returned to Ohio Stadium last night. The festival had not taken place in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, the festival is the only concert scheduled at the stadium, which is celebrating its centenary.
Although a small rain shower in the early afternoon delayed the tailgates and the Fan Fest by a few hours, at 2 p.m. the skies seemed to be clearing up for the event.
The stadium was packed with more than 63,000 eager, unmasked country music fans singing their hearts out as they donned the essentials: cowboy hats, dazzling blue cowboy boots and an American flag print. The Total broke a record for the largest concert at Ohio Stadium, according to the festival’s Twitter account.
Morgan Wade, of Floyd, Virginia, opened the show at 5 p.m. She made a name for herself this year.
It has topped the critical lists of Rolling Stone, TIME, Stereogum, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The FADER and Billboard. Her debut single “Wilder Dreams” and album “Reckless”, both released in 2021, have been heralded as “a once-in-a-decade debut.
Wade, the only woman on the lineup, had a sense of swagger and style that all male acts would kill to have easily.
Her voice is reminiscent of Sheryl Crow and Adele. Wade seems ideal for pop crossovers like Crow and Maren Morris. She sang her hit songs like “The Night” through sunglasses holding her bright blue guitar which showed off her sleeve tattoos. Wade was the perfect opening for a festival.
Kameron Marlowe, best known for being a contestant on Season 15 of “The Voice,” then took the stage at 6 p.m. Marlowe has toured with artists like Brad Paisley and Lee Brice since the show.
It literally got the party started when its guitarist took the stage brandishing a cooler full of beer as Marlowe launched into his debut single “Sober as a Drunk” from his self-titled EP.
He told the audience how excited he was to perform at one of college football’s greatest stadiums.
“It’s a dream to play here,” he told the crowd.
Marlowe’s voice has a growl worth hearing in a stadium. He ricocheted off the Ohio stadium as he previewed new songs from his debut album ‘We Are Cowboys’, which will be released on August 26.
By the end of her set, Marlowe had made her mark on the Ohio stadium stage.
Originally from Oklahoma – but wearing an OSU Buckeyes shirt – Zach Bryan took the stage at 7 p.m.
Bryan served seven years in the United States Navy until he was honorably discharged. He filmed the music video for his single “Heading South” shot outside his barracks in 2020. Bryan released his third album and his first since signing with Warner Records, “American Heartbreak” in May 2022.
He kicked the festival into high gear as the crowd leapt to their feet at Bryan’s first guitar hit.
Bryan’s vocals have a ’90s grunge grit that makes songs like “Something in the Orange” and “From Austin” stand out on the male country music scene.
During a performance of his song “Condemned,” he even pulled out a harmonica to do a solo that drove the crowd crazy.
Bryan’s set was met with a standing ovation from the crowd and chants for an encore for nearly five minutes after his set ended which unfortunately went unmet.
He joked between the presentations of each song that he hoped the audience “wouldn’t hate this one”. Hearing thousands of people sing “We Want Zach” guarantees that they didn’t hate any of them.
The crowd started to pile in once the numbers got bigger and bigger. Cody Jinks of Haltom City, Texas presented his personal brand of outlaw country on stage at 8 p.m.
Since first emerging as a solo artist in the mid-2000s, Jinks has performed to nearly empty bar rooms to independently build a devoted following. He is known for his blend of heavy metal and country, elevating the courage that Marlowe and Bryan brought to their sets.
He rocked the house with hits like ‘Hippies and Cowboys’ and ‘Must Be the Whiskey’
The crowd fed and returned Jinks’ energy throughout his set, leaving the crowd screaming for more.
Two-time Grammy-nominated Luke Combs took the stage as the headliner at 9:45 p.m. It was released by the Ohio State University Marching Band.
He poked fun at the OSU-Michigan rivalry, joking that when he played football for Appalachian State University in North Carolina, they also beat Michigan.
Combs’ charisma and connection to the audience was captivating as the crowd sang along to the lyrics to his 13 No. 1 singles.
His new album, “Growin Up”, was released in June this year and he is currently touring stadiums across America.
With songs like “The Kind of Love We Make” and “Beer Never Broke My Heart,” it was clear that Combs was reaching all demographics with his music. From young kids to college students to older country music fans, they all seem to unite around Luke Combs.
Combs echoed that sentiment by encouraging the crowd to be authentic to themselves.
“No matter what anyone says, what anyone thinks, no matter how small the accomplishment, be proud of who you are,” Combs said. “Be proud of what you’ve done. You stand for the things you believe in.”
A very political sentiment when it comes to country music, but Combs was careful not to use language pointing to any particular side of the spectrum.
Closing out the festival with her biggest hit, the wedding song “Forever After All,” Combs had the crowd wishing her set list could indeed go on forever.
Overall Superfest was a success. Hopefully next year the lineup will have more diversity and be more proactive about COVID safety precautions.
David Kwiatkowski is an intern for The Columbus Dispatch. You can reach him on Twitter @kwiatkdm or his email firstname.lastname@example.org.