FORT LORAMIE — Hot weather is not keeping people away from the 38th Country Concert in the Hills and Paul Barhorst, Country Concert president, said he was looking forward to a great weekend with beautiful weather predicted. He opened Thursday night’s concert with introductions of his family, including one of the concert co-founders, Mary Jo Barhorst, widow of founder Mike Barhorst.
In an earlier interview, he said this year’s festival had 34 artists, more than the first three years of Country Concerts combined. Barhorst also said it was estimated that people from around 40 states and 10 countries come to this event.
He said all the artists were great, but he was particularly looking forward to hearing Luke Combs, appearing for the first time at Country Concert, as well as Eric Church.
“Eric is only appearing in 17 shows this year, and we are happy he chose us as one of the shows he is coming to,” he said. He also said he looked forward to hearing Toby Keith, who is back after six years for his 11th appearance.
He is also excited about the Homegrown Honky Tonk area, where local artists get a chance to show their talents on this newly installed third stage.
Barhorst said that tickets are still available for this event, as well as camping spaces. The information can be found at their website, CountryConcert.com.
Toby Keith brought the Thursday night’s concert to a close, with an appreciative, packed crowd. Headliners on Friday are Brad Paisley, Cole Swindell and Montgomery, Saturday’s stars are Eric Church, Luke Combs, and Brothers Osbourne.
The Newport Sportsmens Club oversees all alcohol sales each year. Three who were manning the booth, Matt Sanders, Kristin Myszenski and Susan Trevaskis, said they just like to people watch every year. And there is plenty to see as people enjoy the concerts because people come from all over.
One man, dressed in little more than a Speedo, said he was from Cincinnati but would not give his name because he got weird emails.
Carol and Bud Thompson came all the way from Blairsville, Pennsylvania. Celebrating their 16th wedding anniversary, Carol said they weren’t going to come for their fourth year, “until we heard that Toby Keith and Brad Paisley were appearing. Then we got in our camper and made the 6 1/2 hour drive.”
Closer to home, six Fort Loramie people said they have been coming for 34 to 38 years. Chris Oberding said he first came here to run the Pepsi stand 38 years ago. None of his crew agreed on which celebrity they wanted to see.
Sheriff John Lenhart, a 38-year veteran of country concerts, said security was the top concern of his staff. He also said this event was like a reunion of sorts. “Lots of people come back every year and it’s nice to catch up.”
However, the sheriff also oversees the tremendous task of ensuring the venue is secure.
“I had 160 eight-hour shifts to fill during this four-day event,” Lenhart said.
In a mutual aid effort, five counties come into Shelby county to assist.
This includes the various department’s police dogs. Montgomery County Sheriff’s Deputy Tory Bodine and his dog Recon assisted in searching equipment for explosives. Bodine said that Recon was muli-trained in other skills ranging from apprehending a fleeing criminal to finding a lost child.
Lenhart said that while their department is ready for anything from an active shooter to drug problems, so far this concert has been uneventful. “We had one arrest for disorderly conduct and trespass last night after the camper’s concert,” said Lenhart. “A man could not find his bed so tried to use someone else’s.
“Since this was not his campsite and he did not want to leave, the sheriff’s people were called,” he said.
A mobile 911 center is set up in a Homeland Security vehicle used by the five surrounding counties.
“This is a dedicated 911 site,” said Lenhart. “Once it gets busy the calls might drown each other out.”
Lenhart reminds people that a half hour before the end of each night’s events, a special pick-up lane is set up off the main gate that allows people to come pick up concert-goers.
“Between this and the camping, we do our best to keep people safe,” said Lenhart.
In a last-minute change. singer Billy Currington was unable to perform because of an illness. Josh Phillips performed instead of Currington.
Country Concert continues Friday, July 6, and Saturday, July 7.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.