The fourteenth edition of the Lakefront Music Festival has come and gone. The two-day festival featuring a rock and country night could not have felt more different, and not just because of the style of music.
Black Stone Cherry had the honor of starting the festival. Unfortunately, Mother Nature didn’t want to cooperate, stalling the timeline of everyone being allowed to enter until 5:30. The worst part was buses were grounded until 5:30. As BSC started playing, most people were still trying to enter or even get to the festival.
From where I was seated, Black Stone Cherry’s set sounded a little light, as the sound cut in and out for the group (day two opener Joe Nichols had the same problem.) Notably, BSC announced a new album coming out in September. They finished their set with “Blame It On The Boom Boom” from the 2011 release Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea.
REO Speedwagon got the middle spot. Playing just over an hour, REO started with a strong opening set that included “Don’t Let Him Go,” “Take It On The Run,” and “Keep Pushin’.”
72-year-old REO lead singer Kevin Cronin sounded pretty good throughout the set. Every once in a while, you’d hear his voice crack, and you did notice he couldn’t sustain the high end anymore. That said, Cronin couldn’t have sounded any better than he did on the hit song “Can’t Fight This Feeling.”
REO returned for their encore featuring the hit song “Keep On Loving You” before getting a little emotional as Cronin brought out retired keyboardist Neal Doughty to sing and dance to “Roll With The Changes.”
With one of the largest crowds in the festival’s history, the mostly older fans got settled in for Headliner Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Skynrd started with “Workin’ For MCA” and “Skynyrd Nation.” Once Skynyrd played “What’s Your Name” and “That Smell,” two of their bigger songs, even the slightly less engaged outer audience area got rockin’. For a little bit, anyway.
After Skynyrd played “That Smell” and started playing “Whiskey Rock-a-Roller,” you began to see people heading for the exits; mind you, this isn’t even halfway through the show. By the time “Saturday Night Special” played, you could sit and watch sections get up and leave.
I asked a few of them why they were leaving early. They answered the same way: they were bored and wanted to get a jump on getting to the shuttle.
If Skynyrd had picked it up as they did for the last portion of the night, I think more fans would’ve stayed. Lead singer Johnny Van Zant yelled to the crowd let’s turn it up to 11 just before playing “Gimme Three Steps,” but they should have turned it up earlier.
The last three songs of the night are what you’d expect from Skynrd, with a fun and lively version of JJ Cale’s “Call Me The Breeze” and their biggest hit, “Sweet Home Alabama.”
Skynrd ended the night by returning for an encore playing their most cheered and jeered song, “Free Bird.”
Day two of Lakefront was country day/night. What a complete reversal from the previous day. The weather was much better and the crowd was a lot younger (and definitely rowdier).
The opener was Joe Nichols, and just like the rock day opener Black Stone Cherry, he suffered from the sound cutting in and out. Unlike BSC, he was able to get through that with charm and the ability to rely on his music, which includes several hits, from “Impossible” to the fun, quirky “What’s a Guy Gotta Do.”
Nichols set was short enough that the fans got to hear most of his other hit songs too, including “Brokenhearsville,” “Yeah,” and “Sunny and 75,” and fortunately not long enough to hear his horrible version of Sir-Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.” Joe ended his short set with a fan favorite “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off.”
Tyler Hubbard of the now-broken-up duo Florida Georgia Line was next on stage. I wasn’t sure how his set would be considering the breakup with FGD partner Brian Kelley. How much, if any, of FGD’s material would he play? Would it be just music from his solo and self-titled album? Thankfully for all the fans, Tyler did work in two of FGD’s hits.
Tyler started the afternoon set with “Baby Gets Her Lovin” and “I’m The Only One” before interacting with the audience, saying they won’t be the only ones drinking today as he took a drink with them, leading into his song “Everybody Needs A Bar.”
On a few occasions, Hubbard mentioned his Christian faith, specifically in a touching moment where he talked about teaching his 5-year-old about being beautiful on the “Inside and Out.”
Tyler, to my surprise, came off as endearing, charming, and sincere when talking to the crowd. The crowd loved every minute of it, especially when he broke into “Meant To Be” from Florida Georgia Line featuring Bebe Rexha. The crowd favorite, though, was when he played FGD’s massive hit “Cruise.” Surprisingly this wasn’t his final song for the day.
Hubbard had a more traditional country sound to him compared to when he was with FGD. It works well for him; we’ll be seeing him around for quite a while, whether it’s solo or if FGD ever gets back together.
Then it was time for what the crowd was waiting for: headliner Darius Rucker. The complete opposite compared to when Skynrd headlined, from the moment Darius took the stage the crowd was standing, singing, and dancing.
From the beginning, Darius had the crowd swaying, telling the group this year is all about the 90s. Darius wasn’t kidding either, as his set featured seven songs from the 90s that included “Let Her Cry,” “Hold My Hand,” and “Only Wanna Be With You” from his band Hootie And The Blowfish.
It’s fun seeing the crowd interact with Darius, with his transition over to the country side of music including his own style that features rock and whatever else he decides to throw in.
Along with his own hits, Darius threw in covers of Tim McGraw’s “I Like It, I Love It,” TLC’s “Waterfalls,” and BBD’s “Poison.” His encore began with Blackstreet’s “No Diggity,” which he hasn’t played before, at least according to previous setlists.
The night could only end with one song, Darius’s cover of Old Crow Medicine Show’s Bob Dylan pastiche “Wagon Wheel.” The crowd was already loud the whole night; they ramped it up to sing along with this one.
Though there were issues with weather and parking, the 2023 Lakefront Music Festival was still a success.
The 15th Annual Lakefront Music Festival has been announced for July 12-13, 2024. No artists have been announced yet. Follow Lakefront Music Fest on Facebook for further announcements. Tickets are available for purchase now.