Two days of rockin' country music at the Mega Winterfest

by Alison Bonaguro

Special to the Tribune

Published January 16, 2009


How far can you stretch your concert dollar? This weekend, about a country mile wide. Because the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles has about ten hours of non-stop twangy, two-steppin', heart-breakin' music. All for roughly $80 on the cheap end. That means you're only paying about $8 an hour for stars like Kellie Pickler, Jason Aldean, Phil Vassar and LeAnn Rimes.

The show gets going at 6 p.m. Friday and keeps going through midnight Saturday. So if your New Year's resolution was to see more live music, this Mega Winterfest is for you.

Think Lollapalooza or Country Thunder, without the stifling heat and humidity. Jason Aldean, Friday's country-rock headliner, said he was looking forward to playing at a fest that's (for once) not outdoors. And because he's worked his way up to the main act, that brings some freedom.

"It's our show," said Aldean. "We can do what we want. We can play as long as we want."

On Saturday, piano man Phil Vassar is planning on playing his own songs plus a few of the ones he wrote for other stars.

"I'll play my new stuff, like 'Common Man' and 'I Would,' " said Vassar. "But there are so many songs I wrote and my label hated. They'd say 'You need a hat and you need to play guitar or you're never gonna make it.' "

Those number one hit songs, such as Tim McGraw's "My Next Thirty Years" and JoDee Messina's "Bye, Bye," established Vassar as the go-to songwriter in Nashville.

Who else is worth the trip out Interstate Highway 88? LeAnn Rimes will bring her ample supply of power ballads that stretches all the way back to her 1996 debut with "Blue." Kellie Pickler's a no-brainer for grrrl power, country style. And longtime country fans will remember Joe Nichol's sultry vocals even though he's been missing from the radio since his big "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off" days.

More must-see artists include Jimmy Wayne and Trent Tomlinson. After being off the radio for about four years, Wayne came bounding back with the recent number one "Do You Believe Me Now?" And Tomlinson seems to have mastered the art of playing the heartfelt balladeer ("One Wing in the Fire") as well as the party-hard rock star ("Drunker Than Me.")


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