Country on the River
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Country on the River

There’s something to be said for Bret Michaels. The dude is hanging on. Since his debut with the hair metal group Poison in 1983, he’s been doing his thing with his long blonde hair flying behind him. Michaels is joining the Country on the River festival in Council Bluffs June 20-21. Country music artists Gary Allan, Thompson Square, Tracy Lawrence, Montgomery Gentry, Lonestar, Trailer Choir, Adam Craig, Joe Diffie, and Joey Hyde complete the line up.

Allan, in particular, is making waves in Nashville and has been since the early ‘90s. His life, however, has been plagued by hardship. Allan had just begun to establish himself in Nashville a decade ago when he suffered a terrible personal tragedy. In 2004, his third wife, Angela Herzberg, committed suicide at their Music City home. Rather than wither away, the southern California native channeled his grief through his music, releasing the highly personal Tough All Over. The 2005 album went gold and produced hits in “Best I Ever Had” and “Life Ain’t Always Beautiful.” Since then, Allan has continued to tour and make new albums, but it took him several years before he would even do interviews, let alone discuss his wife’s death. Known for being a contemporary interpreter of the so-called “Bakersfield Sound” made famous by Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, Allan has released four additional studio records, including last year’s Set You Free, his 11th studio album. It has become his biggest critical and commercial success.

“I believe every album reflects where I am in life at that moment,” Allan said in an interview with Atlantic City Press. “Set You Free has songs about hope and redemption, as well as broken hearts and pain. I can relate to all of those feelings. I think working with different producers also gave the album a bit of a different sound. I got to use my road band on the things I produced with Greg Droman, and those were some of my favorite tracks. I also co-wrote with women for the first time on this record. I honestly didn’t realize that I had never done it before. I think they helped bring a little more emotion to my writing, and you can hear and feel that in those tracks.”

Allan came up through the “honkey tonk” circuit performing with his father’s band, which he credits for making him who he is today.

“I started playing that circuit with my brother and my dad and eventually stepped out on my own,” he explained. “At that point, I realized I had to learn to connect with everyone in that crowd. It didn’t matter if the venue held 20 people or 500 people; I needed to make each person feel like I was playing just for them. The venues have gotten larger over the years, but I still try to make it feel like we are in a honkytonk, and I want everyone up and having a blast.”

Allan’s sound is different from many of the current crop of country singers, as their sound is considerably more pop or rock, Allan has, at times had difficulty getting radio to play his singles.

Growing up in California, I was naturally drawn to the Bakersfield Sound,” he said. “My dad loved all those guys, and they have been a huge influence on me. Not only did I originally want to sound like Buck (Owens) and Merle (Haggard), but I wanted to have a career like theirs. Haggard is one of the best songwriters of all time, with hit after hit, yet he always made it look so simple. He writes what he is passionate about, and what he believes in. and I’ve tried to follow that same philosophy.”
Apparently, it’s finally paying off. Allan relishes in playing live every night for people. While he doesn’t have a new album yet, he’s working on one. He gets inspiration from his live shows.

“I am throwing in a few new songs here and there — not every night, but when the feeling hits me,” he said. “I’ve been writing a lot, and I like to test some of those songs on the fans and get their responses. When I’ve been home, I’ve pretty much been writing every day and doing demos at night. I like to have everything together, and then start culling through my songs and outside songs, until we feel we have the right mix for the next album. Once I feel I have that mix, I’ll head into the studio.  People say music can be healing, and I agree with that completely, Writing and performing have been therapy for me. It has given me an outlet for my grief and for all the positives in my life.”

Country on the River, June 20 and 21, at Westfair Amphitheater in Council Bluffs, Various Times. Tickets are $50/day. Visit for more information.

***Note to Campers: The Country on the River Campgrounds open on Thursday, June 19th 2014 at 10am. All campers must have a ticket to be admitted to the campgrounds. If you did not purchase your tickets in advance, you may purchase them at the camping registration shelter.

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