Country Concert has big names, rising stars, new faces

Tim McGraw, Dierks Bentley and Luke Bryan are among the headliners.



Four decades into its life, one thing is certain about Country Concert in Fort Loramie, it is the spot to see not just big name acts but future Nashville stars.

The 42nd annual event, Thursday through Saturday, July 6 through 8, features fan-selected headliners Tim McGraw, Dierks Bentley and Luke Bryan. Other mainstage acts include Jon Pardi, Brothers Osborne, Jelly Roll, Carly Pearce, Elle King and Tracy Lawrence. Music begins at 3 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and 1 p.m. Saturday with performers on four stages.

“It’s great to have current superstars and then some of hottest new acts in country music,” the concert’s general manager Paul Barhorst said. “Every year we send out a survey and we take the results and start at the top. Why not ask our customers who they want to see? It’s always a lot of fun putting that puzzle together.”



The big dogs

The headliners, McGraw, Bentley and Bryan, are all making their fifth appearances at Country Concert. McGraw, who was there in 1995, ‘96, ‘98 and ‘05, is currently in the top 20 of the country charts with his latest single, “Standing Room Only.” Bentley, who appeared in 2006, ‘09, ‘13 and ‘16, hit the top of the country charts in May with his 22nd number one single, “Gold.” Bryan, who performed at Country Concert in 2009, ‘11, ‘12 and ‘14, is in the country Top 40 with his current single, “But I Got a Beer in My Hand.”

“All three of those guys are at the top of their games,” Barhorst said. “It’s great to see the acts that became huge in the ‘90s like Tim McGraw still putting out new music. Dierks has had a couple of recent number one hits, and he’s got a hot new song in the charts right now. Luke is currently one of the biggest stars in the world with ‘American Idol’ and his residency in Las Vegas. It’s great to have them back.

“Each day we try to put together a unique show you’re not going to see everywhere,” Barhorst continued. “We have longtime favorites like Tracy Lawrence, Blackhawk and Carley Pierce. John Pardi is going to be one of the next big headliners and we’ve got Elle King, Jordan Davis and Brothers Osborne. We have up-and-coming artists like Priscilla Block and Ernest, and we’ve got Jelly Roll, who is probably the hottest new act in all genres of music.”



The next generation

The mainstage isn’t the only place to see future hitmakers. The C4 Energy Saloon stage features rising artists like Drew Green, Pillbox Patti and Ashley Cooke.

“We still look to have those up-and-coming acts, so we really invested a lot more budget into the Saloon stage,” Barhorst said. “We want to continue to raise the bar of the entertainment level. We’ve got some of the hottest rising stars in country music like Bailey Zimmerman, Warren Zeiders, Cooper Alan and Tyler Booth.”

There are also up-and-coming regional acts like Springfield native Leah Crose, Columbus-based Anthony Mossburg and Shannon Clark & the Sugar from Greenville performing both in the Homegrown Honky Tonk and on the VIP Stage.

“When we started Country Concert, Mom and Dad had a lot of homegrown talent,” Barhorst said. “Then we moved away from having that until about five years ago when we added the Home Grown and VIP stages to feature those Ohio-based and Ohio-rooted acts. There is so much talent out there, locally and regionally in our state, it’s amazing. A lot of those acts we’re having on those stages have moved to Nashville. To qualify to be on the stage all of them had to have written and published original music.

“They’re just one three-minute song away from being known across the country,” he continued. “Every ticket can see those acts on the Coors Light Homegrown Honky Tonk stage. We don’t have any shows that anyone with a general admission ticket can’t see. The same acts are playing the VIP stage, which is only accessible for stage front seats and VIP-plus seats. While the main stage is dark, there are three other stages playing to entertain people while we’re setting up for the next show.”



Beyond the music

According to Barhorst, there are recent improvements to the facility this year like new 20-by-40-foot tall HD screens on each side of the stage and LED lights in the show area.

“We always reinvest into the venue because that’s how we grow,” Barhorst said. “Mom and Dad invested in the facility all along. That’s what we do. In the entertainment business it’s amazing to see how the production has changed and what it takes to entertain people as a whole so we’ve grown. If you’re not improving and growing, if you’re standing still, you’re falling behind.”

Country Concert is about more than live performances with the USA Karaoke Finals, Marine Challenge, merchandise vendors, camping and food. Country Concert also generates thousands of dollars each year to support area groups and organizations such as the Fort Loramie Fire Department, Newport Sportsmen Club, Shelby County Relay For Life/ American Cancer Society, athletic boosters for Jackson City and Bath, Sidney Band Boosters, Valor (Wounded Veteran’s Charity), Sidney Band Boosters and Fort Loramie Football & Volleyball Boosters.

“We want our event to benefit the community,” Barhorst said. “We have a lot of nonprofit organizations that are doing a lot of the tasks and are being paid for doing that. It’s the biggest fundraiser of the year for them. From the beginning, it has been a community event and we want it to continue to be that way because it really takes a community to put it on.”

Familial quality

Country Concert was founded in the late 1970s by Barhorst’s parents, Mike and Mary Jo. It started as a wedding anniversary cookout for family and friends. Local musicians performed while partygoers indulged in food and homemade wine. By 1981 attendance had grown so much the Barhorsts made the event public.

Louise Mandrell headlined the first year, setting the stage for Country Concert to become the region’s largest annual gathering of country music fans. Since then, some of the biggest names in country music have performed, from Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynne and George Jones to Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire and Brad Paisley. Despite the changes and big name acts, Country Concert still maintains the family spirit promoted by Mike and Mary Jo.

“We’re fortunate to have great people helping us,” Barhorst said. “It’s a family, a network of people that have been helping us for years. Every year is like a family reunion, honestly, because we have people still with us from the beginning. We have their family members so we’re on the third generation of some folks helping us. We’ve had a lot of people willing to help us put on the show. Dad used to say we’re from an area where people work hard and play hard so that has helped us be successful.”

Contact this contributing writer at 937-287-6139 or


What: The 42nd annual Country Concert at Hickory Hills Lake with Luke Bryan, Dierks Bentley, Tim McGraw, Brothers Osborne, Elle King, Jelly Roll and others

Where: 7103 State Route 66, Fort Loramie

When: 3 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 1 p.m. Saturday, July 6 through 8

Cost: Single-day general admission tickets are $159 for Thursday and Friday, $183 Saturday; two-day general admission passes for Friday and Saturday are $304 and three-day general admission passes are $348; VIP seating available

More info: 937-295-3000 or

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