Disgruntled fans launch petition to put the country back in Country Thunder. Here's why

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A group of country music fans is circulating a petition at change.org to put the country back in Country Thunder Arizona.

The petition was launched on April 15, 2024, a day after Koe Wetzel brought the four-day festival to a raucous conclusion as the weekend’s final headliner.

Lainey Wilson, Eric Church and Jelly Roll were the other headliners at Country Thunder Arizona 2024, which is held at Canyon Moon Ranch in Florence, AZ.

"As loyal fans of Country Thunder Florence, we have witnessed the evolution of this beloved music festival over the years,” the petition begins.

“Yet, with each passing year, we find ourselves increasingly disheartened by the departure from the roots of country music that once defined this event. It is with a deep sense of nostalgia and a longing for authenticity that we, the undersigned, come together to petition for a return to the golden era of late ‘90s and early 2000s classic country artists in the lineup.”

The Arizona Republic has reached out to Country Thunder for comment.

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Country Thunder '90s stars included Tim McGraw, Reba, Toby Keith

Country Thunder Arizona’s roots stretch back to 1994, when a four-day event called Country Jam USA brought Kenny Rogers, Tanya Tucker, John Michael Montgomery, Sawyer Brown, Faith Hill, Diamond Rio and more to Queen Creek Mayor Mark Schnepf’s family farm.

Renamed Country Thunder USA, the festival returned in 1995 with Ricky Van Shelton, Sawyer Brown, Confederate Railroad, Lorrie Morgan, Tracy Lawrence, John Michael Montgomery, Tim McGraw and more.

Other acts that made their way through Queen Creek in the ‘90s include Billy Ray Cyrus, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Martina McBride, Charlie Daniels, Asleep at the Wheel, Toby Keith, Joe Diffie, Alabama, LeAnn Rimes, Trace Adkins, Brooks & Dunn, and Reba McEntire.

Fans want 'timeless classics' at Country Thunder Arizona

The petition ends by urging Country Thunder organizers “to heed the voices of their loyal fan base and curate a lineup that pays homage to the timeless classics that have shaped the genre,” adding, “Let us once again revel in the melodies of iconic artists who defined an era and inspired generations of country music lovers. It is time to bring back the classics and restore the soul of Country Thunder Florence.

“Gone are the days when the twang of steel guitars and the heartfelt lyrics of true country storytelling filled the air,” the petition argues.

“Instead, we find ourselves inundated with a wave of new age pop and rap influences that have strayed far from the essence of country music. As ticket prices soar with each passing year, we cannot help but feel disillusioned by the disconnect between the festival's roots and its current direction.”

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'A blend of new and iconic performers should be the new norm'

Darian Wyatt and Nicole Daignault started the petition.

Wyatt says, “We aren’t trying to keep new and popular or upcoming artists from playing at Country Thunder Florence. Rather, we are hoping our petition will show festival owners that a blend of new and iconic performers should be the new norm.”

She and Daignault are concerned that the festival has begun to drift from its roots of “providing fans with the opportunity to see long-established and beloved performers who defined an era, and inspired generations of country music lovers.”

With each passing year, she says, “these new country pop/rock/rap artists are taking over the entire festival.”

Petitioner says 'longtime fans feel unheard'

Wyatt feels the festival should be able to accommodate old-school fans like her while bringing in the younger generation.

“As of now, the longtime fans feel unheard,” Wyatt says. “And that was made apparent when the usually packed and sold-out festival was plagued with tons of unfilled campsites and unsold tickets. People were literally giving away tickets for free in Country Thunder Facebook groups.”

Wyatt says she doesn’t have a problem with a mix of new and old sounds.

“But we believe the headliner spots should be reserved for those who've been instrumental in Country Thunder's journey,” she says.

“This petition isn’t about keeping people out. It's about balance! Letting people celebrate new music while still preserving tradition, protecting nostalgia, reconnecting with true country music and restoring the soul of the festival for both longtime and newer fans alike.”

As of late Wednesday morning, the petition had 370 signatures.

Reach the reporter at ed.masley@arizonarepublic.com. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, @EdMasley.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Frustrated Country Thunder Arizona fans plead for more country music