June 19, 2018
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Big & Rich, Gretchen Wilson show a boon for County charity, music fans

By Natalie Bazinet, Aroostook Republican & News

CARIBOU, Maine — Catholic Charities of Maine has always received a tremendous amount of community support, but supporting one’s local food pantry took on a whole new level of fun on Aug. 20, when country stars Big & Rich, Gretchen Wilson and Cowboy Troy took the stage at Spud Speedway for Feed the County Summerfest.

Approximately 4,600 turned out for the show and while ticket sales were lower than event organizers had hoped, the event still means plenty of money for Catholic Charities in Caribou to help with their mission of stocking food pantries in northern Maine.

“This event raised awareness about Feed the County, we know that we’ve raised some money for the cause, and people in The County got to have a good time and see a show like no other right here in Caribou, Maine,” said Spud Speedway owner Troy Haney. An exact total of money raised was unavailable at time of print, but Program Director of Catholic Charities in Caribou Dixie Shaw didn’t need an exact figure to be pleased with the event’s success.

“I think The County has always supported us and this is a great chance for them to get something back,” Shaw said. “Not only are [concert-goers] supporting their neighbors who have less than they do, they’re having an opportunity to see some great bands and have a great time right here in Aroostook County.”

“I couldn’t be happier,” she added.

Talented musicians put on a show so good, it was borderline country-converting — or at least it was for one Caribou man. Dave Faye said that he has never been into country music and traditionally prefers rock, but after seeing the talents showcased through Feed the County Summerfest, “I’m thinking about becoming a country music fan,” he said, adding that event organizers should be commended for their efforts.

The efforts of organizers like Shaw, Haney and John Swanberg of Aroostook Savings and Loan to created a venue that drew country fans from all over Maine and New Brunswick and license plates from states spanning the East Coast speckled the parking lot.

Fifteen-year-old Paige Maker from Newport drove more than three hours to see the event with family and friends — all country fans.

She was most excited to see Gretchen Wilson and it was her first trip to The County.

“It’s a lot different than Newport,” she said of the region.

But it wasn’t just the headliners that had fans dancing in their seats and crowding the stage — Moncton N.B.-based group Neon Highway did its part to pump up the audience during Summerfest.

Bruce and Tammy Berube of Presque Isle came to the concert most excited about seeing Big & Rich, but the band from New Brunswick made an impression on them as well.

“This band is wonderful,” they said. “They work the crowd really well.”

Of course everyone seemed to be dancing, singing, clapping or tapping their toes along to the music of Gretchen Wilson, Big & Rich and of course, the rhythmic rapping of Cowboy Troy.

But the crowd went wild when, as the country stars have done along their Xtreme Muzik tour, they dedicated a portion of the show to honor local veterans.

National Guard Sgt. Ryan Merritt was even invited onstage for a song and a drink (of soda) while his fellow guardsman stood in front of the stage, saluting a recently raised flag.

An Iraq veteran, Merritt got to sit at the stage’s bar with Cowboy Troy and Gretchen Wilson while Big & Rich sang “8th of November,” a song that “is probably the most important song we ever wrote,” Big Kenny said, sending out a dedication to the veterans in the audience.

Merritt didn’t know he would be honored onstage until a few hours before the performance. While he mentioned that he was a bit apprehensive about being onstage in front of all those people, “it was awesome,” he said. “Very memorable.”

Assistant Program Director for Catholic Charities of Caribou Debbie Pelkey said she only heard good things from the crowd.

“Everything’s been positive, everyone thinks we had a good turnout and they’re all glad to be here and glad to support the cause,” Pelkey said.

The few murmurs of discontent that were heard were based around view obstructions, caused by fans eager for stage front real estate standing in front of others who had arranged their lawn chairs, and comments that more concessions were needed. One woman said she stood in line for an hour and a half.

But complaints were few and far between, and the event went pretty smoothly like Haney expected.

“I am glad to see that it seems that everybody’s having a fantastic time,” he said, mentioning that the heightened level of energy from the audience came as a surprise to him.

Shaw, known for her own level of positive energy, enthusiastically thanked everyone in attendance.

“I want to say a big thank you to all of you for coming here tonight; we’re helping to feed a lot of people in Aroostook County,” she said.


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