Massive New Jersey country beach festival defies noise issues and storm evacuation

As with any good mullet, Friday night’s party took place on Wildwood Beach.

As Eric Church began his headlining set and wrapped up day two of Barefoot Country Music Fest’s sprawling multi-stage jamboree on the Jersey Shore sands, fans began to bitch.

The sound was muffled; nowhere near loud enough for the people in the main admissions department, behind the VIP fenced area, but in front of the second row of speakers, which blared out the North Carolina singer’s hits to the rest of the crowd totaling nearly 30,000.

“Turn it up, turn it up!” fans sang between songs, and many stomped off in disgust because Church’s chanting wasn’t much louder than the “Pass the tram, please!” alert back on the promenade. But those who retreated into the crowd found that the tone was much sharper farther away. The only problem then was that they couldn’t actually see the Miller Lite Main Stage and were forced to watch video screens that showed the pseudo-lawless church in grayscale for most of the night. I still have no idea what color his shirt was.

Fans watch Eric Church perform on day two of Barefoot Country Music Fest in Wildwood on Friday June 17, 2022. Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

As with all great concerts, what the performer hears on stage is very different from what the audience hears, so Church had no idea as he made his way through his 90+ minute rocking jams like “Creepin'” and “Stick that in tormented Your Country Song, as well as his party songs Drink in My Hand and Smoke a Little Smoke. The set ended appropriately with Church’s biggest hit, a song called “Springsteen” as the fans sang along, helped by the distant screams of the roller coaster riders on Morey’s Pier.

After Barefoot’s maiden voyage in Wildwood last year was beset by storms and standing water that turned the sand between Morey’s and Adventure Piers into a giant gray puddle, uncooperative weather once again disrupted Friday’s all-day music program. After a muggy afternoon, which saw scores of fans dressed in overalls and rhinestones stuck on (the day’s theme was ‘Denim and Diamonds’), the skies opened up and nearby lightning forced an evacuation from the festival site.

The second day of the Barefoot Country Music Fest in Wildwood, June 17, 2022

People evacuate the Barefoot Country Music Fest venue on the beach in Wildwood due to the threat of severe thunderstorms, Friday, June 17, 2022. Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Luckily, the storm passed within an hour, pushing only one main stage act, Georgia emo-rap/country hybrid Kidd G, onto the second stage later that night. With the festival continuing on Saturday and Sunday, the forecast looks brighter.

But rain or shine, this festival needs to find a better way to get its paying customers through the gate. Perhaps it was the earlier evacuation, but by around 8 p.m., the line of attendees stretched three blocks down the boardwalk before fans were pushed into an endless, snaking line on the beach itself. From the end of the line to the security checkpoint, it took a full 90 minutes — enough time to devour a Kohr Bros. vanilla-orange hat, scoop up a cup of Polish popsicles, snag an “I Love Dad Bods” t-shirt ( one of the tamer options) and maybe even take a monster truck ride in the sand. Wildwood is a magical place.

Just before Church, Tennessee star Dustin Lynch took the main stage with an hour-long set in full party mode – his latest single, literally called “Party Mode,” sure didn’t hurt. From a down-to-earth stage decorated with a lawn chair, a plastic cooler and a camp lantern, Lynch declared “New Jersey parties are tougher than anywhere else” — oh Dustin, you say that to everyone — and singled out a fan who would Tuck a Bud Light wore a beer helmet and a beer helmet. Later, a member of Lynch’s five-piece band helped him hand out plastic cups of tequila and sombreros to some female fans in the front row. As the sun went down, casting a beautiful peachy sky backstage, fans sang to his hits “Seein’ Red,” “Thinking ‘Bout You,” and a radiant cover of George Strait’s “All My Exes Live in Texas.”

The second day of the Barefoot Country Music Fest in Wildwood, June 17, 2022

Dustin Lynch performs on day two of the Barefoot Country Music Fest in Wildwood on Friday June 17, 2022. Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Before Lynch, hair metal icon (and recovering VH1 reality TV star) Bret Michaels led his own high-octane 60-minute performance. Though he’s not exactly a country singer, Michaels played the role and donned a stars-and-stripes cowboy hat while pacing between the country-rock covers “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Your Mama Don’t Dance” and the Poison -Hits “Talk Dirty To Switched Back And Forth I” and “Nothing But A Good Time”.

“I’m here to celebrate and celebrate with our friends,” said Michaels, who was brimming with energy (and touting Poison’s upcoming participation in a Philadelphia stadium date with Motley Crue). The set ended, predictably, with “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” which featured Michaels strumming an acoustic guitar.

The second day of the Barefoot Country Music Fest in Wildwood, June 17, 2022

Bret Michaels performs on day two of the Barefoot Country Music Fest in Wildwood on Friday June 17th, 2022. Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Earlier in the afternoon, newcomer Brittney Spencer turned around in a sharp 30 Minutes and remarked on how she’s “making (her) own kind of country.” That meant pop and R&B influences, as she nailed her poignant single “Sober and Skinny,” as well as cool covers of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” and Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made for Walkin’.” Spencer said she’s always asked how she, a woman from Baltimore, got into this genre.

“I say, ‘Have you been to the Northeast? Because I see a lot of country fans here.”

The second day of the Barefoot Country Music Fest in Wildwood, June 17, 2022

Brittney Spencer performs on day two of the Barefoot Country Music Fest in Wildwood on Friday June 17th, 2022. Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Barefoot Country Music Fest takes place on Saturday, with pop-country hitmakers Florida Georgia Line headlining the all-day line-up. Georgia star Jason Aldean leads Sunday’s bill. And the festival is already booked for June 2023, when a new Garden State tradition will emerge.

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Bobby Olivier can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @BobbyOlivier and Facebook.

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