These are the screams you want to hear, crowds yelling from the top of their uproarious lungs, surrounded by a muddy mess and no one cares because the music they came for is blasting and thousands have purchased their tickets to be a part of the party.
Wicked weather was how music festival Rock The South came to exist seven years ago, just after one of Alabama’s worst tornado weather days in recorded history. In April of 2011, mile wide tornadoes touched down in several parts of the state with F-4’s and F-5’s clawing across the South like tiger marks on a map and killing and injuring many, leaving behind tens of thousands of broken homes, businesses and severely destroyed neighborhoods.
Cullman, in North Alabama, not too far from Huntsville, received extensive damage and Rock The South was born as a benefit concert to help those residents rebuild. Today, the festival raises funds for all sorts of charities and the one targeted specifically this year was to fight against child abuse.
Organizers have seen the growth of this festival in the South go from a local concert to out of towners finding Cullman on a map and bringing in an economic boom to the city as hotels are filled up and the lineup attracts bigger acts to put on a two-day show of music, food, and mud when the weather reminds us that spring is still full of rain and not ready for summer during the first weekend in June.
Last year, over $60,000 was raised for charities and the city claimed an increase of at least $10 million to the county during the festival. Numbers are still being tallied for this year’s Rock The South but Cullman is making their way on the map of music festivals and drawing more attention every year.
Friday night’s line up began with Dalton & The Sheriffs, Josh Mirenda, Kirstie Lovelady and Dylan Schneider, before Ryan Upchurch, who goes by just Upchurch, took the stage, and he reminded people, who mostly know him throughout the South for his comedy skits on Youtube.com, that he is more than just a comedian when he takes the microphone on stage at a music festival.
With millions of followers, Upchurch sang his heart out and got the crowd jumping, then claimed afterwards that these are definitely his people.
“When I get on stage, I’m in a totally different mind frame,” Upchurch said. “I know what I’m here to do, what I’m here to represent and I know what I’m supposed to do, as an artist, for the people that put me here, because I don’t have a record label. I’ve never been signed by nobody. I’m here independent, by myself and so I just get on stage, do my thing and give thanks to the people who put me here.”
Upchurch described his upbringing in middle Tennessee and when asked if these are his people here in North Alabama, his response was a loud “Hell yeah, these are my people around here, for sure.”
He claimed when his song “Come and Get It,” comes on, that’s when he spots them in the crowds. “Those people that are jumping three feet off the ground, them’s my people.”
Upchurch said he is continuing his festival and concert tours and working on some other projects that his fans may enjoy.
“I’m doing some acting right now,” he said. “I’m working on a new album, a couple of new music videos, a couple short films, and have a documentary coming out about growing up in the middle of nowhere Tennessee. I was raised by a good ole’ country boy and my mom was a hippie. My grandparents fought chickens. I grew up on a farm and plenty of summers I had chicken shit between my toes so, you’ll hear all about it in the documentary,” Upchurch said.
Lauren Alaina, who skyrocketed to fame as a top ten finalist on American Idol several years ago and has now taken her Georgia roots to Nashville as a legit country crooner and she put on quite a performance in Alabama before one of the best of the night, Brett Young rivaled many on the ticket with his singing chops.
Young took the time to stop and talk with the audience, get them involved and stole the show from many others on the lineup for Friday night’s Rock The South.
“How many of you have ever been broken up with,” he asked. “And how many of you have ever heard this line, ‘but we can still be friends.’ Well, this song is for you,” Young said as he went into his song “Don’t Tell Me We Can Still Be Friends” over screams so loud, apparently by many people who could relate, that you almost had to be sitting near a speaker to hear him.
Thomas Rhett closed out the first night and cleanup by the crew immersed in preparation for a second day of music, food and a little less mud as the rains cleared up for a hot day in the South with temperatures reaching over 100 with the index. Crowds were thankful for the wooded area behind the sponsor tents with a cool mist to spray over them for a quick cool down before heading back into the sweltering crowded heat.
If you were fortunate enough to find your way over to a new addition called glamping, with a price to pay for not having to drive home or to a hotel, some fancy tents with mattress beds were set up in a ball field for those willing to pay for it.
Day Two had some Alabama strong heavy hitters to headline with Hank Williams Junior and Riley Green in the sunset lineup for the night. Folks saw Kenton Bryant, Travis Denning and then The Marshall Tucker Band.
As the sun was setting, the crowd pushed towards the front if they weren’t already in the VIP section to get a closer look for themselves although big screens were placed so all could get a good view.
Riley Green has been circulating for a while in Alabama and has hit the radio waves with his song “Bury Me in Dixie” that came out a couple of years ago. Known for his generous spirit, he recently held a benefit concert for Jacksonville State University, when the campus was also hit with a tornado and he donated his time and talents to raise funds to rebuild the school earlier this year.
Known in these parts as a guy on the rise, Riley took the stage before Hank Williams Junior took it back when he gave the crowds what they wanted most at Rock The South, a rocking good time at a concert that is growing, and evidently is packing a punch with an event many, even those traveling from other states, look forward to every year. Eric Church closed the night out and Rock The South 2018 came to an end.
This is no longer just a little festival in Cullman, Alabama. It’s one that’s kicking off summer for a lot of folks who are willing to find it on a map and travel the distance to get there. It’s also raising money for those in need while thousands and thousands enjoy the show.
Charlotte Alexander contributed to this story.