For the third consecutive year at Meadowbrook U.S. Cellular Pavilion, Country Throwdown — a multi-band, multi-stage mini-festival — will lead off the concert season. The Lakes Region facility has long had a Southern accent, going back to when Johnny Cash played the first show there in 1996. But Meadowbrook is about a lot more than country music.
“It’s less than half of what we do,” says marketing director Liane Champagne, “but people think it’s more because we get some very big names.” That’s very true in 2012, with acts like Sugarland (June 16), Kenny Rogers and The Oak Ridge Boys (July 27), funny men Larry the Cable Guy and Bill Engvall (Aug. 12), Eric Church (Aug. 19) and Aussie country rocker Keith Urban (Sept. 2). Champagne reports that the latter show is the fastest-selling one of the new season. Urban last appeared at Meadowbrook in 2002 as an opener for Martina McBride.
The Country Throwdown on May 26 features main stage sets from Gary Allen, Justin Moore, Josh Thompson and Corey Smith, along with four performers on the newly renovated side stage and the Bluebird Café tent with three up and coming singer songwriters playing. As befits such a big lineup, it’s an early show, with the music starting at 2 p.m.
So that’s six of 15 shows featuring country (booked thus far, more are expected), but the rest run the gamut. Classic rock fans will enjoy a triple bill with REO Speedwagon, Styx and Ted Nugent (July 7), Steve Miller and opener George Thorogood & The Destroyers (August 5) and Chicago with the Doobie Brothers (August 25). Two veterans of 1969 Woodstock Festival are scheduled for “Evening With” long form performances — Crosby, Stills & Nash (June 13) and Santana (July 18).
The Santana show happens nearly 20 years to the day since the band’s last New Hampshire appearance at Nashua’s Holman Stadium. That 1992 show saw members of opening band Phish sitting in on a few songs, and featured rousing renditions of crowd pleasers “Soul Sacrifice” and “Jingo.”
Modern rock fans have much to choose from. Blending elements of alt rock, rap, funk and metal, Nebraska band 311 has moved from cult band to bona fide headliner over 15-plus years; their July 29 show is a co-bill with California ska punk band Slightly Stoopid. Sublime with Rome appears with hip-hop pioneers Cypress Hill on Aug. 23, and Train, multiplatinum pop rockers with a history of area sold-out shows, appears with singer-songwriter Mat Kearney on Aug. 28.
Champagne says she’s looking forward to the Train show, but as a 1998 high school graduate, she’s also excited about the July 22 Summerland 2012 show, which features ’90s hitmakers Everclear, Sugar Ray, Gin Blossoms, Lit and Marcy Playground.
“It seems like everyone’s done the Eighties revival and the hippies have the Sixties and Seventies,” she says, “now my decade has a turn. I’m telling everyone to dig out their combat boots and flannel shirts for this one and make it an event.”
Rounding out the present lineup is Jackson Browne with Nickel Creek fiddle player Sara Watkins opening on July 30, and a children’s show with Nickelodeon stars The Fresh Beat Band on Sept. 20. “That’s for the two- to four-year demographic,” laughs Champagne.
At least two more dates are booked — hints are that one has a classic rock vibe, while another will be similar to the massive Rock On Festival, previously held in 2009 with metal band Korn and 30 area performers.
“It will be about four or five national acts and then a bunch of local bands like the last time it was done,” Champagne said in an email. “Should be a great time!”
Details on one of the shows will be announced May 14, the second on June 4.
Local performers again will open all shows, beginning with Shana Stack Band’s set prior to Sugarland. This year they’ll work on a brand new second stage built during the off-season. The biggest improvement at the facility is an upgrade to the video displays flanking the main stage. The old projection screen have been replaced with state of the art LED monitors — “ginormous, high def,” Champagne says — at a cost of more than half a million dollars.
The attention to amenities is one of the reasons that the industry organization Pollstar again nominated Meadowbrook for its 2011 Red Rocks Award. The Academy of Country Music honored them in previous years, as has Billboard magazine.
A few shows are already hot sellers — Train, Sugarland and Eric Church are all moving quickly. Tickets to all shows are available directly through the venue’s website, www.meadowbrook.net.