Toby Keith performs at Guthrie’s River Ruckus on Saturday, July 29.
Toby Keith performs at Guthrie’s River Ruckus on Saturday, July 29.

August 3, 2017

Guthrie Center

Country music star and proud American Toby Keith showed his support for the U.S. military and raised several red Solo cups during his performance at Guthrie’s River Ruckus Saturday night.

Keith brought members of the military from the crowd onstage at the Guthrie County Fairgrounds to sing “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” in honor of those who serve. He strummed an American-flag-printed guitar throughout the song, as fans offered their support and showed their appreciation for the special moment.

“A toast to the firefighters, the sheriffs, the boys and girls who wear our country’s uniforms, and the families of the boys and girls who are proud to wear the uniforms,” said Keith, who also performed his popular hit, “American Soldier.”

Thousands of country music fans flocked to Guthrie Center for the ninth annual River Ruckus held July 27-29. Keith headlined the summer music festival alongside the likes of Granger Smith, Clare Dunn, and Jeremy McComb, who performed Saturday, and Dustin Lynch, Joe Nichols, Colt Ford, Casey Muessigmann, and the Cody Hicks Band.

“We are out in the middle of nowhere and I see a bunch of hillbillies here. I love it,” said Keith, who took the stage in Guthrie Center wearing a cowboy hat, blue jeans and a denim shirt.

He joked it’s been 1,452 beers since he last saw the fans in Guthrie Center as he began singing, “Beers Ago.”

Ruckus fans sang along to Keith’s new single “Wacky Tobaccy” as well as other No. 1 hits like “Whiskey Girl” and “Beer for My Horses.”

He encouraged fans to be a cowboy, “learn to rope and ride” and “wear a six-shooter riding a pony on a cattle drive” during his hit, “Should’ve Been a Cowboy.”

Granger Smith, also known as Earl Dibbles Jr., returned to the Ruckus for a third time in 2017 and again was a country favorite.

His new hit single “Happens Like That” had fans singing along to the words that describe the surprise of finding the love of your life when you least expect it.

“This is most people’s story,” he said.

His song about a country back road, “Backroad Song,” encouraged fans to put the windows down and get out of town.

“I feel the wheels like a melody, like a radio dialing in strong, come on, come on, sing along, sing along to my backroad song,” he sang.

Clare Dunn took the stage at River Ruckus for the second straight year and thanked fans for welcoming her back. She says she feels at home in Guthrie Center.

“I grew up in a town of 30 people,” she said. “I was like you right out there. Dream big. You can do it.”

She danced around the stage, sharing her song “Tuxedo,” which touches on her dream guy and what she envisions him to be.

Dunn signed autographs and posed for photos with dozens of adoring fans after her set.

Jeremy McComb kicked off the final night of the Ruckus saying he finally got smart and married an Iowa girl. His wife, “Nashville” actress Kourtney Hansen — she plays Emily in the hit series — was born in Des Moines. Hansen waved to the crowd from the stage as McComb pointed out her pregnant belly and said “Nashville” fans should expect a plot twist with that next season.

McComb has released three albums, and his fourth album, “TroubleMaker Live,” is set to be released yet this summer. He entertained with “My Side of Town” and “This Town Needs a Bar.”

Cody Hicks and Casey Muessigmann kicked off Ruckus with a campground party at the free stage on Thursday. The two Iowa boys and their bands made sure to get the party started right.

Hicks played a lot of cover songs but sprinkled in some originals too. His band sang a lot of new songs currently on the radio because, Hicks said, he really likes the stuff that is coming out. His most popular song, “Left Turn,” is on country radio.

Casey Muessigmann, a former contestant on reality TV show “The Voice” and a 2014 River Ruckus performer, was a bit emotional during his performances both Thursday and Friday. He belted Toby Keith’s “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” which he says reminds him of his grandma, who died from cancer 10 years ago.

“Toby Keith changed my life, and he brought me closer to my grandma,” Muessigmann said. “This song is very special to me. It’s the first country song I ever fell in love with. It was the first song I ever sang to my grandma, and it ended up being the last.”

He asked the crowd to sing the chorus with him.

“Please sing along with us, because I guarantee she’s sitting in a lawn chair, just like all you folks out there, smoking a Virginia Slim and probably complaining about something,” he said of his grandmother.

Muessigmann also performed a new song, “Back to You,” which he’ll be recording in the studio this September. He mingled with the audience before his performance and met fans at the merchandise booth after his last song.

Colt Ford sang about the country, dirt roads, driving and beer.

“Ya’ll are the reason I’m here,” he said, thanking the fans for helping him get to the stage before them.

About 20 or 30 fans tossed their hats onstage, and Ford signed every single one of them.

“I take my hat off, because I wouldn’t have anything without you guys, and I know it, so thank you very much,” he said.

He played “Driving Around Song” and “Dirt Road Anthem,” which he co-wrote with Brantley Gilbert. The song was made famous by recording artist Jason Aldean.

Ford pointed to several veterans in the audience Friday night.

“I see a lot of veterans,” he said. “If you know any of them or you see any of them, you tell them, ‘Thank you, thank you for doing what you do.’”

Joe Nichols released his newest album, “Never Gets Old” the day he performed at River Ruckus and gave fans a chance to hear some of his new songs. But he also sang some oldtime favorites, including “Brokenheartsville,” “Gimmie That Girl” and “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off.”

“We have some great weather tonight,” he said singing his hit song, “Sunny and 75.”

Nichols thanked all the artists performing at the River Ruckus and those who put the event together.

“Thank you, Casey Muessigmann. Thank you to my friend Colt Ford,” he said. “Thank you, Grant (Sheeder). Thank you, Guthrie Center, Iowa.”

Dustin Lynch said he’d been waiting all week for River Ruckus.

“The party starts right now,” he said.

Lynch picked a member of the audience to chug a beer, and afterwards Lynch said he’d reload the guy and tossed him a Miller Lite.

“Hey, it’s cold, and it’s free,” he said.

As artists played, law-enforcement officers patrolled, using visibility to keep arrests to a minimum. Security-wise, this year’s event went smoothly, Guthrie County Sheriff Marty Arganbright said.

“It was a pretty good event for us,” he said. “We don’t do the juvenile alcohol program anymore, the funding is not there for that, so we don’t have the officers like we used to, and I know it was still all there and we had a few of those.”

Arganbright said they had a half dozen arrests where individuals were so drunk they couldn’t stand up and three or four operating-while-intoxicated arrests. He added that with the large crowd and all the camping, it really went well.

“People were pretty good,” Arganbright said. “From the days with a couple of hundred arrests, it’s really went down, and it’s not that we aren’t looking for it. What we want is everyone to have a good time and nobody get hurt. It went that way this year, and that’s what we want.”

He added that it has helped to have security assistance in the form of crowd-management officials hired from Des Moines-based Contemporary Services Corp., whom River Ruckus organizer Grant Sheeder has brought to the event for several years.

The Guthrie County Sheriff’s Department reported a plane that flew low over the campgrounds and concert area before Saturday’s event.

“It was way too low and illegal as heck doing that, so we did call the (Federal Aviation Administration) to report that,” Arganbright said. “You have to be (at least) 1,000 feet above any crowd like that. That was ridiculous. If that plane would have crashed it would have killed hundreds of people.”

As River Ruckus continues to grow every year, it continues to be an event with positive results for the whole community. Numerous local vendors were present at the festival, including Deardorff Highland Cattle, which sold Highland Philly after Highland Philly.

“We enjoy the local support, “ said Clint Deardorff, who has set up his food trailer for five years at the Ruckus. “It’s a fun environment. Sixty percent of the people are return customers who know what they want.”

Deardorff said River Ruckus is one of his favorite events of the summer.

“This is a fun one,” he said. “I can go over and hang out with some friends before prepping — you like those events.”

Hometown Foods, Sparky’s One Stop and Casey’s General Store in Guthrie Center had traffic all weekend from Ruckus fans, and employees there said again it was one of their biggest weekends of the year.

Adam Faucher, who organizes the event along with Grant Sheeder, estimates that more than 10,000 were in attendance both nights.

“Things went pretty smoothly,” Faucher said. “We didn’t hear many complaints. We have had a lot of positive feedback.”

Faucher said he and Sheeder, who is expecting his first child with wife Lauren any day, are already working on plans for next year’s 10th anniversary.

“We can’t share anything yet,” Faucher said. “It takes a lot more every year to get one of these planned. There’s a pretty good chunk of work that goes into it.”