When thousands of people descend in RVs and campers on an open field in central Arizona for a four-day music and drinking festival, you’re bound to see some weird stuff.

And the first three full days of Country Thunder Arizona did not disappoint, from shots on a ski to a surprise concert.

Day 4: Cowboy Church 


Randy Helm leads the morning Cowboy Church at Country Thunder Arizona on Sunday, April 9, 2017. Patrick Breen/azcentral.com

It’s homestretch time. The final day of Country Thunder. And while the country-music festival is known for partying and drinking, there is a more spiritual side to the event. At 11 a.m. Sunday, Randy Helm led more than 200 congregants in prayer at a Palm Sunday “Cowboy Church.” Helm blended a mix of traditional scripture with personal stories and horseback-driven demonstrations. Helm also runs a program that pairs inmates with wild horses.

The service also featured a four song set from Glendale teen Josh West, who is currently appearing on NBC music competition/reality show “The Voice.”

LANco surprises campers

Here’s one way to get celebrities to visit your campsite – build a pirate ship and they will come.

Rich Reeves, Chris Zeitler and Sean Franklin created a full-on pirate ship masterpiece, complete with an on-deck bar, steering wheel, sleeper deck under the deck, and working water cannons, three years ago. Both Dustin Lynch and Florida Georgia Line have visited in the past.

On Sunday, they got a visit from country-rock band LANco. The men hitched a ride on a golf cart and showed up to cheers. They quickly set up to check out their setup.

“It’s the best. I’ve had so much fun, and everybody’s so nice,” said Bree Edgar, 26, who was camping with the pirates for her first Country Thunder. The highlight has been “just the people and the people-watching. I wasn’t ready for the things I was going to see, but it’s fine, we’re good, I’m alive.”

After some of the band members realized they attended the same college as one of the ship’s captains – Middle Tennessee State University – they cheered “Blue Raiders!”

Who wants to meet Blake Shelton?

Maddie Holub, 20, of Phoenix, should consider playing the lottery. On Saturday night, she won meet and greet passes to headliner Thomas Rhett from Country Thunder sponsor Rockstar. Then, on Sunday, she was given meet and greet passes to Blake Shelton. She won them after responding to an Instagram post from KMLE.

“I’ve never met anyone,” Holub said. “I am shaking.” So, who gets the second meet and greet pass? Currently undetermined. Both her mom and her sister were stating their case. “I am your sister and your best friend,” one said.

“Well, I made her for you,” mom retorted.

Blake Shelton’s risqué underwear

Whoever’s designing Blake Shelton’s merchandise deserves a raise.

The singer had the cleverest designs in the booth, including $25 underwear that said “I like doing it to country songs” and a $15 license-plate sticker that says “#1 BS FAN.”

Long line for next year’s tickets

As soon as festival gates opened at 1 p.m., a long line formed at the information booth of dozens of people looking to renew their tickets and campsites for next year.

It’s worth waiting for an hour or more in the sun today, because otherwise you could lose your beloved campsite, one woman explained.

It’s time for “noonshine”

A big group of friends in the Crazy Coyote campgrounds who call themselves the “Brian Family” said the key to making it to day four is “just keep drinking.”

Their camp rules help: The last person to wake up has to shotgun a beer, and at noon you have to drink moonshine, a tradition they call “noonshine.”

“The best advice I ever got: If you get lost, just crawl underneath someone’s camper and pass out there,” Brianna Goetzfried said, laughing.

Meet the ‘mayor’ of the campgrounds

Audie Murphy was the very first person on the campgrounds when gates opened Wednesday morning: He parked his RV in line outside Tuesday night.

“You gotta get here early. You can’t come in but you can party out in the parking lot,” Murphy said. “Why wait ‘til Thursday when you can start on Tuesday? Waste of time in my opinion.”

This year is the ninth time he and his wife have brought a big group of their kids and friends from Gilbert.

“We just know everybody ‘cause we’ve been camping in the same spots for so many years. We know so many people out here and we love country music. It’s about the best vacation you can go on.”

A crawfish boil … with High Valley

After four straight days of eating fried festival food, any kind of meal-time change is welcome. The folks at KMLE brought one half of Canadian singing duo High Valley in for an old-fashioned crawfish boil near the backstage area. After some shrimp, corn, red potatoes and sausage, the brothers hit the stage for a 4 p.m. set that included their hit “Make You Mine.”

Day 3: Headliner Rhett wows crowd with hit-filled set list

?Saturday night lineup include Dorado, Ryan Hurd, Frankie Ballard, Joe Nichols, and ACM Male Vocalist of the Year Thomas Rhett. And while the headliner’s show didn’t always feel like country, it was well-received by the 20,000 plus fans in attendance.

Thomas Rhett, an epic proposal and the #cutestcoupleever

Saturday was a night to remember for one lucky Country Thunder couple, who celebrated their four-year-anniversary with a surprise marriage proposal + and an unexpected meet and greet with Thomas Rhett. Jesse Stradling, 29, of Gilbert, staged the elaborate proposal for his girlfriend, Martha McCunn, 32, with the help of Phoenix country radio station KMLE 107.9 FM.

Do you know who’s playing at Country Thunder?


azcentral.com and KMLE Country 107.9 find out: How well do fans at Country Thunder Arizona know the festival’s lineup? Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral.com

azcentral.com’s Kellie Hwang and KMLE Country 107.9’s Nina quizzed some fans out at Country Thunder Arizona about the bands playing this year’s festival, and the results were pretty hilarious.

‘You sober up a little bit on the way there’


Though it’s more than a 25-minute walk from the main stage, the Ponderosa campground still parties hard at Country Thunder Arizona. We catch up with Jacob Halaby on Saturday, April 8, 2017. Patrick Breen/azcentral.com

Out at the edge of the Ponderosa campground, where campers can watch cows graze the nearby fields, 23-year-old Jacob Halaby and friend David Hanby, 24, sat in the shade of their camper. The afternoon sun blazed on overhead as Halaby embraced the “good times, good vibes.”

The camp is quite a distance from the stage – it’s about a 30 minutes walk – but Hanby is pleased with his assignment.

“This is a great walk – it’s a straight shot to the stage. You sober up a little bit on the way there,” Hanby said.

He said Country Thunder is more than watching the performances – it’s a good opportunity to meet new people.

Good neighbors

“I need a beer from a volunteer!” a beer-pong player shouts in a Crazy Coyote roadway. A man wearing an American-themed beer holster quickly hands him a can of Coors Light.

“Coors Lite – that’s my favorite, bro!” he exclaimed.

With one swift delivery, the group of 16 beer-pong participants shout “Move the table” as they hoist a folding card table to the edge of a row prepared for the game.

Hungover? There’s a $60 IV drip for that

At major music festivals like Country Thunder Arizona and Coachella, sticking a needle in your arm and rehydrating via IV is fast becoming a mainstream cure-all for what ails you. And for the first time, an approved vendor is on site, willing and able to deliver its elixirs intravenously.

But the fix doesn’t come cheap: it costs $60-$70 for a one-bag, 30-minute drip.

Day 2: Headliner Dierks Bentley dedicates song to fallen Yarnell firefighters


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The show took a dramatic turn with the moody title track to Bentley’s latest album, “Black.” And things got even more dramatic when he said he was thinking of something special he could do for Arizona and shared a song he’d written for the firefighters who died in Yarnell, performing that song and “Riser” alone on acoustic guitar.

EDM is king at Electric Thunder

If you’re in a dancing mood, you can check out the Electric Thunder tent

Love is in the air

How cute is this couple, who took a minute to smooch with the craziness of Country Thunder swirling around them.

It’s getting crowded up in here

As festival-goers flocked to the stage to see the like of Jon Pardi and Dierks Bentley, people made some new friends.

Honky-tonk music, courtesy of Aaron Watson

And he made sure to ask, “Y’all don’t mind if we put a little cowboy back in country music, do you?” before playing “That’s Why God Loves Cowboys.”

Bentley’s busy day


Highlights from Dierks Bentley’s free concert at his Whiskey Row in Gilbert on April 7, 2017, before he went down to Florence for Country Thunder Arizona. David Wallace/azcentral.com

The Arizona native played a show at his Whiskey Row bar and grill in Gilbert before heading down to Florence for his headlining spot.

Jello shots – literally 

Jello shots: Literally a Jell-O shot. Gio Gonzalez from Tucson and his friends made these up for their camp. He keeps some tucked in his shorts while he’s walking around. “It’s make with vodka, I think. Some kind of alcohol.”

16 teams compete for golden Solo cup


16 teams compete for the golden Solo cup trophy in the Beer Olympics at Country Thunder Arizona each year in Florence, Arizona.

The annual Beer Olympics drew 16 teams of four, all vying for the grand prize: a gold-painted trophy donning the names of past winners, topped with a Solo cup.

Apparently there are some GoT fans here

Somebody call Jon Snow.

Day 1: LOCASH surprises lucky campground


Country-music duo LOCASH played a campsite concert for the winners of a KMLE Country 107.9 radio station contest at Country Thunder Arizona on Thursday, April 6, 2017.

Some very lucky KMLE Country 107.9 listeners got a camp-side visit from LOCASH on Thursday afternoon.

They posed for pictures, played cornhole and performed some of their hits. Oh, and TLC’s “Waterfalls.”

“It’s great to be able to go out to the campgrounds … where everyone is friends with everyone, drinking beer and playing cornhole,” Chris Lucas of LOCASH said. “People get to see that we are real.”

Girl/grill power

Suzy Shelstad is the first-ever female grillmaster in the 23-year history of Johnsonville’s the Big Taste Grill. The eatery is on a 53,000-pound semi-turned-grill that is the largest touring grill in the world.

“I love working the grill a lot,” Shelstad said. “I get to meet a lot of people, and we tour for eight months coast-to-coast.”

That’s gotta hurt

A game of darts in the campground got a little out of hand and left one festival-goer with a punctured leg. Thankfully, a friend was there to come to the rescue, and all was well.

Not too crazy at Crazy Coyote Campground – yet

  • See inside Cowboy Church at Country Thunder Arizona

    See inside Cowboy Church at Country Thunder Arizona

  • Country Thunder Arizona trivia: How well do you know the lineup?

    Country Thunder Arizona trivia: How well do you know the lineup?

  • Dierks Bentley on what he misses most about Arizona with KMLE

    Dierks Bentley on what he misses most about Arizona with KMLE

  • Watch Country Thunder Arizona ambassador Harry Luge in concert from KMLE

    Watch Country Thunder Arizona ambassador Harry Luge in concert from KMLE

  • Joe Nichols talks Country Thunder Arizona

    Joe Nichols talks Country Thunder Arizona

  • Ponderosa campground parties from afar at Country Thunder Arizona

    Ponderosa campground parties from afar at Country Thunder Arizona

  • Aaron Watson plays KMLE Casino concert at Country Thunder Arizona

    Aaron Watson plays KMLE Casino concert at Country Thunder Arizona

  • Jon Pardi talks Country Thunder Arizona with KMLE

    Jon Pardi talks Country Thunder Arizona with KMLE

  • Beer Olympics at Country Thunder Arizona

    Beer Olympics at Country Thunder Arizona

  • Chris Young talks Country Thunder Arizona

    Chris Young talks Country Thunder Arizona

  • LOCASH surprises Country Thunder Arizona campers with concert

    LOCASH surprises Country Thunder Arizona campers with concert

  • Catching up with singer Terri Clark at Country Thunder Arizona

    Catching up with singer Terri Clark at Country Thunder Arizona

  • What you HAVE to bring to a desert music festival

    What you HAVE to bring to a desert music festival

On Day 1 at Country Thunder Arizona, things were getting ramped up in the campgrounds. Tricked-out RVs and trucks bearing American flags and blasting country music were working on getting set up. Many people had arrived Wednesday to get settled in. Folks were out grilling, playing drinking games and meeting their neighbors.

Crazy Coyote Campground, known for its wild antics and party-hard style, was slowly starting to turn things up on this dry, 89-degree dusty day in Florence. Songs by Rebel Son, Casey Donahew Band and even Nelly were blasting from speakers.

America, we’re sorry

Bill Haden, 24, of Phoenix, shows off his, uh, invention: a beer bong made out of a female mannequin torso. Instead of a head, there’s the funnel. And the beer comes out exactly where you would expect. He calls it “Miss America.”

Welcome, here’s a shot

Mike Yslaba spreads the love with his homemade shot ski, standing near the main walkway of Crazy Coyote, inviting anyone to come enjoy a little Fireball whiskey. He said “making new friends is the point of being here.” He used an old ski and painted it with a camouflage pattern, attaching wooden letters reading “Country Thunder” on the back.

Showing their pride

Casey Moser, 25, of Fresno, and Laura Smith, 22, from Phoenix, were among those who dressed the part to show their patriotism for Country Thunder.

“This is my sixth year coming try to shake it up every year (with my outfit), otherwise it gets dull.”

He attached “Rudy,” the toy stick horse, to this outfit this year. Smith said the horse is “amazing at flip-cup.” This is Smith’s first year and she said so far” everything is great, but it’s a little hot.”

Ride the bull

A group called “I Heart This Camp” has more than 60 residents and features a 360-degree seesaw, massive dance floor, wagon grill, drinking Jenga and, new this year, a bull. The bull was built by Chris Buhr, who created it from a barrel, carpet, rawhide, springs and ball bearings. So far, no one has successfully ridden it for more than a few seconds.

The all-important selfie

Jesse Bablove, 31, from Orange County, snaps a photo for some ladies. He’s riding the campgrounds on his bike fixed with an umbrella, cup holders and pool noodles attached to the handlebars. “Safety first with the noodles, so we don’t drown,” Bablove said. “Last year it rained, so we want to be prepared.”

RELATED: Best things we saw this weekend | Follow on social media | Overheard at Country Thunder | Day 3 review: Thomas Rhett | Day 2 review: Dierks pays tribute to Yarnell hotshots | Dierks Bentley on Country Thunder Arizona and ‘Black,’ an album inspired by wife he met in Phoenix | Dierks Bentley visits Yarnell memorial | Look back at headliners through the years | Ultimate guide to staying alive at Country Thunder | Country Thunder 1998-2016 | The six types of people you’ll see | 13 country bars in Phoenix if you have FOMO

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