Do you have a hankerin' for a hoedown? Then grab your dancing shoes and head down to Headwaters Park on Sunday for one of Fort Wayne's largest honky-tonks at Freedom Festival.
Hosted by local country music radio station WQHK, K105.1-FM, and the Neon Armadillo, the festival is an opportunity for locals to celebrate patriotism through the sweet sound of fiddles, banjos, wailing guitars and classic country twang. Gates open at 1:30 p.m. and the concert starts at 3 p.m.
This year's headliner is the Charlie Daniels Band, most known for the “Devil Went Down to Georgia” ditty. Daniels, who is a Grand Ole Opry and Musicians Hall of Fame member, and his band will perform alongside some new country talent, including 2011 “American Idol” runner-up Lauren Alaina, Tyler Farr, Colt Ford and Joel Crouse.
Local acts Gunslinger, Jordan Brooker and the Muddy River Band also will perform.
Yes, Charlie Daniels may be 76 years old, but that doesn't keep him from touring and doing what he loves.
Laughing, Daniels said touring nowadays is a lot more comfortable than it was back in the day.
“It's easier because my wife and myself travel comfortably on a bus,” he said. “She goes with me about everywhere I go, which makes a lot difference. I spent a lot of years apart from her and my son when I first started out. But touring is so natural to me. It's second nature to me to travel. I sleep on the bus just like I do at home in my bed.”
“Hits of the South,” released in February, is the band's newest album, and it features the band's biggest hits, as well as performances of classic songs by ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers Band and Marshall Tucker Band. It also features duets with country stars Vince Gill, Bonnie Bramlett, Travis Tritt and Brooks & Dunn.
Daniels said the new album pays homage to the music he enjoys listening to, and he always enjoys any opportunity to work with other talented musicians.
“A lot of the music (from 'Hits of the South') is from bands we've worked with over the years and we have become close with,” he said. “Their music became part of our lives and our music became part of their lives, so it's natural to do a couple duets with some of our favorite singers.”
Daniels admits country music has changed greatly over the last 50 years, but the purpose is still the same — to make people happy.
“Many people ask me how to have a long career,” he said. “It's simple. Learn how to entertain. From the time I walk on stage to the time I walk off stage, I want to make people have a good time. If I can't entertain people, I've failed. I want to make people happy, and that's what I'm here to do.”
Tony Rafiei, owner of the Neon Armadillo and organizer of the event, said he picked this year's music lineup to span and connect various generations of country music fans. He also involved local artists, hoping some of the national acts will see the talents of the local bands.
“Jordan Brooker is very talented and should become a country star,” Rafiei said. “His band is very young, and his voice is beautiful. He has played at the Neon before, and he's also been to Nashville a couple of times. I'm hoping by putting him on the stage people can see how talented he really is.”
Rafiei said Freedom Fest began seven years ago with one simple goal — to have a great time and celebrate being an American.
“I grew up in Iran,” Rafiei said. “I left the country after the military at the age of 21. I lived in lots of countries. I came here, went to college, played soccer and got a couple degrees.
“To me, the way to be united is through music,” he added. “No matter where you go, people listen to music. Music pulls everyone together.”