It’s the last week in June, afternoon temperatures in the mid-90s have settled in, and because the Country Stampede is just a few days from its opening act, the pace of activity is picking up a few miles north of Manhattan in Tuttle Creek State Park.
The Stampede, four days of country music and a whole lot of other things, has become a fixture in the Flint Hills. This is, after all, the 18th annual Stampede, and questions in 1996 about whether it would succeed and become the big annual festival its organizers hoped for have long since been answered.
The event runs from Thursday through Sunday and has drawn thousands upon thousands of fans since it began. A good four-day gate is about 170,000 people, and some nights, such as the one on which Toby Keith took the stage two years ago, draw more than 50,000 fans.
The music is the first draw, of course — and there is plenty of music. But the Stampede is filled with side shows, some planned, some spontaneous, that make pretty good memories for the folks who remember them. There’s camping, there are — for a tidy sum — souvenirs and refreshments, including alcohol. And where there’s alcohol, there’s security and law enforcement to ensure that one person’s excesses don’t spoil the fun for others.
It’s loud, it’s raucous and it can be a little dangerous, and those traits, along with an impressive series of headliners, have built the Stampede a loyal fan base. Many of this year’s Stampeders will go for the first time, but thousands of them fans all over Kansas and beyond are coming back because the music and the atmosphere are too good to miss. Fans aren’t the only returners. Even this year’s headliners — Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert, Trace Adkins and Little Big Town — are Stampede veterans.
And those acts are just a few of the stars that over the years have included Dierks Bentley, Clint Black, Sara Evans, Alan Jackson, Martina McBride, Rascal Flatts, Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, LeAnn Rimes and many, many more.
These entertainers haven’t just delighted their fans, they’ve made fans of local businesses — hotels and restaurants and merchants selling everything from ice and sunscreen to snacks and cold drinks.
Even a lot of local residents who’d just as soon not go near Tuttle Creek State Park the last week of June would concede that summer here just wouldn’t be the same without the aptly-named Country Stampede.