By ABBY KESSLER
Sunday, August 5, 2012
PORTSMOUTH— Prescott Park was filled with cowboy hats and sounds of twang on Saturday afternoon, as five bands took the stage at the 8th annual WOKQ Country Festival that drew people to the waterfront park from across the state.
Shirley Santomassimo, of Manchester, has returned to the festival for the eight years that it has been running.
“This event is so great, I just love coming down to the park and listening to good country music,” Santomassimo said.
Headlining the event was Ayla Brown, a 2006 American Idol semi-finalist. Brown was alone onstage for her entire set, using only her powerful vocals and acoustic guitar. The rest of her band was setting up for a show in Boylston, Massachusetts, that she was hurried off to following her performance at the park.
“I watched American Idol in 2006 when she was on the show, so it was really nice to see her in person,” Santomassimo said. “She is beautiful, sounds great and seems like a really nice person too.”
Throughout Brown’s set, the singer frequently addressed the crowd, even offering audience members tickets to the Philadelphia 76ers. Brown sings the national anthem for the professional football team and through the opportunity receives 7-8 free tickets to every game.
“If you are ever in Philadelphia contact me through my twitter or Facebook account and I may be able to give you free tickets,” Brown said.
When she wasn’t talking with the crowd her powerful vocals filled the park. Her self-written songs drew from her past experiences, opening audience members to her past relationships that had gone sour, to her strong connection with her mother and to kicking boys’ butts in sports.
Barbara Abbot, of Concord, also enjoyed the show, wearing a WOKQ cowboy hat.
“I love country so much, I listen to it as much as possible. I would listen to it 24/7 if I could,” Abbott said. “Last year was the first time I have been to the country fest, but I hope to go to every single one until I am gone.”
Abbott has recently started to travel around to country concerts throughout New Hampshire, frequenting the Medowbrook Pavilion. While traveling around to the different concert venues, Abbott has made a habit of running up to a corner of the performance stage after the set is complete to ask the performer for their guitar pick.
“I have collected around 20 picks just this summer,” Abbott said.
At 5 p.m. when Brown wrapped up her performance, Abbott immediately sprung from her lawn chair and bolted to the stage to meet the singer.
She quickly asked for the young country star’s pick, which Brown easily relinquished smiling.
The country festival also highlighted Tom Dixon Band, a group from Manchester that infuses blues, rock and jazz music into their country tunes.
Skyler and the Band of Thieves, Karen Morgan and Pony Express and Jodie Cunningham and Fried Cactus also took the stage throughout the afternoon, leaving the audience looking forward to next summers festival.