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John Lamb, Published August 02 2012

Colt Ford fires fluid lines at WE Fest pre-party

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. - In recent years WE Fest has shown it marches to the beat of its own drummer, bringing in acts outside the country mainstream like Kid Rock, Sheryl Crow and this year comic actor and banjo player Steve Martin, who plays Friday night.

At Wednesday night’s pre-party, promoters showed they could move to a whole new beat.

Country rapper Colt Ford headlined the Barn Stage bill with a 90-minute set of thematically gritty but musically smooth tunes.

Unlike acts that have combined country and hip-hop before, Ford’s delivery isn’t forced, but fluid, even when he’s on a rapid-fire role. Rap fans may roll their eyes recalling the failed hype that was Cowboy Troy, but Ford’s flow seems sincere. (Here’s where we point out that Ford – born Jason Farris Brown – was a golf pro before swapping his putter for a mic.)

Ford’s brand of hick-hop, or yee-hawp, isn’t about life on the streets as much as it is driving down dirt roads. He’s not inner-city; he’s all-American, praising God, family, our troops and the freedom to tell anyone who doesn’t feel the same way to get out.

The fans out for the late show - he started at 11 – weren’t in any hurry to move on, but rather moved to his sweaty, Southern groove, which reminded me some of Three 6 Mafia from Memphis, Tenn. “Ride Through the Country,” dedicated to those serving overseas, got a big reaction, as did “Skirts & Boots,” dedicated to the cowgirls in the house.

But it was the song most people know as Jason Aldean’s, Ford and Bradley Gilbert’s “Dirt Road Anthem,” that really fired up the crowd, even if Ford’s take is even more laid back. Ford hinted that he’d reprise the song during Aldean’s headlining set tonight.

What really showed that Ford’s music was new to the crowd was that the biggest reactions came for uninspired covers. Ford led his band, particularly a fiddler, through a faithful version of Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” But that paled in comparison to when Ford and his drummer swapped spots so the beat-keeper could sing Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer,” to which almost all in the bowl screamed along. Unfortunately they didn’t respond with as much enthusiasm when Ford and the gang shifted from the noir-ish “Waffle House” to a cover of Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See.”

Ford won over the crowd Wednesday night, but the real challenge will be when he plays to a bigger crowd on the main stage at 4:15 today. Will his beats and sly rhymes roll through a reserved bowl to get to the cheap seats or will they echo through the VIP section which doesn’t generally fill up until later in the day.

Ford’s got a different beat and its one country fans should listen to.