Soldier schedules duty around Country Thunder

Download a PDF of the story as it appeared in print
in the Kenosha News.

By Jessica Fryman

TWIN LAKES — While lightning late Thursday night might have put a scare in some visitors to this year’s Country Thunder celebration, hardly anything will stop one Kenoshan from being there.

Not even duty with the U.S. Army.

Sgt. Blake Buchanan, 26, scheduled his two-week leave from his tour in Afghanistan to rock out at the four-day music festival.

“It’s great,” Buchanan said about the event he’s attended since he was 10 years old. “I get to have some beer, choose what I want to eat every day. I can’t complain. It’s the little things you miss when you’re

Buchanan is camping out with at least 60 of his friends, some he’s known since elementary school, others he’s met at previous Country Thunders. The group takes up 15 campsites in the crowd of nearly 3,000 at the event.

About 15,000 people are expected to camp throughout the weekend.

Big lineup of acts
This year’s lineup features Kenny Chesney, who headlines Sunday at 8:30 p.m. Acts leading up to the big
show include Luke Bryan and Jo Dee Messina. Miranda Lambert is Saturday’s big name, with Jason Aldean and Sugarland taking the main spotlight today.

Buchanan was most looking forward to Eric Church, though, who kicked off the festival Thursday night.
Despite Buchanan’s enthusiasm, the grounds for the opening day’s shows were far from full. The reserved seating area was virtually empty and the lawn was not crowded. More trickled in for
John Michael Montgomery at the end of the evening, but were disappointed when weather canceled the Sawyer Brown concert.

“I like all the guys that are up-and-coming,” Buchanan said as he rounded up fellow campers to the back of his pickup, giving out rides to the show. “I enjoy the guys that sing about everyday life.”

He cruised through the muddy terrain in his Chevy Silverado, sporting an American flag blowing in the breeze. But until Buchanan returns to the Middle East on Aug. 2 to finish the last seven months of his year-long deployment, the flag is one of the only signs of a soldier — he is all cowboy for this weekend, complete with his silver belt buckle and black cowboy hat and boots.

Underneath his T-shirt labeled “Sgt. Buchanan is home on leave from Afghanistan just for Country
Thunder,” he brandishes a silhouette tattoo of a cowboy riding a horse on his right bicep.

Loving the military
Buchanan joined the military after he graduated from Bradford High School as a way to help pay for his
college tuition at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

“It turned into me loving the military,” said the reservist, who works as an engineer for the service.

During his first tour in 2004-05, Buchanan spent 15 months in Iraq, but took leave for Country Thunder,
of course. He’s only missed one year of the festival since he started attending 16 years ago — last year during Army training at Fort Dix, N.J.

He said there’s not much that would ever stop him from showing up for the concerts.

About five years ago, he sold his antique Gibson guitar to raise money for a ticket.

“There’s nowhere else you can do this,” Buchanan said about Country Thunder’s laid-back atmosphere of
drinking, hanging out with friends and listening to his favorite bands.

It’s ‘cowboy heaven’
Buchanan’s friend Bruce Crane, also in the Army reserves, calls it “cowboy heaven.” Crane, a 26-year-old
Kenoshan, took leave from his deployment last year to attend the event.

“This is the biggest festival around here,” he said. “Combine that with all the good people and good times and it’s worth coming home for.”

After hanging out with his friends for the fi rst part of Eric Church’s set, Buchanan took a front-row seat next to his mom who started taking him to Country Thunder so many years ago.

“It makes it so much more special to have Blake here,” his mom Sandy Rehberg said. “Words can’t express it.”

This story was originally published in the Kenosha News
on July 23, 2010.