Staff photo by Jade McDowell
As concertgoers waited anxiously for the gates of the Pendleton Round-Up Grounds to open Saturday afternoon, everyone was asking each other the same thing: Pitbull or Blake Shelton?
It was impossible to determine the exact split between the roughly 18,500 people in attendance, but it was clear that both artists at the 2018 Pendleton Whisky Music Fest had a lot of fans.
Shannon and Hannah Byerly of Helix thought the concert was a perfect mix of both.
“For me it was Pitbull, for her it was Blake Shelton,” Shannon said as they waited near the head of the line.
She said she thinks Pitbull is “pretty hot” and she loves his music.
Kayla Ramos, down from the Tri-Cities, said she was excited to see both.
“I thought it was a great combination — a little bit of Spanish, and Blake is a little bit of country, so it’s perfect,” she said.
The diverse lineup drew a diverse crowd of different ages and music tastes.
Oscar Romero was there to see Shelton because he loves the thought the country superstar puts into his lyrics, while Maria Diaz and a friend were sporting matching Mr. Worldwide T-shirts in the Party Pit because they love Pitbull’s energy and music.
Sharon Stewart of Vancouver, 70, said her kids didn’t believe her when she said she was going to a Pitbull concert. She was sitting in the stands with Liz Green, 66, of Kennewick. While their first goal was to see Shelton, Stewart said she saw Pitbull perform at some music awards on TV and enjoyed his upbeat music.
Green, when asked what she liked about Shelton, laughingly said she probably shouldn’t go into detail when listing everything she liked about the country superstar.
“I shaved my legs for Blake Shelton today,” she said cheekily.
Gates opened at 4 p.m. on Saturday, and by the time the sun started to dip below the arena Pitbull had the crowd up on its feet.
Ever the showman, he worked the stage with grin wide and hips constantly moving, flanked by a squad of female backup dancers busy shaking what God gave them.
The performer nicknamed Mr. Worldwide infused his upbeat tempos with an even more upbeat attitude, and it was easy to believe he absolutely meant it when he said he was having the time of his life.
“Every day above ground is a great day,” he said. “When you come to a Pitbull concert the number one message is ‘Have the time of your life.’”
He said he was honored to share a show with Shelton, and he loved the diverse mix of people the lineup had brought together.
“If you speak English, Spanish, Chinese or Portuguese, it doesn’t matter because we speak music here,” he said.
After Pitbull’s set Blake Shelton charmed the audience with a slower tempo, joking that he saw people in the crowd starting to make moves on each other post-Pitbull, but they couldn’t all pair off yet because he still had a lot of romantic songs to sing.
He told the crowd he was nervous, but he looked at ease in the historic Pendleton Round-Up Grounds, in a city whose motto is “The real West.” He moved seamlessly through his classic hits and got the audience singing along to their favorites.
In honor of the Whisky Fest name, he crooned his way through a few “drinking songs,” including “Sangria,” which became his 20th number one hit on the Country Airplay chart after it was released in 2015.
Earlier in the afternoon, former American Idol contestant Britnee Kellogg had gotten the early-comers warmed up.
The big-voiced country singer from Vancouver, Washington, rocked some girl-power anthems and drew knowing cheers from the audience as she joked about her ex stalking her Instagram page without following it.
“I love me some whisky, but Pendleton is my favorite,” she said. “I’m not just saying that!”
She debuted a song she wrote specifically for the Pendleton Whisky Music Fest, which featured a chorus asking a bartender for “a little Pendleton on the rocks.”
After Kellogg came Filmore, a band from Nashville, Tennessee.
“This is one of the last states I haven’t been to, so thanks for helping me cut that off my bucket list,” he said.
Filmore’s style was a fusion of country and pop — fitting for a Pitbull/Blake Shelton concert — and he glided between both genres as he warmed up the crowd for Pitbull and Shelton.
An estimated 18,500 concert-goers were expected to pack the stands on Saturday — a new record for the event — and Randy Thomas of the Pendleton Round-Up board said the rapidly growing event was helping contribute to the estimated $65 million in economic impact that the Round-Up as an organization contributes to Pendleton each year.
The event’s organizers are an excellent partner in that they are happy to share branding with via Pendleton Whisky, he said.
Last year Pendleton Round-Up ticket sales saw a spike the week after Maroon 5 played at the Pendleton Whisky Music Fest, and Thomas said they expected a similar bump this year as people who have never been to the Round-Up get a taste of what Pendleton has to offer.
“We’re really excited that the Whisky Fest thinks outside of the box and brings in artists like Maroon 5 and Pitbull, that bring in people who have never set foot at a rodeo,” he said.
Contact Jade McDowell at email@example.com or 541-564-4536.