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Throwdown opens country strong

Easton Corbin performs with his band.

Easton Corbin performs with his band.

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Joe Bellacomo

John Rich of Big and Rich

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Joe Bellacomo

Big Kenny Alphin of Big and Rich

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Joe Bellacomo

Miles Ulrey smashes out the tail light on a Nissan Sentra as he participates in the Put a Dent in Cancer fundraiser benefitting the Cancer Coalition of South Georgia Saturday at the Georgia Throwdown at the Albany Exchange Club Fairgrounds.

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Joe Bellacomo

Easton Corbin

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Joe Bellacomo

The Lacs perform on the Phoebe Community Visions Stage Saturday night at the Georgia Throwdown.

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Layne Oliver

ALBANY, Ga. -- When the sun went down Friday night, country music fans -- decked in their cowboy finest -- poured into the Exchange Club Fairgrounds for the first day of the Georgia Throwdown.

Lured by the likes of country stars Big & Rich, Easton Corbin and Randy Houser, and the "hick-hop" of Baxley, Ga.'s The Lacs, fans settled in for a party to kick off the three-day festival, which continues today and Sunday.

Vendors -- from barbecue grillers to band merchandise sellers to nonprofits who set up games to raise funds and awareness of their various causes -- started settling in early Friday morning in preparation for the after-school and after-work crowd that chased the sun down at the fairgrounds.

"I know most of y'all are just getting off work, and I appreciate you coming out here early to see me," Houser, who drew his biggest ovation with a rousing version of his hit "Boots On," said from the Flintco Throwdown Stage. "This ain't my first time coming to Albany, Georgia, and I know the people here like to have a good time."

After The Lacs had their rowdy crowd of fans cheering through songs like "Kicking Up Mud," and their string of "country" tunes -- "Country Boy's Paradise," "Country Boy Fresh" and "Country Roads" -- Corbin, with his dashing good looks and a string of hits that includes his current Top 10 smash "Lovin' You Is Fun," had all the cowgirls screaming with delight.

But it was Big & Rich the crowd was waiting for, and the duo delivered a rousing set to close the day's music on the Flintco Stage.

Meanwhile, Layne Oliver had his own pack of fans camped out in front of the acoustic J&B Irrigation Saloon Stage, while Betsy Kingston & the Crowns played an impressive set on the Fox 31 Stage. Col. Bruce Hampton wowed fans on the Phoebe Community Visions Stage, and rising star Cole Taylor followed his set.

Rock/hip-hop fusion band Unbreakable Bloodline kept the energy flowing well into the morning.

Raymond Barlow had his self-converted Volkswagen Beetle grill fired up with oak and pecan wood early in the morning, and by noon rows of Boston butts and slabs of ribs had browned perfectly.

"I've been doing this a little more than seven years now," Barlow said. "I try to go to five or six festivals in the spring and five or six in the fall. I mostly do it for fun."

Barlow, who previously worked at a Volkswagen dealership, said he got the idea for his unique grill when he saw others building similar cookers out of vehicle trunks and hoods.

"It took a bit," he said. "I had to put steel down on the inside, insulate it, and put in more steel. I've got seven racks in there, so I can cook plenty of food."

Local musician Kevin O'Lear and fellow Allman Brothers Band lover Sean Griffin set up an exhibit to promote the Oct. 26-28 GABBAfest in Macon. GABBA is the Georgia Allman Brothers Band Association nonprofit, and it is celebrating its 20th year and the 40th year of the release of the Brothers classic "Eat a Peach."

The festival's second day kicks off today at noon with the Evergreen Family Band playing on the Phoebe Stage and Frank William Dremel on the J&B Irrigation Stage. The main Flintco Stage will feature performances by drivin n cryin, Drive-By Truckers and Lynyrd Skynyrd.