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Giddyap to Wisconsin, country fans

Country ThunderThompson Square (music group)Brantley Gilbert

Question: When might a Midwesterner wear boots during summer?

Answer: When boot-scootin' outdoors with other country music fans.

Tens of thousands will migrate to Wisconsin during the next month for two such festivals whose stages attract some of country music's top award winners. Whether you listen to country rock or country pop, songs of heartbreak or high hopes, depends on where you land and the time of day. So expect rowdy to romantic moods, not a one-horse ride.

Country Jam USA, July 17-19, began in 1987 near Eau Claire, 325 miles northwest of Chicago. Part of the 100-acre festival grounds kisses the Chippewa River. That is in addition to a 75-acre campground, where "Christmas in July" is this year's campsite decorating theme (and there are prizes for excellent execution).

Country Thunder USA, July 24-27, fills 300 acres with music and campsites near Twin Lakes, 70 miles northwest of Chicago. This is the event's 22nd year at Shadow Hill Ranch; organizers expect 35,000 attendees per day.

Both are family-friendly events with music on multiple stages, day into night, with no overlap in acts. Country Thunder headliners include Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert, Thompson Square and Brantley Gilbert. In the Country Jam lineup are Luke Bryan, Jake Owen, Dierks Bentley and The Band Perry.

Vendors sell burgers and other traditional festival fare. Country Thunder adds kabobs, hot wings, cream puffs, frozen cheesecake on a stick and more.

Country Jam offers a VIP ticket that starts at $210 for one day and includes an evening buffet, evening cocktails, up-close seating and parking.

Access to Country Jam's new "party pit" — standing room only, right in front of the stage — is $15 to $200, in addition to admission, depending on the act.

Besides music, Country Thunder offers rides on helicopters, a slingshot for humans and a 380-foot-long zip line. The 4,500 campsites are sold out, but about 300 festival tickets ($190, to cover all four days) remained at press time. Also available: a four-night lodging package at Timber Ridge Lodge and Waterpark, starting at $1,999 for two people; that includes festival admission and shuttle rides to the grounds. 866-802-6418,

Ticket prices for Country Jam are $100 per day or $150 for three days. For military vets and any age showing school identification, it's $85 for the three-day ticket. It is possible to split a three-day ticket with another person. Only about 80 of Country Jam's $100 unreserved camping spots remained at press time; bus shuttles stop at about a dozen Eau Claire motels. 715-839-7500,

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