Country on the River 2015 began with a bang on Thursday (Aug. 6). The bands were rockin' and the crowd was all smiles on Day 1 of the three-day country music festival in Prairie du Chien, Wisc.

Elizabeth Lyons and Girlbilly were the first two acts to take the Country on the River stage, getting the crowd amped up late Thursday afternoon.

"It just seems like people have a better time outside," Cole Swindell, who performed Thursday evening, tells Taste of Country about playing summer festivals. "I think it’s just this time of year ...”

Swindell entertained growing audience early in the evening, before country legends Alabama proved that, even though it's been 14 years since their last album of new material, they've still got it. Swindell, winner of New Artist of the Year at the 2015 ACM Awards, is used to winning over crowds before big acts.

"Me being a newer guy, we’re playing earlier in the afternoon. If that were me out there [in the audience], I’d probably still be out tailgating, but everybody seems to come in, and that makes me feel good," the "Chillin' It" singer explains. "That’s what I’m there for, to get everybody warmed up for whoever’s playing after us. We want to work to where we’re headlining one day, but we’re out there trying to gain fans."

"... It’s just a huge opportunity, especially at festivals; it’s always a ton of people," Swindell adds. "As a new guy, that’s what you live for.”

Country on the River 2015 runs through Saturday (Aug. 8). Jake Owen, Big & Rich, Craig Morgan and Joe Diffie are all in the Day 2 lineup.