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Artists, fans from across the country flock to Country Thunder Iowa 2022

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Country music artists and fans from across the country flocked to Heritage Park of North Iowa in Forest City for three days of Country Thunder Iowa 2022, starting on June 10.

It is only the second annual country bash under the Country Thunder brand, which was formerly known as the Tree Town music festival. The annual Forest City event extravaganza was not held due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, which was originally slated to be the first year for Country Thunder.

Jackson Dean and his band members got the crowd rocking as the June 10 opening act, performing the current Billboard Country hit “Don’t Come Lookin'.”

It was a lead-in to the Sawyer Brown Band, which brought back memories for many concert goers with country classics. Emcee Jay Brooks of 98.7 FM KISS Country said “these guys are crowd favorites all over the world.” They did not disappoint.

Sawyer Brown lead singer Mark Miller said it was good to be back in Iowa and told the story of how Sawyer Brown got its start on the talent show, “Star Search,” in 1983.

“We’re going to play 38 years’ worth of music,” Miller said. “I tell my kids we were the original American Idols.”

The next performer, Michael Ray, also paid homage to Sawyer Brown, saying “it doesn’t get any better than Sawyer Brown.”

“We’ve been together for 38 years,” Miller said. “So, if you’ve never seen us you need to get out more. Or, we need to get to Iowa more.”

Country Thunder Iowa also featured Kameron Marlowe, who rocked the stage as one of the June 11 opening acts. Fans there helped him celebrate his 25th birthday by singing "Happy Birthday" to him.

“I love all the Country Thunder shows,” Marlowe said. “They are my absolute favorite. I think I’ve done just about all of them. This year, I’ll officially have done all of them.”

The 25-year-old breakout artist said his first gold record, “Giving You Up,” a song he poured his heart into following a breakup with his girlfriend, changed his life. The entirely self-penned breakout track quickly garnered 152 million on-demand streams. The music video was one of Vevo’s Top 10 most watched country videos of 2020.

“Country music was embedded in my childhood and what I grew up loving,” Marlowe said. “For me, my life was changed completely. It used to be a 9-5 job every day. I was just about to be engaged with a ring, a house, and job. She broke it off. I had to put some words down on paper. I sat down and wrote that story.”

After his Forest City stop, he’ll move on to tour dates in Ohio and Illinois. 

“It’s fun to start breaking into the Midwest,” Marlowe said. “It’s definitely a new experience.”

Acclaimed guitarist and vocalist Lindsay Ell directly followed Marlowe's performance with many of her best-known songs, including "Criminal" and "Waiting on You."

The 33-year-old Ell, who hails from Canada, said she has been touring since she was 10 years old. She noted that the pandemic was a wake call to her to never take the career she loves for granted.

"(My father) used to drive me to all my shows and used to play with me before I could play myself," Ell said. 

Another up-and-comer, Nolan Sotillo, is the only performer to take to the Country Thunder Iowa stage each of its first two years in Forest City. He performed in 2021 and returned on June 12 of this year. Sotillo was also scheduled to play Country Thunder Iowa in 2020 before the event was cancelled.

“Honestly, I can’t say for certain if I’ll be back next year,” Sotillo said. “Country Thunder has been really great to me with so many great artists and performers. They try to move artists around. I hope to come back making a lot of headway. Iowa is a lot of fun.”

Sotillo has been living in Nashville for two years, honing is songwriting craft after dabbling in music for many years before it became his formal occupation. His hard work has led to his current album, “At the End of the Day.”

“I’m always writing,” Sotillo said. “It could be immediately after I’m on stage. It could be in the middle of the night. It’s that inspiration. You’ve got to let it flow whenever it does come.”

Sotillo has also played Country Thunder Wisconsin, Country Thunder Florida, and Country Thunder Arizona as well as other festivals.

“I’m very blessed to be able to play these festivals,” Sotillo said. “We’ll continue to grow as far as the career goes. If they would like to have me back, I’m definitely making the most of that opportunity.”

Other performers at this year’s Country Thunder Iowa included Lee Brice, Kip Moore, Travis Tritt, John Morgan, Trace Adkins, Lainey Wilson, and Matt Stell. Chris Young was set to close out the weekend on Sunday night.

Rob Hillesland is community editor for the Summit-Tribune. He can be reached at 641-421-0534, or by email at rob.hillesland@globegazette.com.

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