By Annika Tomlin | October 9, 2021
Country music is a staple in Florence.
Before the likes of Dustin Lynch, Old Dominion, Luke Combs and Eric Church appear at Country Thunder, Downtown Historic Florence will present Road to Country Thunder from 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday, October 9.
Hosted in partnership with Country Thunder and sponsored by KMLE and Hensley Distribution, Road to Country Thunder serves as the kickoff event for the four-day main event.
“We’ll have future Nashville stars as well as inflatables on Main Street,” says Alison Feliz, Florence’s recreation superintendent. “We’ll have a kids zone until 8 p.m., a beer garden during the event, vendors and food trucks.”
Among the food trucks are Chef on the Go, Rory’s Tacos, Chinos Grill and Maui Wowi.
Like previous years, KMLE will give away tickets to Country Thunder to attendees at the free Road to Country Thunder, which was founded in 2015.
Road to Country Thunder is an outdoor event so COVID-19 restrictions will be minimal, Feliz says.
“We will just do a few things to try and space people out and have hand-washing stations,” Feliz says. “It’s an outside event, so they are not going to be required to wear a mask, just cooperation with social distancing.”
Keeping their distance on the stage is the list of performers including Shari Rowe, Jaty Edwards of North Phoenix, Ryan and the Renegades, and Tom Wagner.
Rowe grew up in Glendale with country music ingrained in her everyday life.
“I have been singing since I was little,” Rowe says. “I come from a musical family, so I can’t remember a time when we weren’t singing songs, playing music or finding harmonies.
“The backdrop to my life has always been country music. I listened to all of the classics, and I remember hearing Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, classic country, which, in my opinion, was one of the best backdrops growing up in Arizona.”
Rowe splits her time between Arizona and Nashville to meet “the kindest and most encouraging people in the industry” to help her create music that she has been performing for nearly a decade.
She has performed for the main event Country Thunder in Arizona four times, but “this is the first time playing the Road to Country Thunder,” according to Rowe.
“I’ve seen it advertised and I’ve seen the lineups for the past years, and it just seems like a great event,” Rowe says. “I think being in Florence and being in the hometown that hosts Country Thunder is going to be a special event and a chance to really connect with everybody on a more personal level.”
As live events are returning after a year-and-a-half hiatus, Rowe intends to make sure the crowd is amped up.
“I think this event is going to be really high energy, so we are going to make sure that we bring some of our biggest hits that will get the crowd going and get everybody excited for the following weekend main event,” Rowe says.
“I had a song that I haven’t released yet that I’m going to be releasing in the spring. We’ve actually never played it live.”
That will change when Rowe hits the stage October 9. Rowe also intends to play “The Heavy,” which she released in the middle of lockdown.
“I didn’t write more about this time that we are facing in the world, but my co-writers and I wrote (‘The Heavy’) with different intentions,” Rowe says.
“It ended up being one of the most appropriate things to release during this crazy time. I feel like that is still such a reality for us, and it’s still such an encouragement. I know I can’t pass up the opportunity to share that again.”
As several performers are gracing the stage for the first time in 18 months, Rowe “can’t even tell you how great it feels” to be singing in front of an audience again.
“I think there is an appreciation on both side for those moments that we took for granted a little bit,” Rowe says.
“So, to see people together and to have the relationship with the crowd again, that is something that has always driven me. I love writing and I love recording, but playing songs for people, making the eye contact and meeting people afterwards at the merch table. Just those moments that you have with the crowd, there is just nothing that comes close to that. My heart is full to be able to do that again.”
Road to Country Thunder
When: 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday, October 9
Where: 440 N. Main Street, Florence