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John Lamb, Published July 09 2009

Fresh country faces

The Red River Valley Fair kicks off a week of grandstand concerts Friday night.

While this summer’s lineup mixes classic rock (Survivor, .38 Special and the head-banging tribute act Hairball) with classic country (Joe Diffie and Diamond Rio), the dominant flavor comes from the fresh faces of Nashville.

Though these newer acts are making names for themselves, they aren’t yet household (or trailer park) names.

So who should you check out if you haven’t heard their music? We asked a couple of local country DJs, Anne Phibian of Froggy 99.9 FM and Chris Hanson of “Chris, John and Jane in the Morning” on Bob 95 FM to make some recommendations:


Julianne Hough

The ballroom dancer made her name as a regular on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” but in 2008 she traded in her dancing shoes for cowboy boots and released her country debut.

Since Hough used her TV appearances as a springboard for her music career, Phibian sees similarities to onetime “American Idol” contestant Kellie Pickler.

Hanson agrees but also cites Hough’s stage presence as a connection to the high-energy performances of Shania Twain. Also worth considering would be another blond beauty, and arguably the best show-woman in country, Sugarland’s fun-loving Jennifer Nettles.

Zac Brown Band

Hanson predicts big things from this Atlanta-based band, which has three hits with “Chicken Fried,” “Whatever It Is” and “Toes.”

“They’re definitely one of the ‘it’ bands of the moment,” he says, adding they remind him of Alabama.

“A party on the stage. They’re really a fun band,” Phibian says of the group. “I wouldn’t compare him to Kenny Chesney or Garth Brooks, but he does have that showmanship ability.”

She may not want to compare Brown to Chesney, but I would. Just listen to “Toes”: “I got my toes in the water/ (Butt) in the sand/ Not a worry in the world/ A cold beer in my hand.”


Joey + Rory

Hough isn’t the only former TV star appearing at the fair. Married couple Joey and Rory Feek competed on CMT’s “Can You Duet?” Though they lost, they proved they can swap lines on the hit “Cheater, Cheater.”

“They’ve got a folksy sound, more of a traditional group,” Hanson says.

Neither DJ could offer up a comparison, so I’ll give it a shot. If you like Brad Paisley’s more tender tracks, or even John Prine’s bitterly beautiful collection of duets, “In Spite of Ourselves,” Joey + Rory could be for you.



Perhaps no group sums up country’s current youth movement as much as Gloriana. Founding singer/guitarist brothers Tom and Mike Gossin met singer Rachel Reinart through her MySpace page, and singer/mandolin player Cheyenne Kimball won “America’s Most Talented Kid” seven years ago at the age of 12.

Both Phibian and Hanson say fans of Little Big Town could get into this quartet.

“Kids would love them,” Phibian says. “They’re all young and very attractive. This would be a great family show.”

Indeed, the band’s clean-cut looks and poppy appeal make them a Disney-friendly band, almost as if two of the Jonas brothers (your pick) paired with Hilary Duff and Miley Cyrus.

Trailer Choir

As you’d expect from a band that includes members called Butter, Big Vinny and Crystal, Trailer Choir is all about the party. And though their looks aren’t as refined as Gloriana’s, the group’s hit “Rockin’ the Beer Gut,” about a woman being comfortable with “some extra love around her waist,” says beauty is easily an attitude.

“If you could put hip-hop into country music, that’s what you’d get,” Hanson says, comparing the trio to Big and Rich, “with a female lead.”

If you go

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533