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Country Summer Music Festival

When: June 16-18. Gates open at noon; music starts at 1:30 p.m

Where: Sonoma County Fairgrounds, 1350 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa

Admission: $79-$139 per day; $209-$379 for three-day tickets

Information: countrysummer.com

The lineup:

Friday — Ned Ledoux, William Michael Morgan, Michael Ray, Maddie & Tae, Thomas Rhett

Saturday — Claire Dunn, Aaron Watson, A Thousand Horses, Montgomery Gentry, Darius Rucker

Sunday — Canaan Smith, Cam, Randy Houser, Justin Moore


Country singer and songwriter Thomas Rhett’s star burns red hot right now — he’s piling up national awards, scoring a string of hits and touring the U.S. as a headliner for the first time. And at the same time, he’s carrying on a family music legacy while starting a family of his own.

Rhett was named male vocalist of the year at the Academy of Country Music Awards in April, and he also won song of the year honors for “Die a Happy Man.” His third album is due out in September.

With seven number-one singles on the Hot Country and Airplay Charts to his credit, Rhett is riding high. And he’s only 27.

Barreling nonstop through a busy year, he headlines opening day the Country Summer music fest in Santa Rosa next week, which runs June 16-18 at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. The event, produced by Impact Entertainment with radio station Froggy 92.9, features 14 acts over three days, including Darius Rucker and the Montgomery Gentry duo.

Meanwhile, it’s a happy year at Rhett’s Nashville household, too. Not only are he and his wife Lauren Gregory — whom he has known since fifth grade — expecting a child in August, but they also adopted a baby girl last month.

Taking time for a rare phone interview recently, the busy star apologized for being a few minutes late by saying, “I was changing a diaper.”

Then Rhett added with an easy chuckle, “Life is about to get pretty intense. I started my first headlining tour in February, with 20 dates in the spring and 20 more in the fall. And during the summer, we’re doing mostly fairs and festivals.”

Rhett (full name: Thomas Rhett Atkins Jr.) got a early start in the music business, sitting in on drums for his father, country singer-songwriter Thomas Rhett Atkins, Sr., known onstage as Rhett Atkins.

“I got my first drum set when I was 8,” the younger Rhett said. “Every time I went out with Dad, he’d always let me get on his drum kit during the encore and play ‘Sweet Home Alabama.’”

Now, Rhett turns out a steady stream of country hits on his own, each matched with a slick, professional video, from the slow, relaxed love song “Die a Happy Man” to the up-tempo, cheerful “Make Me Wanna,” with a sassy rock guitar break in the middle.

His latest video, for the single “Craving You,” comes off like a trailer for a movie thriller, complete with its own dialog and plot.

“‘Goldeneye’ is my favorite movie of all time,” Rhett said. “I used to dress up as James Bond as a kid. I’ve always wanted to dabble in acting, and this my first bit of it. I was horrible at it, but it was fun. I’d like to play a small role in a Netflix series, maybe, but I’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Quite a few country music stars have made a successful transition to acting. For example, Tim McGraw co-starred with Sandra Bullock in “Blind Side.”

“One day, maybe I can convince Tim to give me some acting lessons,” Rhett said. He wasn’t just name-dropping. He grew up with country stars like McGraw or Brooks & Dunn dropping by the house to see his dad.

Country Summer Music Festival

When: June 16-18. Gates open at noon; music starts at 1:30 p.m

Where: Sonoma County Fairgrounds, 1350 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa

Admission: $79-$139 per day; $209-$379 for three-day tickets

Information: countrysummer.com

The lineup:

Friday — Ned Ledoux, William Michael Morgan, Michael Ray, Maddie & Tae, Thomas Rhett

Saturday — Claire Dunn, Aaron Watson, A Thousand Horses, Montgomery Gentry, Darius Rucker

Sunday — Canaan Smith, Cam, Randy Houser, Justin Moore

The County Summer festival, founded in 2014, concentrates on booking hot new, young country acts and tends draw a young audience from all over Northern California, so Rhett is a perfect fit. He appeals not only to younger fans, but young families as well.

“Especially when I’m playing a show that’s billed in just my name, I’ve really started to notice who my fans are,” Rhett said. “And the majority are 18- to 25-year-olds, but I’ve noticed in the last year that there a lot of kids coming, like 5 to 8 years old, that are being brought by the parents.”

You can reach staff writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @danarts.