Old Dominion returns to Country Summer at top of the bill

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If You Go

What: Country Summer Music Festival

When: 1-9:45 p.m. June 14-15; 1-8 p.m. June 16

Where: Sonoma Country Fairgrounds, 1350 Bennett Valley, Santa Rosa

Admission: $89 through June 9; $99 starting June 10

Information, full schedule: countrysummer.com

Back in June 2016, Santa Rosa’s Country Summer Music Festival — always on the lookout for rising talent — presented a Nashville-based band called Old Dominion to open its Sunday afternoon program at the 1 p.m. slot.

It turned out to be a prescient choice. By now, the Old Dominion holds a solid grip country superstar status and the quartet will return to County Summer as the Sunday headliner June 16 to close out the three-day event. They’ll be a good company, with a couple of country heroes headlining the other two days: Jake Owen on June 14 and Tim McGraw on June 15.

When Old Dominion appeared here the first time, the festival had booked the band seven months in advance, just as the group was beginning to break out in big way.

In late 2015, the group released its No. 1 hit single, “Break Up with Him,” followed shortly by its debut studio album, “Meat and Candy.” The album’s second single, “Snapback,” which hit No. 2 on the Country Airplay chart, came out in January 2016, followed by a third, “Song for Another Time,” in June, released just a few weeks after Old Dominion played Santa Rosa.

Named the Academy of Country Music new group of the year for 2016, Old Dominion went on the win the academy’s country music group of the year award for both 2018 and 2019.

“It happened slow and fast at the same time,” said lead singer Matthew Ramsey by phone from Nashville. “It’s just been a product of slow growth.”

That’s a modest understatement, coming from a guy who has been plugging away with his three bandmates at a country music career since 2007, playing at bars for beer in the beginning and serving as the main attraction at company picnics.

Maybe Old Dominion has seen slow growth, but the band isn’t slowing down. Its 2017 album, “Happy Endings,” has yielded three more singles: “No Such Thing as a Broken Heart,” “Written in Sand” and “Hotel Key.” And last November, the band hit it big again with the single “Make It Sweet,” the first tune from its forthcoming third studio album. The single’s title also serves as the name of Old Dominion’s current tour, its first as a headliner.

While Ramsey, 41, talks in interviews about being influenced by ‘80s rock, there is a more old-fashioned, classic country flavor

in some of Old Dominion’s songs, with strong stories and traditional values.

“We managed to do both, and find our way into the mainstream,” Ramsey said.

While short-lived love affairs are certainly referenced in some of the songs, there’s a pervasive longing for permanence in romantic relationships, too, evident in many of the lyrics.

Consider these lines from “Written in Sand”:

Are we last-call kissing or will we be reminiscing with each other for the next 40 years?

Are written in the stars, baby, or are written in the sand?

“I think we are a group men of a certain age now. Marriage and family happened for us a little later in life,” Ramsey said. “Most of our songs are about finding romance.”

The rest of the Old Dominion members are guitarist and keyboardist Trevor Rosen, guitarist Brad Tursi, bassist Geoff Sprung and drummer Whit Sellers — all from Virginia, like Ramsey. The musicians originally met there and chose the band name Old Dominion, because it’s the nickname for their home state.

The band’s success hasn’t made the players complacent in the slightest.

“I think we pushed ourselves hard to grow and evolve as a band, and to grow our audience,” Ramsey said. “We spent a long time on the side stage, because we weren’t ready to fill a football stadium. We’ve grown to the point where I think we could down an audience of 60,000 people, and we hope do that within the next five years.”

Given what the Old Dominion has accomplished so far, it might be wise to go catch them at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds while you still can.

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

If You Go

What: Country Summer Music Festival

When: 1-9:45 p.m. June 14-15; 1-8 p.m. June 16

Where: Sonoma Country Fairgrounds, 1350 Bennett Valley, Santa Rosa

Admission: $89 through June 9; $99 starting June 10

Information, full schedule: countrysummer.com

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