To help celebrate Country Jam’s 30th anniversary this month, organizers will get the party started even earlier than usual.

This year’s edition of the festival, Thursday, July 18, through Saturday, July 20, in the town of Union outside of Eau Claire, will draw a crowd for headliners Toby Keith, Jake Owen and Keith Urban along with other established and ascending hit makers.

In addition, fans can head to the concert site Wednesday, July 17, for the 30th Anniversary Party to see other talented performers take the stage: Barron resident and “The Voice” runner-up Chris Kroeze; and rocking country singer Dawn Marie, who has established a fan base in the Midwest and shared stages with nationally known country artists such as Diamond Rio and Little Texas.

“We’ve been a part of the Eau Claire community for 30 years,” said Country Jam marketing consultant Meredith Kervin Blankenheim. “We wanted to celebrate that fact and say, hey, we know that maybe not everybody has come to Country Jam in the past, but let’s throw a party, let’s celebrate the fact that we’re really proud of being in this community and give people a chance to go see Chris.”

Both musicians also will appear on Jam’s main stage during the weekend: Dawn Marie at 1 p.m. July 18 and Kroeze at 3 p.m. July 19.

In previous years, the Wednesday before Jam’s opening day has been reserved for a party in the campground, giving campers a head start on the good times. But this year the location will be Jam’s main grounds, and it is open to everyone, not just the campers, Kervin Blankenheim said.

Admission, payable at the gate, will be $15. Gates open at 4:30 p.m., with music starting at 6 p.m. All the vendors and food booths will be ready for business.

“Everything will be open so people can get a little piece of Country Jam that maybe haven’t gone down there,” Kervin Blankenheim said.

Headliners

The festival’s big names have already been drawing excitement from country music fans, with Keith’s July 18 performance generating major attention.

“He’s just really popular in this area,” Kervin Blankenheim said. “We’re seeing a lot of excitement and buzz from him on social and when people are buying tickets.” 

The native Oklahoman has won accolades for singles ranging from “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” which was released in 1993 and became the most-played country song of the 1990s, to the current “That’s Country Bro,” a 2-minute, 30-second education on the greatest who have ever sung country music.

Keith has been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, which honors musicians from all genres, and this year has been nominated for the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

The festival’s closer, Urban, recently received the Academy of Country Music’s Entertainer of the Year Award.

“We’re happy to hear that he got that honor; well-deserved,” Kervin Blankenheim said.

The ACM comes on top of other prestigious honors Urban has received, including the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year and multiple Grammy Awards. His top-selling singles include “Somebody Like You” and “Blue Ain’t Your Color.” Country Jam is catching Urban on one of the dates he recently added to his “Graffiti U World Tour,” which already has included more than 70 concerts in seven countries.

Owen, set to perform July 19, has been collecting hits since releasing his debut album, “Startin’ With Me,” in 2006. Popular songs include “Don’t Think I Can’t Love You,” “Barefoot Blue Jean Night,” “The One That Got Away” and “I Was Jack (You Were Diane).” He recently attracted attention by posting a country version of the Cher hit “Believe” to his Instagram account.

One of the higher profile acts is July 20 performer Maren Morris, who has drawn fans particularly among the younger crowd.

“Maren has garnered a lot of attention, and it’s because she’s that nice bridge between people who already love country and people who are just starting to listen to country,” Kervin Blankenheim said. “She has that tone and that style that can really bridge that gap.”

Morris’ successes include a CMA honor for New Artist of the Year in 2016, a Grammy Award for Best Country Solo Performance in 2017 for the song “My Church” and a Billboard Music Award this year in the category of Top Dance/Electronic Song for “The Middle.”

Hometown favorite

Kroeze continues to command attention after his sensational showing on “The Voice.”

“Local hero, local music icon,” Kervin Blankenheim said. “Chris has just been really fun to work with.”

In fact, she added, some people have cited Kroeze as a primary reason they’ll be at Country Jam.

“We’re getting so much attention from local folks just saying, ‘Hey, we’re coming down and we really love country music and have never been to Country Jam before, but we’re coming for Chris,’” Kervin Blankenheim said. “We’re very, very excited for him.’”

The above-mentioned acts and others suggest the wide-ranging styles of music country encompasses and that will be highlighted again at Country Jam.

“Everybody likes different kinds of country music,” Kervin Blankenheim said. “Right now there’s so many different varieties.”

Thanks for service

Besides the lineup and the July 17 revelry, another special element at Country Jam 2019 will be a gesture of thanks on July 18 to people who serve our country and local communities.

“So not just the military, but the emergency personnel, fire department, those who serve their community and serve their country,” Kervin Blankenheim said.

The acknowledgment includes a flyover, a gun salute and a presentation onstage. During the day local veterans will be on the grounds raising funds for a veterans tribute planned for a downtown Eau Claire park.

It’s fitting that Toby Keith headlines this particular night.

“We’re really excited for him to be a part of that too,” Kervin Blankenheim said. “He’s obviously involved with honoring the military and those who serve.”

Multiple admission options are available to experience the festival. It starts with one-day or three-day general admission, and attendees can add to the experience with a party pit ticket, allowing the holder access to a front-of-stage vantage point for the shows.

Another add-on is for the Cenex Country Club membership, which allows fans to get an up-close view of artists being interviewed. “It’s a really intimate experience,” Kervin Blankenheim said.

Reserved seating and various VIP levels are available as well.

For this year’s festival the Cowboy Jack’s restaurant group will coordinate the food and beverages for the general admission crowd. As part of that arrangement, the company will offer Sand & Saddles, where attendees can enjoy sand volleyball courts and side stage and pop-up Cowboy Jack’s restaurant.

“They really wanted to make their area an experience,” Kervin Blankenheim said.

Food and beverages for the VIP areas’ nightly buffet and concession stand areas will be provided by KP Katering. For a look at the offerings go to tinyurl.com/yx8z4tdh.

One of the perhaps unsung stars of the event is the grounds, surrounded by rolling hills, lush scenery and situated on the banks of the Chippewa River.

Kervin Blankenheim recalled seeing the setting for the first time.

“One of the things that really struck me was it’s a beautiful location,” she said. “I’ve been to a lot of different festivals, and there are few that have such a nice place to listen to music and hang out with your friends with a beer. It really is gorgeous down there.”

Contact: 715-833-9214, william.foy@ecpc.com, @BillFoy1 on Twitter