W hen he was in his early 20s, Josh Thompson spent nine months in the woods of his native Wisconsin taking a wilderness course to learn how to survive and learn about himself in the process.
It ended up being a great foundation for the survival skills he would need in Nashville, Tenn., trying to be a songwriter and singer in the rough and tumble world of big label politics and show business competition.
Thompson, who turned 33 in January, has been in Nashville for about four years. He is just now attracting national attention as a result of his Columbia Records singles, his music videos and as an opening act for some major name stars.
He will, as a matter of fact, open for Grand Ole Opry star Dierks Bentley at 7 p.m. May 11 at Bell Auditorium. Tickets are $32.50, $38.50 and $44.50 at georgialinatix.com, by phone 1-877-428-4849 and the James Brown Arena box office. The new duo Miss Willie Brown -- Amanda Watkins and Kasey Buckley -- also will be an opening act.
Thompson grew up in the scenic small town of Cedarburg, Wis.; working since the age of 12 for his family's concrete business.
"Cedarburg is a great place," he said in a telephone call. "It's one of those old winery towns where people come to visit. It has a great strawberry festival each year."
Those solid, small-town values instilled in him at an early age now resonate in much of his music including the video for his song Way Out Here .
Some of the lyrics go: "We won't take a dime if we ain't earned it. When it comes to weight, brother, we pull our own. ... We're about John Wayne, Johnny Cash and John Deere, way out here."
"We filmed it off the beaten path in a section of Nashville heading toward Lebanon (Tenn.) and in other smaller towns in Tennessee," Thompson said.
Although he grew up loving traditional country music, he didn't pick up a guitar until age 21.
He was exposed to other country stars early on through state fairs and through a country music venue in Twin Lakes, Wis., called Country Thunder U.S.A.
"I think the first star I ever saw in concert was Kenny Rogers," he reminisced. I've seen Loretta Lynn, Ray Price, Brooks & Dunn, George Jones twice and Merle Haggard about six times. I've met George and Charlie Daniels and written (songs) with John Anderson."
Before touring in support of his singles and his 2010 CD, also titled Way Out Here , and becoming an opening act, Thompson said he rarely left his native state growing up except for a trip to Breckenridge, Colo.
But he sure made up for that last year when he and his band members drove 15,000 miles in a van as the opening act for country star Eric Church on a tour of 32 cities.
"Amazingly we never broke down," Thompson said, "and other than a couple of speeding tickets, it was pretty uneventful. We didn't get strip-searched, but we did get patted down somewhere around Sanford, Fla., by a policeman who was a bit wary of five guys riding together in a white van about 3 in the morning."
Thompson said the worst part of a tour like that, however, is not really getting a chance to visit any local attractions.
"You go to all of these places, like being 15 minutes away from Niagara Falls, but the landscape of your day doesn't give you time to check anything out. But I really have seen the whole country two or three times and visiting with fans at the shows has been great."
Besides working on his own music, Thompson has been producing an album for his Nashville friend Chris Cavanaugh.
"We're shopping him to labels now," Thompson said. "I like him as a friend, and he works hard to get noticed. He writes kick-ass songs, and he's out there playing more than 100 shows a year."
HEPHZIBAH OPRY: Frances Mooney, known for being on the Louisville, Ky., bluegrass scene in the 1970s, will perform with the band Fontanna Sunset at 7 p.m. Saturday for the Hephzibah (Ga.) Opry, located in the brown building across from Hephzibah City Hall, U.S. Highway 88. Admission is free. Contact Dwayne Flowers, (706) 306-7537, for more details.
DOVE AWARD WINNER: Congratulations to Little Roy Lewis of Lincolnton, Ga., and Lizzie Long, formerly of Lincolnton, for winning the 2011 Dove Award for Bluegrass Song of the Year for their recording Mountaintop .
The award was presented by the Gospel Music Association last week in Atlanta. The duo is sure to perform the song May 6 and 7 at the third annual Jeff & Sheri Easter Homecoming festival at the old Lewis Family Homeplace, 1935 Lewis Family Road, just off Washington Highway northwest of Lincolnton.
A DAY IN THE COUNTRY: Elizabeth Norris and her volunteers work hard each year to make the A Day in the Country festival a success. The event began in 1986 as WGUS-AM radio station's contribution to the city of Augusta's 250th birthday celebration.
Music begins at noon Sunday at Augusta Riverfront Marina. Gates open at 11 a.m. Tickets are $35 day of show or $30 advance general admission, $45 advance for Sand Pit area in front of the stage or $65 advance for Rhinehart's Café area with food and more. Artists are Montgomery Gentry, Justin Moore, Corey Smith, Sgt. Jamie Buckley and Rachel Farley. Order at tixonline.com or call (803) 278-4849.