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Country Artist Thomas Rhett backstage at the CMA Music Fest Helen Comer, hcomer@dnj.com

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Life’s changin’ pretty fast for country star Thomas Rhett.

Just look at his history in Iowa …   

  • 2013: A 23-year-old Rhett plays an Iowa State Fair free stage ahead of the release of his first studio full-length, “It Goes Like This.” The record’s title track would later be Rhett’s first Platinum-selling No. 1 country airplay single.
  • 2016: He plays Iowa City behind chart-topping single “T-Shirt,” an opening slot for Blake Shelton at the first Kinnick Stadium concert.
  • 2017: A half-dozen No. 1 country singles under his belt, Rhett headlines Tree Town Music Festival in Forest City alongside Jason Aldean and Alan Jackson.  

And now the 28-year-old Nashville star returns Aug. 15 to Des Moines' east side for a headlining show at the Iowa State Fair Grandstand. Playing a newly-renovated venue, he’s expected to be greeted by a standing room only crowd of 14,000-plus country-lovin’ fairgoers.

Iowa State Fair: Complete coverage of the 2018 State Fair

Not too bad for a guy who played a free show a half-decade ago.

'Life Changes'

Rhett plays the fair in support of “Life Changes,” his first No. 1 Billboard 200 album.

The album title track, co-written with Rhett Akins, Thomas’ father, outlines his day-to-day whirlwind; Rhett recalled balancing touring and studio demands with he and wife, Lauren Akins, adopting their daughter, Willa Gray, who is from Uganda.

So, he took his stress to the studio.

“I just got to the room and I was venting about how crazy my life was,” he told the Register via phone. “(We said), ‘We should write this … let’s not even worry about it being on a record. Get as personal as possible.’ And that's what we did.”  

More: Kelsea Ballerini, Thomas Rhett host CMA Fest

Before that session, he tentatively titled his third album “Sixteen." But, as the song goes “You make your plans and you hear God laughin’ … life changes.”

“I didn't even think it’d make the record, much less be a single,” he said. “It’s cool when the songs are just so ordained that they just have to happen.”

Rhett’s found chart-topping success by building a brand of radio-ready country that blends modern pop, contemporary R&B and electronic elements — a sound that “comes naturally,” he explained.

He puts the myriad of influence on display with the 14-track “Life Changes,” from the 1980s-leaning Maren Morris collaboration “Craving You” to modern piano ballad “Marry Me.”  

More on Iowa State Fair music:

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Rhett listens to “literally, everything,”  citing Bruno Mars and Eric Church and two artists in regular rotation.

“I’m country at the root of who I am,” Rhett said. “But at the same time, man, I get down to freakin’ Post Malone. It doesn’t matter what genre it is to me. If it’s good music, it’s good music. I really just try to make good music no matter what the elements sound like.”  

His contemporary counterpart Florida Georgia Line, which plays the Grandstand on Aug. 19, crossed into full-blown pop success earlier this year with “Meant To Be,” a Bebe Rexha collaboration that peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart.

More: Country star Chris Stapleton returning to Iowa in 2019

Does he want to chase full-time pop stardom?

“I don't ever want to it be that I’m trying for this pop thing to work,” he said. “I don’t think that’s who I am. But if anything ever happened organically? That can only be beneficial for your career. For me, it’s more important to be a guest in other genres but not make a permanent home.”

Friends in Iowa City 

And he’s got a fan in one of Iowa’s own, Ashton Kutcher.

Rhett and Kutcher met at Stagecoach, a California country music festival, Rhett explained, and shared a mutual appreciation for each other’s work. Rhett later made a musical cameo in part four of Kutcher’s Netflix series, “The Ranch.”

“Man, I've been a fan of Ashton since ‘Dude, Where’s My Car,’” he said. “I would never tell him that because I think he probably hates that movie.”

But before Rhett punched out Kutcher on television, the two crossed paths in 2016 at Back Porch Revival, the Kinnick Stadium concert thrown to support Kutcher’s local nonprofit, the Native Fund.

It was backstage that Rhett talked Kutcher into joining him in front of 45,000 fans for a rendition of Garth Brooks’ “Friends In Low Places,” creating the night’s buzziest moment.

As he recalls it: “We were hanging out … and I was like, ‘You gotta come sing a song with me.’ And I think he had just enough cocktail to be like, ‘All right, dude. Whatta ya wanna sing?’

“That was a fun night.”

Thomas Rhett 

  • When: Aug. 15 at 8 p.m. 
  • Where: Iowa State Fair Grandstand, 3000 E. Grand. 
  • How much: $37-$60, limited tickets remain. 
  • More information:iowastatefair.org.

 

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