Whether Kansas or far from it, to Early natives and aspiring country music stars Josh Coon and Abbey Grooters, there's no place like home.
The thrill of returning to northwest Iowa was evident for the brother and sister singing duo as familiar hometown faces welcomed the performers with hugs, handshakes and numerous requests for autographs upon their return Saturday evening for a headlining concert with their Nashville-based band, Early Risin'. The concert was the weekend's main event culminating the city's annual Crossroads Days festival.
"We absolutely love to come home," Grooters said. "Early has always been very supportive of us. It's a very tight-knit community."
Consisting of vocalists Coon and Grooters, lead guitarist Steve Eagon, drummer Dave Callela and bassist Mickey Smith, Early Risin', named after the siblings' beloved hometown, specializes in a country sound while at the same time covering what Coon calls "a variety of alterna-country songs ranging anywhere from the Eagles to John Mellencamp."
The children of Jay and Anita Coon, the siblings began their journey as vocalists at ages 7 and 5 respectively at Sacred Heart Church in Early, as well as at their grandmother's women's clubs, performing throughout their school years until departing for college, only to be later reunited in the city where country stars are born.
The duo began their professional career in Nashville five years ago after Grooters, a 1994 graduate of Schaller-Crestland High School, transferred from Drake University to Belmont University in Nashville as a graphic design major. Before attending college, she had previously traveled the world with "Up With People," a touring singing group and show troupe. After graduating from Belmont with a degree in graphic design, she convinced Josh, a 1992 graduate of Schaller-Crestland who had recently earned his business degree at Drake, to join her in Nashville to pursue a longtime dream.
"It took quite a bit of prodding from Mom and Grandma to get Josh to do it," Grooters said, "But eventually he came down."
It was then that the duo made their initial connections, met their current band members, and Early Risin' was born. Coon said that while the group performs a wide variety of popular cover songs, approximately 60 percent of those performed for each concert are originals, including hometown hits "Five Days" and "710," both written specifically about Early, the latter being its population in 1982.
"We really try to write from our experiences," Coon said. "We want to make it something everyone can relate to."
Each member of the band currently lives in Nashville, Grooters with her husband Scott, a native of Rock Rapids.
The band is currently in the process of marketing their self-produced CD to various major record labels, while also touring circuits in Nashville and previously opening for such acts as up-and coming country music star Shannon Brown, a native of Spirit Lake. The band has also received frequent air time on KKIA 92.9 The Moose of Storm Lake.
Aside from gaining exposure as entertainers in country music's capital, the band has continued to write songs with fellow Early native Brenda Kowalke-Russel, as well as making the ever-important connections involved with breaking into the music industry.
"We've really been working together and introduced to a lot of great people," Grooters said. "We've also been honing our skills in the studio and doing a lot of writing."
While few well-known country music stars have emerged from roots in small-town Iowa, the variety of fledgling country stars from all over the nation who are currently chasing their dreams in Nashville only encourage them that anything is possible.
"It's funny being from a small town," Coon said. "There's so much talent in Nashville that comes from everywhere. There's a lot of people we've met from similar backgrounds, or they'll come from New York, Los Angeles, even Canada. In going to Nashville to pursue our dreams, we all bring a unique presence to the city."