FLORENCE—Artists playing Country Thunder nearly 15 years after their first performance are often in the latter stages of their careers.
For Arizona-native Austin Burke, he’s just getting started.
The babyfaced, early 20’s country singer is just getting his career off the ground, with his first single—"Sleepin’ Around"—already topping one million spins on Spotify (more on that in a bit).
The last time he was here, the festival was in Queen Creek and the year was 1998. Lonestar was the big headliner and Burke was getting set for his big show – by taking a nap.
He’d been doing national anthems at sporting events across the Phoenix area since he was 3 years old and had made a pair of appearances on the Rosie O’Donnell Show
, singing first a Garth Brooks song and later an Alabama cover.
So there he was, playing a miniature set—band and all—in the lead up to one of country music’s biggest acts. He hasn’t been back since. And, in fact, since leaving behind college baseball in California to move to Nashville more than three years ago, he hadn’t been back to his home state before today.
“This is a big homecoming celebration for me,” he said. “It’s really a full-circle story for me. I’ve dreamed of coming back here.”
Despite the enormity of the moment, Burke says he was too young to remember his performance, and now returns, with his first song hitting it big with plays on satellite radio as well, ready to get his career as an adult fired up.
“My heroes are Garth Brooks and Johnny Cash,” he said, “but I also like the new songs and blending them with some of the older lyricism.”
Back to the name of the single: On first blush, the title makes Burke sound like he’s taking a crack at being the newest entry to the douche-laden bro country genre.
Just the opposite.
With two younger sisters and a strong moral upbringing, Burke’s song is actually a criticism of the very genre some might confuse him for.
“The song has a provocative title, but it’s a wholesome song,” he said. “I’m big on uplifting women.”
He hits on his message on the chorus: “I want a girl worth waking up to.”
For those that wet their whistle with Sleepin' Around, more music from Burke is on the way in the form of an EP, set to be released next month.