From what organizers can tell, lots of people are excited about going to this weekend's Thunder Over the Island event in Burnside. No less enthused are the performers themselves.
"I'm super excited to come to Burnside and perform," said Alex Miller, one of the artists set to take the stage on Friday night. "I don't know what to expect, but it'll be a good time."
Only 18, the Lancaster, Ky., country crooner made a national splash by appearing on this past season of the TV competition hit "American Idol," but he's been staying busy ever since -- and long before. Having been performing professionally since the age of 7, Miller has appeared at places like Renfro Valley, Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, and WoodSongs in Lexington, and even opened for Hank Williams, Jr., this summer at the Wisconsin State Fair. He also opened for Josh Turner at the Kentucky State Fair.
And this weekend, Burnside's got him.
"They contacted us about two or three months ago and asked if we wanted to come down and play," said Miller. "I said, 'I'd love to do (a show) in Kentucky. Kentucky is home for me. ... Folks who didn't get to come out to the State Fair to see me can come see me other places (in the state)."
Like with Williams, in Burnside, Miller will get to open for another country music legend -- Ronnie McDowell. Thunder Over the Island is a two-day event in Burnside, with performances at the Don Franklin Somerset Performance Stage at Cole Park.
Friday's line-up begins at 5 p.m. with the band The Leftovers. Miller goes on at 7 p.m. and McDowell concludes the night starting at 9 p.m.
Miller said he'll perform for about an hour, and has "a lot of different things" he'll sing, "from classic country to classic rock, to more original things." He's in the process of making an album and is looking to "throw in different material and things people enjoy."
He's no stranger to the area -- as a farm boy, he said that he's often been to Valley Farm Equipment in Science Hill to get tractor supplies. "I've been down to Somerset and the area many times," he noted.
Although Miller had a strong career in music even before "American Idol," the show's visibility has increased his fan base considerably -- and Miller couldn't be happier about it.
"I've tried to take people on dates and stuff the last six months ... I think I've talked more to the fans (who approach Miller) than my date, but that's a good thing. I'm not about to turn anybody away," he said. "I love my fans and I love people coming to talk to me. Any chance I get to talk, I will."
On Saturday, there are two main blocks of music. From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., The Leftovers and the Lake Cumberland Blues Society will take their turns on stage. The music picks back up with the evening set, beginning with Radiotronic, a favorite hits cover band popular at Fourth Street Live! in Louisville, at 4:45. They'll be followed shortly thereafter by Eldon Huff, who has served as a guitarist and background vocalist for country star Eric Church, and then the Conch Republic Band to close out the festival.
Michael "Panama" Thomas is the lead guitarist and owner of the Conch Republic Band -- in band mode, each member has a thematically appropriate nickname, so Thomas prefers to go by "Panama" -- which is based out of Lexington. Their feel, however, is less central Kentucky and more tropical -- they "bring the beach" to wherever they play with their music, and will be bringing the beach to Burnside this Labor Day weekend.
"It's a beach party," said Panama. "People appreciate it down there because they don't have that many opportunities for a beach party in Burnside."
Both he and his wife, who goes by "Sunora," are "Parrotheads," or fans of Jimmy Buffett, and play a lot of his music along with the likes of the Beach Boys, Caribbean, reggae, and Carolina Shag music, a dance style popular in the Carolinas.
The Conch Republic Band played last year's Thunder Over the Island and was happy to return in 2021.
"People seemed to be very appreciative of (the music) and got into it quite a bit," said Panama. "(Burnside officials) invited us back very early on. As soon as (last year's) show was over, the mayor (Robert Lawson) and (Tourism Director) Frank (Crabtree, Jr.) asked us to come back."
As soon as the band is done, the festival will conclude with the long-awaited fireworks show. Panama is happy to have his band's music be the lead-in to such a spectacular scene, in an area they know well.
"We play from Key West, Fla., to Branson, Missouri ... We've played Lake Cumberland all the way around, all locations it seems like," he said. "It's going to be a great show and culminating with the fireworks after us, it's going to be a great event."