MACK — Kameron Marlowe took to the stage Thursday night after the sun had shrouded the Bookcliffs in darkness and the Western Slope’s heat had given way to the cool breeze of an occasionally stormy evening, finally ready to capitalize on a 2020 that was, in many ways, a success for him.

Today is the one-year anniversary of the 24-year-old singer-songwriter’s recording deal with Columbia Nashville, which is owned by Sony Music Nashville. In November, his first commercial project, “Kameron Marlowe EP”, was released, featuring singles that had already been streamed tens of millions of times, such as “Giving You Up”, as well as “Burn ‘Em All”, which cracked the U.S. Country top 40 charts at No. 36 — and was also released a year ago today.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, though, he never had the chance to ride that momentum with live performances throughout the past year.

“It really affected us in the touring aspect, where we couldn’t actually go out and tour on the music that we were putting out,” Marlowe said. “It was a really tough year in that aspect, but I found light in the fact that I had a lot of time to go in and write and really focus on the music we’re going to be putting out over the next couple of months.”

Fast-forward to the first night of Country Jam 2021, when thousands of eyes and ears were on him as he performed on the festival’s secondary stage, the Next From Nashville stage, in-between main-stage performances by Ashley McBryde and Luke Combs.

“This is what I live to do, man,” Marlowe said. “Just being able to get out here and see the crowd and see people that are just hungry for music and live music and country music. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

BACK WITH THE FANS

The coronavirus brought the world of festivals to a halt until vaccines became widely available this year. After a one-year hiatus, Country Jam, the largest country music festival in Colorado, has returned as raucous as ever. Marlowe had never been to the festival and had only been to Colorado once, so he soaked in every moment of his time on-stage.

“The people look excited,” he said. “The view is absolutely freaking gorgeous. I’m just glad to be here, man. After the long last year of not being able to do shows or anything like that, this feels amazing.”

That feeling of amazement at the return of live music has been mutual for the roughly 24,000 country music lovers in attendance.

Ryan Davis of Denver made the four-hour trek to the Grand Valley for the event for the first time ever.

“After the last 16 months of dealing with COVID, this is like the biggest relief I’ve ever had,” Davis said.

This year’s festival has seen performances by 14 artists so far, including Tanya Tucker, HARDY and veteran superstar Toby Keith on Friday. Today’s slate includes Parker McCollum and Kip Moore before Carrie Underwood gives the final performance of the festival tonight.

CROSS-COUNTRY PILGRIMAGE

With so many recognizable artists in one of the nation’s most popular genres, Country Jam has attracted music lovers from all across the country.

Trice Crawford traveled to Western Colorado from Alexandria, Virginia.

“I’ve been locked down in D.C. for a good bit of these last one and a half years,” Crawford said. “I’m just happy to get some fresh air with a lack of negativity and bad attitudes. I’m pumped to have Country Jam back and hear Luke Combs get after it. I’ve never heard him before, or Toby Keith. It’s going to be one hell of a time. I’m just happy to be here.”

Chase Gran and Bryce Glenn are students at the University of Alabama who found three days of country music — and the occasional beer, “Roll Tide” and nod to the late NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt — on Colorado’s Western Slope to be a proper remedy for a year without such festivities.

“I couldn’t ask for any better setting to come back to festivals than ole Country Jam here in Grand Junction, man,” Glenn said. “It’s a … great time and we’re blessed to be out here. Praise the Lord. … First time at Country Jam, first time with the country opened up, I feel like it’s meant to be.”

Country Jam’s return hasn’t only been significant for signaling a return to normalcy in the area through the experience of a music festival.

A mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinic has been vaccinating any festival-goers who want the shot. Many Grand Valley businesses are seeing a rise in sales thanks to the influx of out-of-town visitors. Vendors like West Coast, a food stand, that rely on public events are receiving a windfall after a year of hardships.

“This is my fourth Country Jam that I’ve done,” said West Coast’s Hal Samuelson. “This is a big, big leap toward a good year for us. … It feels incredible.”

Country Jam’s revival has been a rousing success, further proving that concerts have escaped the doldrums of 2020. On the Western Slope, that proof came with a heavy twang.