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Parmalee plays Corn Palace

From left, Barry Knox, Scott Thomas, Matt Thomas and Josh McSwain of rising country music group Parmalee will perform at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Corn Palace. (Publicity image by Ed Rode)

Being a country music star is still sinking in for Matt Thomas.

As lead singer and guitar player for Parmalee, a rising star in the country music galaxy, Thomas said things like having the group's single "Carolina" hit No. 1 on the country charts, or touring with country megastar Jake Owen, don't seem real.

"It's hard to explain. It's been fun," Thomas said. "I don't think we'll ever kind of get used to that."

Parmalee will visit Mitchell on Sunday, with a 7 p.m. show at the Corn Palace. Ticket are $20, general admission, and are available at the Corn Palace box office at 995-8430 or

Interim Corn Palace Director Jeri Mickelson said about 400 tickets for the show had been sold by Friday afternoon, but because tickets are general admission, she expects to sell more at the door the night of the show than a show with reserved seats would. She said the show could accommodate up to 2,500 people.

It's the first time for the group of North Carolina natives to visit the Corn Palace, which Thomas said reminds him of harvesting corn "back home."

"I'm excited," he said. "It sounds like a fun place."

Self-described as a family band, Parmalee's members include Matt and his brother, Scott Thomas, their cousin Barry Knox and lifelong friend Josh McSwain. Their name is a shout-out to the barn in Parmele, N.C., where the group got its start, circa 2002. The revamped spelling, Matt Thomas said, is to help people with pronunciation.

"If you're from the area you know how to say Parmele when you see it," he said.

As a country band with strong notes of bluegrass, southern rock and blues in its repertoire, Thomas described the group's sound as "southern rock country," which gradually found its place alongside other contemporary country artists with a rocker twist, like Jake Owen, Blake Shelton and The Band Perry.

"We just kind of did what we did; people have to place you in something. Nobody could really place us in anything. We never really fit in anywhere," he said. "There's been a lot of guys that opened doors for us in country."

Part of their sound comes from the group's eclectic background, which for Thomas was influenced by his musician father, Jerry. Thomas' father's band was the first he, his brother and cousin joined while still in high school, and even though they played mostly southern rock blues, Thomas said that wasn't the only music they heard.

"We just listened to all kinds of music, from classic rock to '80s rock to soul and R&B, pop music, everything," Thomas said. "I'm a song guy; I like songs. I listen to all genres. If I like a song, I'll kind of attach to it."

As Parmalee continues to solidify its sound, those doors continue to open. In January, the group was named a semifinalist for the Academy of Country Music's New Artist of the Year Award. Though not one of the three final nominees, Parmalee has continued to rise, with its new single, "Close Your Eyes," making its way up the charts.

"It's just a really cool spot to be in," Thomas said. "Country is really broad now, so we have a good place here."

He said the group is focusing on touring, but "always working on the next project." Sunday's Corn Palace show will feature country singer Clare Dunn as the opening act, followed by Parmalee with songs from their breakout album, "Feels Like Carolina," plus a few surprises, Thomas said. It's the same show they've always done -- just a little fancier than that barn in Parmele.

"We're just loud guitars and three-part harmonies, that's what we're all about," Thomas said. "And now we have some really cool lights going along with it."