Neil Hewitt to close out Johnson County Fair tonight


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Hog calling, hypnotists, and Hawkeye cheerleaders all have common ground — at least fair ground.

The Ugly Cake Contest kicked off the fun at the Johnson County Fair on Monday, and the festivities will all come to a close tonight when Neil Hewitt takes the stage for the final event.

Though the 22-year-old plans to graduate from Iowa State in December, he said he's excited to sing on Hawkeye territory.

"If I broke my hand tomorrow I'd need a way to get money, so I need a degree to fall back on," he said.

Hewitt will perform at 7:30 tonight at the Outdoor Arena of the Johnson County Fairgrounds, 4265 Oak Crest Hill Road SE. Admission is free.

Hewitt, a country singer, first performed for his peers at a school talent show. From that moment on, he knew he wanted to pursue a music career. The Nevada, Iowa native balances his time between Iowa and Nashville, Tenn., where he writes and records music with ATP Records — an independently-owned record company which discovered him a year and a half ago.

And though he dreams of taking the stage at the Grand Ole Opry, Hewitt's hometown heart doesn't want to lose the following he has gained in Iowa.

"The goal is to keep going with this music as long as I can take it," Hewitt said. "You don't really have to live in [Nashville], you can just go and write songs."

Hewitt and his traditional twang are inspired by classic country artists, like George Straight and Johnny Cash. His style has landed him work with some of Nashville's top songwriters to create his original hits, like "The Request".

Theisen's, an agricultural supply store, sponsors the singer. Charlie Isaacs, entertainment director, said that he first heard about Hewitt through his brother who works at the Coralville Theison's location.

"He performed in front of the board and won us over," Isaacs said. "I believe he's an up-and-comer, he just needs an opportunity."

The aspiring singer will be performing at the Johnson County Fair for the first time. But he has entertained at other venues around the Midwest, including the Iowa State Fair in 2010.

"This is my best summer, just like last summer was and the one before that," he said.

Hewitt's concert will round out the week's fair activities. Each day of the week had a theme: Teen Day, Kids' Day, Senior Day — and today, Veterans' Day.

"Out in the track before the fireworks display, we are going to have a bunch of people from the Veterans' Association do a color guard display," said Brenda Christner, fair business manager. "The big thing about the Johnson County Fair is it's a totally free fair. No gate fee or parking, you only pay for food and rides."

And for Hewitt, a successful show falls with the fans. The best thing at fairs and festivals, he said, is the crowd and their reaction.

"It's always fun to see how the crowds change," Hewitt said. "You never know what you're going to get."

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