When Dusty Ward read about the first Florida Country Superfest being organized in Jacksonville, he knew it was going to be a huge event that would bring in some of country music's biggest names.
It is organized by New Orleans-based Festival Productions, known for putting on glitzy events such as the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Bayou Country Superfest.
This two-day Florida festival will feature big names such as Jason Aldean, Eric Church, Luke Bryan and Miranda Lambert. Fashioned after the Bayou Country Superfest, it will include an outdoor fan festival, where a few up-and-coming bands are selected to perform.
With members from Pasco and Hernando counties, Fast 4 Ward is a young group that performs in bars and festivals around the Tampa Bay area. Ward wondered if they had a chance to step up their game.
"I figured what have we got to lose," Ward said.
Ward enlisted the help of bandmate Nate Johnson, who sent early inquiries, created a Web page and submitted live performance videos to event organizers.
The result: Fast 4 Ward is among six bands who will perform at this weekend's Florida Country Superfest Fan Fest and Outdoor Tailgate Party at Everbank Field, home of the NFL's Jaguars. Fast 4 Ward is opening the festivities, performing at noon Saturday on the Fan Fest Stage.
"It really is a dream come true for me," said Ward, lead vocalist.
Johnson, who plays bass guitar and sings, agrees. "It was a really cool thing when we got the email that said we were being offered a spot," he said. "Wow!"
The group will be playing in good company. The other five bands performing have original songs and are connected with record labels.
Along with Ward and Johnson, the other Fast 4 Ward members are Joe Lyons on lead guitar, Vinny Androsiglio on rhythm guitar and Danny Intagliata on drums.
The band has its own style — "country with a rock edge" — perhaps from the diversity of influences. Ward has always been a diehard country fan, with George Strait his biggest influence. Johnson, who has had classical training as a vocalist, has influences in a variety of musical genres, including Broadway. Lyons loves rock music, Androsiglio favors classic rock, and Intagliata has "done it all."
"Every time we're out performing, there's some people who tell us they don't like country music, but they like what we do," Ward said. "It feels good."
The group also has an original song, This Night Is Ours, written by Becky Hobbs, who has penned songs for such acts as George Jones, Loretta Lynn and Alabama.
While they have performed at the Florida State Fair, Florida Strawberry Festival and Charliepalooza with Charlie Daniels, opening for the Marshall Tucker Band, this weekend's show is a step beyond.
"We're definitely taking it to a higher level," Johnson said. "We're really excited about it."