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Waukee native returns home for a pair of country performances

7/4/2018

Faith Haroldson and Rob Donovan live in Nashville, performing country music under the moniker DF Donovan. Haroldson is originally from Waukee and met Donovan while he was playing hockey at Iowa State University. Photo submitted

To many younger Iowans, Nashville, Tennessee, might seem like an unreachable city of dreams, similar to New York City or Los Angeles. But these two Midwesterners are proving that, contrary to parts of the country’s beliefs, talent does come from Iowa.

Rob Donovan and Faith Haroldson first met on a blind date set up by Donovan’s hockey teammate during his time on Iowa State University’s club hockey team.

“I had no musical ability in my bones at all until I met Faith,” says Donovan, a St. Paul native. “That night, we were driving around listening to Luke Bryan, and we started singing together, and we’re like ‘wow, this is fun.’ ”

Haroldson, a Waukee native, was attending Grand View University when she met Donovan. The two now live in Nashville, performing country music under the moniker RF Donovan.

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“About a day after that, I went to the store and grabbed a guitar, and said, ‘I’m gonna learn this thing,’ ” Donovan says. “I played all day, all summer.”

Practicing has begun to pay off, as the group’s debut EP “Hand in Hand” broke onto iTunes’ “Top Country Albums” chart upon release last December with assistance from the lead single, “Tennessee Honey.”

“We went back to school in September, and I kinda bombed my first midterm, and I was like, ‘I don’t like this. I’m gonna do music,’ ” Donovan says. “Without telling my dad, I signed my waiver to leave school. I wanted to do this music thing without really knowing anything. That week, Faith came over, and we wrote a song called ‘Tennessee Honey,’ and there it is.”

The group’s EP was produced by a number of individuals, including Dolly Parton’s touring bassist Steve Mackey, U2’s tracking violinist Avery Bright and Bryan White, who released two certified-platinum albums in the late 1990s.

In fact, Haroldson cited the recording experience as one of the greatest milestones in the duo’s brief career.

“I was like, ‘I’m at Brian White’s house. The guy I listened to growing up, now I’m in his house. This is awesome,’ ” she says.

Country has long been the most popular genre on radio, but in some circles there is still a stigma against it, and the duo is aware of that.

“I think country is one of the best genres for those kinds of people who are kind of closed-minded because there are a bunch of different sub-genres in country music,” says Haroldson. “You know, there’s rock-country, there’s hip-hop-country, there’s pop-country, there’s the country-country, there’s the old-school. There’s just always a sub-genre … that’s gonna fit somebody.”

Donovan and Haroldson are bringing their emerging country act home by performing two pairs of shows this summer in Waukee. Iowans will have a chance to see them July 6-7 and Aug. 3-4 at Saints Pub and Patio in Waukee.

“For me, at every show people are … expecting one of two things: either Johnny Cash or that kind of ‘bro-country,’ ” says Donovan. “But then we get up there and bring a unique sound to the table. I have such a high voice, and people don’t expect that. I’m actually the high singer, and Faith is the low harmony, and you really don’t see that in a duo … we kind of flipped the script there.”

Recently, the duo performed at Nashville’s CMA Fest, which saw many of country’s biggest names (Carrie Underwood, Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan, etc.) perform on and near the music city’s historic Music Row over the course of just a weekend.

“Everyone has the stigma of Iowa that it’s in the middle of nowhere, and they don’t really know what comes out of Iowa, but anything can come from Iowa,” says Haroldson. “As long as you work as hard as everybody else can, no matter where you come from, you can do whatever you want if you put your mind to it.”

As for the future, it’s hard to tell, but the duo is confident.

“Going forward, we know our sound,” Haroldson says. “We’re building our own sound. We know what people like … It’s always for the fans.” ♦

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