Musician Justin Adams returning home to Panther Country
Country musician and UNI alum Justin Adams is excited to bring his high-energy honky tonk cowboy country music to UNI campus for Homecoming 2023. In a word, he describes the show as “loud” and is planning to feature a lot of new music.
“It’s going to be a party,” said Adams. “I’m really excited to elevate the experience for y'all.”
Adams wrote his very first song on the floor of his dorm room in Dancer Hall in 2005. He had just run into an ex-girlfriend at a party and was overcome by a flood of emotion.
“It just poured out on the page, and from there it became more of a release, a creative outlet,” said Adams, who studied physical education: exercise science and sports psychology and graduated in 2008. “I don't know if that was pain. I don't know if it was love. I don't know what it was, but I needed to express that in a way that I never was able to before.”
Adams’ affinity for music was hardly new. He’d already been playing the guitar for several years after teaching himself to play on an old acoustic guitar he discovered in his uncle’s garage. In high school in Bixby, Oklahoma, he played everywhere people would listen, whether that was a bonfire with friends or a Christmas gathering with family.
To some extent, music is in Adams’ blood. His grandma sang in church choir, and he has numerous musicians on his mom’s side of the family. From the time he was quite young, he could often be found singing, destined to become a performer.
That being said, music wasn’t Adams’ first love — football was. His talent for the sport was what landed him at UNI.
“Football was what got me to Cedar Falls, but the university and the people are what helped make the decision,” said Adams.
“Football was what got me to Cedar Falls, but the university and the people are what helped make the decision."
Adams loved the rush of playing sold-out games in the UNI-Dome. He was part of the team in 2005 when UNI played in the national championship for the first time. To this day, he holds the record for most consecutive games played.
Being a student-athlete strengthened Adams’ work ethic and introduced him to lifelong friends.
“It's been 15 years since I graduated from Northern Iowa, and I still have the connections and friendships that I made while I was there,” he said. “I still have that core group of humans that helped shape and evolve me as a man, and I'm still in touch with quite a few of the coaches that coached me, definitely a lot of the players. There's a brotherhood that can't be explained.”
The scales tipped from sports to songs for Adams when he played an open mic night at a local bar in Cedar Falls while at UNI. Adams recalls the venue being packed with his friends and teammates. Before that night, he’d only ever experienced that rush playing football.
“It was a different kind of attention,” he said. “I had been fortunate to play at such a good time at Northern Iowa where we were so good, and the Dome was sold out almost every game. There was an energy that I needed more of, and I only got it you know 12, 14, 15 times a year. So if I could get that well 14 or 15 times a month on a heavy touring schedule, that would be perfect.”
Right after graduating from UNI, Adams took his newfound love of playing live music and toured, performing a combination of covers and original songs. He spent a lot of time Googling venues and calling up owners to book shows. He even played venues that didn’t traditionally have live music.
“You got to start somewhere,” said Adams. “I played for nobody so many times. I just got to work, and I wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”
“You got to start somewhere. I played for nobody so many times. I just got to work, and I wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”
Then he went back to Oklahoma where he worked full-time for a couple of years until one day a friend from UNI called Adams to let him know of a job opportunity in Nashville. The friend had an extra bed open if he wanted it. Adams didn’t think twice. He told his friend to give him a month and he would be in Nashville.
“I needed a push somehow, and that was the sign I’d been waiting for.”
In Nashville, Adams participated in many writers’ rounds where he would get up on stage with other songwriters. Each would take a turn singing a song they wrote, and it was a way for collaborations between songwriters to be born. He would do these two to four times a week. He was getting his music out there, but money was a struggle, and he needed to build his network. Pure passion propelled Adams through these hard times.
Things turned around for Adams when he played the side stage of CMA Fest, a four-day country music festival in Nashville. Universal Music Publishing was in the audience to watch another band play, and they ended up sticking around for Adams’ set.
“They were in the right place at the right time,” said Adams. “They were standing next to my attorney and suddenly they started asking, ‘Who is this guy?’”
From that experience, Adams secured his first publishing deal as a salaried songwriter. Since then, he’s shared the stage with country music greats such as Dan + Shay, Trace Adkins, Old Dominion, Kane Brown and Chase Rice.
Adams still lives in Nashville, now with his wife and their two children.
“I have been successful in my eyes by the fact that I've been fortunate to make a living for over a decade in this town as an artist,” said Adams. “I've put a roof over my head and food on my family's plates on our table. I've gotten to meet some really cool people. I've played in stadiums, arenas, and 100-year-old theaters from the East Coast to the West Coast.”
Adams will be featured at the UNI Homecoming Bash on Friday, Oct. 20 from 5 to 9 p.m. on Central Campus. The concert will be free, with food available for purchase. If you register by Oct. 13, you will be entered into a drawing for a Panther prize pack.
For complete details on Homecoming 2023, visit the UNI Homecoming website.