Johnson County is home to country music up and comer Sonny Burgess.

Burgess, who lives Cleburne, was recently invited to play at Country Thunder USA, a festival in Ellis County that was to be headlined by George Strait and Reba McIntire. Though the festival day during which Burgess was to play was canceled due to inclement weather, the invitation hints that Burgess may soon put Johnson County music on the map.

Burgess has played in Alvarado several years in a row to raise money for the local children's advocacy center. Though he still plays the smaller, local shows that made his name known by country western fans across Texas, he’s begun the transition to larger, nationally recognized shows that mark his success in the business.

“We’re trying to make that step,” Burgess said. “And we’re starting to get calls for bigger things.”

In addition to the invitation to play Country Thunder, Burgess has played several illustrious venues including the Grand Ole Opry and the main stage at Billy Bob’s Texas.

Burgess’ video for “The More I’m Around Some People, The More I Love My Dog,” starring his yellow Labrador, Tyson, has received air play on country music television stations across the country.

“Tyson hasn’t let the success go to his head,” Burgess said, noting, “That’s one thing we have in common. We are who we are and we always will be.”

Only three days before he was expected to open for George Strait at Country Thunder, Burgess took a break from the humble act of building a fence for the two shelter dogs he is fostering to talk to the Alvarado Post.

“I’ve always been loving to animals,” Burgess said. “Dogs are my favorite, but I’ve always loved all animals. The song ‘The More I Love My Dog’ is what made things happen with the Humane Society, and I’m glad it did.”

Burgess refers to a series of public service announcements he has recorded for the Humane Society of the United States, an arrangement that came into being as a result of his new album’s release. He has also formed an alliance with Bark Busters, a program that promotes responsible pet ownership.

Burgess uses his talent and compassion as tools to support other charitable organizations including the Cystic Fibrosis Organization and the American Cancer Society. He lost his father, who smoked, to lung cancer in 1989 and feels driven to do what he can to further cancer research.

“I’ve been sold off on the auction block to raise money for cancer research,” Burgess said. “I’ve brought as much as $10,000. I played a backyard party for the winning bidder and even supplied all of the barbecue and food for the guests. I wasn’t very well known then, so that was pretty good. I would like to have sold for $100,000.”

Burgess is married to Donna, his high school sweetheart. They have two daughters, Rachel, 25, and Robin, 20.

He recently released his second album, “Stronger,” which has hailed three solid chart singles: “Jesus and Bartenders,” “The More I’m Around Some People, The More I Love My Dog” and “A Little Bit Stronger.”

Though Burgess’ success in the music industry is apparent, he has experienced success in other endeavors as well. A well-rounded high school athlete, Burgess played college baseball for Trinity University in San Antonio, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in coaching with a minor in biology.

“I’ve done some substitute teaching,” Burgess said. “You never know, I might just go to work as a coach one day.”

Burgess took his passion for baseball to the professional level and played minor-league baseball with San Antonio Missions for two years.

“Trying to move to the major league from the minor league is a lot like trying to make it in the music business,” he said. “You are always looking for a break. I just decided that I wanted my break to be in music.”

And it was. Burgess’ invitation to play Country Thunder is surely one of many chances he will have to play along side country music legends.

“I’m real excited to play in front of such a large crowd,” he said the week before the festival. “And they’ll have to sit through our show, because George Strait is playing later.”

E-mail Amy at amy.burk@waxahachiedailylight.com.