The first time Sara Lynn Wallin met Tommy Cash, she got to shake his hand and pose for a picture. This time around, she'll be sharing the stage with the brother of the late country music icon Johnny Cash.

The invitation to sing Saturday at the Midwest Country Music Theater in Sandstone, Minn., is the latest good fortune for the rising country singer who in a few short years has developed a following on the Internet and is starting to turn heads in Nashville.

"That's mind-blowing," said Wallin, 23, a 2006 Stillwater High School graduate who now resides in Somerset, Wis. "It makes me want to keep going and get out there more. It's exciting for me."

While many of her high school friends and classmates were listening to the top pop and rock bands of their day, Wallin had her ear tuned to the likes of Loretta Lynn, George Jones and Sugarland, artists her parents grew up listening to and often played in their home. Her father, Craig, has some connections to the country music world, and with his help, Wallin has taken her passion for singing from local karaoke joints to stages on which she has crooned alongside the likes of Steve Hall and the Shotgun Red Band, Clinton Gregory and Buddy Owens.

She has taken her voice to Nashville where she has performed on the stage of Tootsie Orchid Lounge and sung at some of the city's most venerable venues. Record executives have taken notice, and broadcast and online radio and television stations have put her on the air.

"This is where I want to be," said the soft-spoken artist. "My confidence continues to grow and grow."

So does her audience. Legions of followers in places as far away as France, Germany, Norway and Sweden are listening on Internet sites such as nashvillecountryclub. com/saracountry and www. -- so much so that she's contemplating quitting her day job and relocating to Nashville in hopes of recording an album, writing some of her own songs and performing regularly with a band. She also wants to learn to play guitar.

Enthusiastic and soft-spoken, Wallin has received sage advice from her father, who doubles as her general manager. A lifelong country music aficionado, Craig Wallin has the tough job of simultaneously playing the roles of the loving father and key decision-maker to keep her on track.

"It's an exciting adventure to help her, and it's good to be close to offset problems," Craig Wallin said. For Sara, "When advice comes, is it the manager or the nagging dad speaking. That can be tricky."

It seems to be working out well so far. And Sara Wallin has her own piece of advice: "Follow your dreams. They are never too big."

Tim Harlow • 651-735-1824 Twitter: @timstrib