Casey Donahew

Casey Donahew

When the Casey Donahew Band's latest release, Movin' On, debuted at #28 on the Billboard top country albums chart, landing well within the all-genre Top 200 and selling over 14,000 copies in just five months, no one was more astonished than Casey Donahew himself. Not Red Dirt radio, where the band has twice topped the Texas Music chart. Nor the critics; Texas Music Magazine described Movin' On as "a vibrant collection matching eternally restless anthems against engaging narratives, [it] rattles and rolls and rumbles like a youthful Robert Earl Keen fronting Reckless Kelly." And certainly not the raging legion of fans who loyally support the Casey Donahew Band at over 200 shows a year. Fans who know every word to every song, and fill to capacity renowned rooms from The Grizzly Rose in Denver to Stillwater, Oklahoma's Tumbleweeds. Who've thronged sell-out performances at Billy Bob's in Fort Worth and the 12,000-seat Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas. Playing to nearly 11,000 people at the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, "With songs about love and heartbreak the crowd could relate to delivered by an easy-going guy and a tight six-piece band, Donahew connected," said the San Antonio Express-News. Yet for all the accolades and achievements, this everyman persona and a remarkable ability to connect with fans are what really make Casey Donahew a bona fide rock star on the Texas music scene-and that is something he can understand. "I think we're just believable," Casey explains. "We're not trying to be somebody we're not. We're just normal guys, you can tell. And people see that and respond to it."

A normal guy, indeed. Casey grew up just south of Forth Worth in Burleson, Texas, where he was active in rodeo as well as his father's greyhound dog racing career. Music, including 80's and 90's country and healthy doses of Elvis-his mother's favorite-was always a part of Casey's life, though it wasn't until he learned to drive that he truly discovered his passion for it. "You're really not in charge of the radio dial until you've got your own car," he quips, recalling his first musical infatuation with Matchbox 20, who he names a major influence on his songwriting and whose hit, "3 A.M.," he still covers today. With the entrance of Pat Green onto the Texas music stage, Casey was ushered into the Red Dirt world of Cross Canadian Ragweed, Robert Earl Keen, and Randy Rogers, bands he would follow from show to show to show with his then-girlfriend Melinda, now his wife and manager.

"By the time we met, Casey already had a box full of songs," Melinda says, which he'd written over the past several years. Casey began writing in high school, explaining, "Once you get your heart broken for the first time, you've got a lot to say, I guess." He still has a lot to say, having written all but two songs on the band's four albums-turning heartbreak on its head with his relentlessly upbeat, energetic tunes, which they rock out without restraint for 90 minutes at a stretch. "It's about getting past the pain, and moving on," he'll tell you. Backed by ace players J.J. Soto (lead guitar), TAZ (drums), Steve Stone (bass), Josh Moore (fiddle), and A.C. Copeland (keys), with Casey covering acoustic, electric, and vocals, he's come a long way from his dorm room at Texas A&M, where he first began teaching himself to play on the guitar his grandpa gave him. After transferring to UT Arlington (where he went on to graduate with a finance degree), Casey began playing a regular acoustic gig at the now-defunct Thirsty Armadillo in Fort Worth, which led to his first full band set on that stage in the fall of 2002.

With enthusiasm in place of experience, Melinda quickly stepped up as the band's manager. "This thing would have been over before it started if not for her," Casey says. Learning as she went, she made t-shirts and press kits, booking the band at birthday parties and local clubs, and finally, following eight months of refusing to take no for an answer, at Bostock's in Stephenville, where they got the chance to open for Cooder Graw. But it wasn't until they packed 3,500 fans into Billy Bob's in Fort Worth in 2007-without any radio airplay behind them-that they began to grasp how big the Casey Donahew Band had become. "We were doing really well even before we had any industry, radio, or media behind us," Casey says. "That word-of-mouth, underground band feel has really stayed with us." While the Casey Donahew Band has graduated from personally dropping off CDs to mom & pop shops that would sell them on consignment to inking a national distribution deal with Thirty Tigers, and have gone from self-booking to being represented by William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, they value their underground roots and have fiercely retained their independence, releasing four albums in five years on their own Almost Country label. "There's no big machine behind us pushing the Casey Donahew Band. We just have us and we're pushing ourselves," Casey says, and that makes their success so much the sweeter.

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