Dirt Road Diaries 2013
Thomas Rhett Akins, Kelleigh Bannen, No Lawn Chairs!
10475 Little Patuxent Parkway
Columbia, Maryland, 21044
This event is all ages
Luke Bryan is a superstar in the making and the career growth from his first to his second to his third studio album, tailgates & tanlines, is the proof. The Georgian who burst on the scene in 2007 with his unique blend of down-home accessibility, movie star good looks and relatable lyrics, is set to explode in a major way.
Not a flash-in-the-pan, overnight sensation, Luke has built his career from the ground up and the Leesburg, Ga., native wouldn’t have it any other way. “My path is exactly where I want it to be,” Luke says. “I’m doing my thing. I’m getting better with every album.”
The son of a peanut farmer, Luke knows patience and determination are key elements when it comes to a successful crop—or career—and he’s dedicated to growth. His first album, I’ll Stay Me, produced the Top 10 hits “All My Friends Say” and “Country Man,” while his sophomore effort, Doin’ My Thing, found the singer-songwriter scoring three straight No. 1 singles: “Do I,” “Someone Else Calling You Baby” and “Rain Is A Good Thing.”
Luke’s momentum shows no signs of slowing. “Country Girl (Shake It For Me),” the lead single from his much-anticipated third album, ranks as the fast-rising single of his career.
When Luke scored his first solo performance slot on the 2011 CMT Music Awards, he made the most of it, receiving a standing ovation for his over-the-top performance of “Country Girl (Shake It For Me),” not only from the fans, but also from his artist peers. “When you get performance slots for award shows, that’s a big deal for me,” Luke says.
He’s equally excited about headlining the 10th annual CMT on Tour, which has an impressive list of alumni, including Rascal Flatts, Brad Paisley and Keith Urban. “It’s almost like you’re getting a stamp of approval to go to the next level,” says Luke. “All those artists that were a part of the CMT Tour have crossed over into a larger level of artists.”
His tours with superstars Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts and Jason Aldean, as well as his own annual Farm Tour, which offers a student from a local farming family a college scholarship, showcase a stage mastery built working the college and club circuit.
“I want my music to jump off the stage and out of the speakers,” says Luke. “When we do ‘Rain Is A Good Thing’ paired back to back with ‘Country Girl,’ it just feels like the roof is fixin’ to come off the place.”
Critics affirm Luke’s stated goal. The Peoria Star Journal calls him a “playful and confident performer” while the Oregonian dubs him “a serious contender for McGraw’s throne.”
Luke’s fan-voted wins as Academy of Country Music Top New Male and Top New Artist, as well as his score as USA Weekend Breakthrough Artist of the Year at the CMT Music Awards were a “huge validation,” he says.
“Country Girl (Shake It For Me),” with its infectious chorus and backbeat, represents another step forward for the strapping star. Co-written by Luke and Dallas Davidson—the pair also penned “Rain Is A Good Thing”—“Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” sets the tone for, but doesn’t define, tailgates & tanlines.
Luke’s latest album is no doubt his best yet. The 13-song collection (of which Luke co-wrote eight) balances lighter fare with meatier offerings. “I Don’t Want This Night To End,” written by Luke with fellow Georgians Dallas Davidson, Rhett Akins and Ben Hayslip, is destined to be a clap-along concert favorite and radio smash.
“Drunk On You,” written by hit tunesmiths Rodney Clawson, Chris Tompkins and Josh Kear, is an intoxicating tale of young love that Luke calls “young and fun.”
Another song destined to be a radio favorite is “Too Damn Young,” a coming of age tune about the loss of innocence that country fans will no doubt relate to.
“Harvest Time,” written by Luke with Rodney Clawson, is an autobiographical look at Luke’s rural roots, while “Don’t Know Jack,” penned by Erin Enderlin and Shane McAnally, is a stark reminder of the power of alcohol addiction.
“Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” is an up-tempo lets-make-love-one-more-time-even-though-we-know-we’re-splitting-up song, while “Been There Done That” is the ultimate kiss-off tune.
In short, tailgates & tanlines represents real life.
“I’m really proud that I’ve got some meatier things on this album,” Luke says of the balance between hell raisers and heart breakers. “Nothing is more frustrating to me than putting a song on an album and regret putting it on there. I’m excited that there are no songs on tailgates & tanlines that I’m iffy about.”
As dedicated as he is to his craft, Luke is even more dedicated to his family: wife Caroline and sons Bo and Tate. “I try to make my time in Nashville mean something for the boys,” he says.
“It’s a big fun ride for everybody,” Luke says of his success. “My wife and I are enjoying life more than ever.”
While superstardom is knocking on his door, Luke Bryan will answer when he’s ready. “I have never wanted to grow fast in this business,” he maintains. “I have always wanted to take my time, make it happen and be smart about it and I’ve been lucky—all that stuff is happening.”
Luke’s aw-shucks demeanor belies his rare gifts. This singer/songwriter/entertainer is the complete package and superstardom is inevitable.
Thomas Rhett Akins
It’s futile to fight destiny. Plenty of people do, of course, battle against their future, but if something is truly inevitable, fighting just delays the outcome. Funny thing about destiny. If something is truly designed to occur – particularly a career choice – the path is often extraordinarily easy once the resistance is dropped.
Just ask Thomas Rhett. The singer-songwriter spent most of his teens figuring out what, other than music, he could do for a career. Kinesiology, business, anatomy, media – anything but music. None of those rather ordinary pursuits seemed to work out. But a songwriting deal? Heck, Thomas Rhett stumbled into that. And nine months later, he
had a song on Jason Aldean’s My Kinda Party, a double-platinum project that became the best-selling country album of 2011. A recording contract? Thomas Rhett auditioned for at least seven record companies, and every one of them wanted to sign him.
Valory – the home of Reba McEntire, Brantley Gilbert, Jewel and Justin Moore – won out, and now it’s seemingly just a matter of time before the general public discovers the quirky word jumbles and infectious grooves that had Music Row salivating over Thomas Rhett’s. The one that, in retrospect, seems as if it were always supposed to happen. Even Thomas Rhett doesn’t completely understand it.
“I don’t have a clue where it’s going to go or where it’ll end up, but the journey is cool enough for me,” he muses. “I’m here for the ride and to entertain people.”
And entertain he does. His first single, “Something To Do With My Hands,” reveals Thomas Rhett as a solid country guy with a distinct urban streak. Other tracks from his debut show someone who’s clever enough to rhyme “Ryman” with “diamond,” who mulls chatting with Jesus over beer, who throws AC/DC hard-rock chants and Coolio hip-hop phrasing into songs that are otherwise country. It’s as if Roger Miller had been reincarnated and gone on a songwriting retreat in the ‘hood.
“Country, rock and hip-hop were what I was raised on,” Thomas Rhett says. “It’s a strange combination, but it all leaks into what I write.”
Thus, Thomas Rhett mixes burning slide guitar, Southern drawl and Little Feat-ish rhythms in “Whatcha Got In That Cup”; redneck lyrics, crunchy chords and a reference to hard-core rapper DMX in “All-American Middle Class White Boy”; and a magnetic brew of Robert Johnson blues, Appalachian harmonica and Common hip-hop phrasing in “Front Porch Junkie.”
Odd as that blend might seem, Thomas Rhett’s twisted sonic concoction is part of a natural progression, one that saw him exposed to tons of music by a famous father whose own rocky experiences with the music business made Thomas Rhett wary of investing his talents in such an emotionally difficult vocation.
Thomas’ full name – Thomas Rhett Akins Jr. – forever connects him with his dad, Rhett Akins, who earned a trio of Top 20 hits in the mid-1990s. Those songs – including the Top 5 “That Ain’t My Truck” and the No. 1 single “Don’t Get Me Started” – made an indelible impression, inspiring several other southern Georgians, such as Luke Bryan and ace songwriter Dallas Davidson, to pursue their own country ambitions.
Concert tours took Rhett Akins away from home often, beginning just a year or two before Thomas Rhett enrolled in school. But there was no father-son rebellion in the Akins household. Despite his tour schedule, Dad made it a point to be there for his son’s football games. And Thomas Rhett loved his father’s music – “I was five, jamming out to his
records, going to kindergarten,” he recalls.
Thomas Rhett went on the road with the elder Akins, too. Sometimes his dad would bring the kid out to play drums during the encore at his shows. And there was a period when Thomas Rhett was eight or nine that he popped on stage to cover Will Smith.
“I came out in a Green Bay Packers toboggan, a big shirt and baggy pants, and rapped ‘Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It,’” he remembers.
There were other perks. Thomas Rhett went to Reba McEntire’s Halloween parties. And he once got help on his English homework from some guy named Blake Shelton. Seems glamorous from the outside, but the entertainment business can be ruthless. And the good times soon soured for his dad. Rhett Akins eventually rebounded, but in the meantime, that period in his dad’s career soured Thomas Rhett on that pursuit.
“My whole life,” he insists, “I swore I was never going to do music.”
But that destiny thing kept guiding him in that direction. For starters, Thomas Rhett took up drums during junior high in a band called the High Heeled Flip Flops.
“We were a punk-rock band, there were four of us and we were terrible,” he laughs. “Our lead singer sang in a British punk accent, and we all dyed our hair black. My Uncle Eli, who does work for Zac Brown now, came into Nashville and we recorded our first record in my dad’s living room.”
Thomas Rhett’s focus, though, remained on a more conventional future. He played sports in high school, and ripped up his knee in one major accident. That set his thoughts on kinesiology – the study of human
movement – when he enrolled at David Lipscomb University in Nashville.
He soon changed his mind about kinesiology and shifted direction – in fact, he ran through four different majors at David Lipscomb, none of which quite fit. Meanwhile, a friend had roped him into playing a frat party at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, which led to more frat parties – at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and the University of Georgia in Athens. In the process, he was able to mesh those seemingly disparate parts of his musical influences: country, hip-hop, classic rock and modern rock.
“Frat parties can be awesome or tragic,” he says. “Those dudes just get so drunk, and they get on stage with you and take the mic from you. All of a sudden, you’re at the back of the stage and just playing so they can have a good time.”
Helping them have a good time is, of course, what the gig is about. And Thomas Rhett picked up that ability in short order. He also discovered there was a whole culture of kids who’d been raised on the same improbable mix of musical cultures – kids who had been looking for someone like Thomas Rhett, or Brantley Gilbert, or Jason Aldean, who could put all those influences together.
“Those are the kids that are the trend setters,” Thomas Rhett says. “Those kids are the ones downloading music on their iPod, jamming it in their car and playing it with their friends. Those people become loyal, and they want to be the people that said they found you first.”
Nevertheless, Thomas Rhett didn’t take any of that music thing seriously until his dad talked him into doing a one-time show. Rhett Akins had reinvented himself quite successfully as a songwriter – in fact, he would become BMI’s Country Songwriter of the Year in 2011. And Rhett enlisted Thomas Rhett to open at a music-industry showcase for singer-songwriter Frankie Ballard. There was no pay for the gig – and Thomas Rhett got a parking ticket while loading his equipment into the venue. But it did pay off in other ways. EMI Music’s Ben Vaughn liked what he heard and asked Thomas Rhett after the show if he’d be interested in a publishing deal.
“Really!? I don’t know what that is,” Thomas Rhett says. “Well, if it pays more than me laying hardwood floor, then I’m in.”
In February 2010, Thomas Rhett signed with EMI and soon had his first co-writing session with his dad and Bobby Pinson, who’s written songs for Toby Keith and Sugarland. In short order, he was writing with the likes
of Craig Wiseman (“Live Like You Were Dying”), Luke Laird (“Undo It”), Lee Thomas Miller (“You’re Gonna Miss This”) and Chris Stapleton (“Love’s Gonna Make It Alright”).
Things happened quickly. Aldean cut Thomas Rhett’s “I Ain’t Ready To Quit” for My Kinda Party, which was released in November 2010 – just eight months after Thomas Rhett signed his publishing deal. Even then,
Vaughn was already taking Thomas Rhett around Music Row to play acoustic auditions as an artist in record-company conference rooms. And they always got some interest.
When he played for the Big Machine Label Group, which includes The Valory Music Co., it took only three songs before President and CEO Scott Borchetta announced he wanted Thomas Rhett on the roster.
“Scott doesn’t mess around,” Thomas Rhett says. “The next day, my lawyer called and said Big Machine had made an offer.”
That also gave Thomas Rhett the reins to make an album. They teamed him with producer Jay Joyce, who’s worked as a producer and/or guitarist with Eric Church, Cage The Elephant and Miranda Lambert. The results on Thomas Rhett’s debut are a rhythmic, grooving, infectious amalgam of styles that appreciates country’s roots and challenges its perceived limitations at the same time.
The music was captured at Joyce’s home studio, which provided a loose, informal ambiance that found its way into the tracks.
“It’s recorded in his basement,” Thomas Rhett says. “It’s dark, a couple lamps on and candles burning and incense everywhere. We had some of the best players, and it was pretty much a big jam session until we found
something that worked.”
The album veers from the clever wordplay of “Would Ya” to the high energy of “Something To Do With My Hands” to the playful grooves of “Front Porch Junkie” and “All-American Middle Class White Boy.” But as much as he’s about having a good time, “Beer With Jesus” – a rough-edged ballad that seeks elusive spiritual clarity – demonstrates the enormous depth that lies under all the fun stuff.
That’s appropriate for Thomas Rhett, who’s discovered that music – despite his insistence on avoiding it – is a central part of his destiny.
“I think I’ve been directed here for a reason,” he surmises. “I still don’t know why. I don’t know if it’s to be some big star or if it’s to make a difference in somebody’s life along the way or to make somebody’s Friday night entertaining. It doesn’t really matter. It’s a journey, and I’m learning something new every step along the way.”
Kelleigh is a singer-songwriter in her hometown, Nashville, TN. New single "Sorry On The Rocks" out now.
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