Thanks for agreeing to meet me like this.
Sure, no problem.
I didn’t want to talk about this in the office.
But there’s something we really need from you.
And what’s that?
We need a live performance for the ages.
Why is that?
You know the sort of routine we run when it comes to our music. The musicians in our label have had years of working in small clubs and honing their craft in front of audiences, and we are big on live performances, including music festivals, long tours, and performances at the Grand Old Opry.
But you’re a studio musician and there are some people who don’t think that you are fit for our world until you can prove yourself on a live stage.
And the benefit concert for Songs of Innocence And Songs Of Experience was too collaborative?
Yes, they want a full concert of your material to judge you from.
I can think of a venue that would be good for that.
I grew up just outside of Plant City, and every year, as you probably know, they have an annual strawberry festival that features a lot of country acts.
You would be willing to perform a couple of concerts there in front of an audience that we could use for recording and footage?
Yes, I would.
[During the brief pause that follows, a waiter comes up.] Would you like anything to drink? Do you know what you want to order?
Sure, I’d like a sweet tea with no lemon, thanks. And I’d like the quail with rice and a salad and basalmic vinaigrette.
I’d like a rum and coke along with the herb crusted ribeye and a baked potato with butter and sour cream.
[The waiter goes away.]
So seriously, you’re willing to do a big live concert with just your own material?
Yes, I am, in front of a hometown crowd.
And you’re willing to have that concert released as a cd/dvd combo so that we can release it to prove that you’re capable of performing well live?
Yes, I’m willing to do that.
I wanted to let you know about something else.
We’re recording this conversation.
It’s not a very interesting conversation so far. I don’t mind having evidence of this sort of thing. I take it you didn’t want to have a contract but wanted to preserve a record of a verbal agreement in case it needed to be enforced?
Yes, that’s right. You understand how these things go.
I don’t mind. We need to make sure that there is room in the Strawberry Festival, but they would likely jump at the chance to have a local boy play a couple of concerts. They have two concert per day, an afternoon one and an evening one, and I think we can work on a set list that would maximize the material that would be on the recording.
So you’d be willing to help out with marketing as well?
Absolutely. My thinking is that we would have country songs on the afternoon concert and pop songs on the evening concert, make sure that the marketing was clear about which was which, and make sure there was no overlap between the two so that fans could choose which, or both, of the concerts they wanted to see. I could see something like that succeeding pretty well.
We’ll have to talk to the festival a bit, right, and organize this?
Yes, that’s right. I’m not sure if there is any room for them to have another artist, but even if we had to move to somewhere nearby like the Ford Amphitheater and do it just before or just after the festival, that would be okay too.
And you’re willing to work out a two-show deal for this?
Yes, I am. I’ve never been totally opposed to performing, I just wanted to make sure it was done in a way that I would be able to respect and a way that would make sense for everyone.
I don’t think it would take too long for the recordings to be ready.
No, we should be able to get everything miked and the sound quality of both the Strawberry Festival as well as the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheater is pretty good, so that shouldn’t be an issue. We could make sure that live footage of the concert would go viral as well if we wanted to promote any of the tracks as singles.
Do we know which songs we’d want to promote?
I’m not sure. Right now we’ve been working “Ceteris Paribus” and “Status Quo Antebellum” pretty heavily, but it might make sense to see if those tracks take off before promoting the first single off of the next country studio album.
Do you have any idea what will be yet?
I’m not sure. We’ve got some story songs, but I don’t think of myself as someone who can predict what will be a hit. You’d probably want to have one of the A&R guys listen to our rehearsals, and work with the video crew to make sure that the right songs are pushed in the video footage and readied for immediate release.
Have you ever seen a live performance like this go viral?
In country music I’ve seen it happen quite a few times. There was the recording of “Murder On Music Row,” which was a really great collaboration between a few older artists who wanted to hold the line on traditional country. I remember when I was a teen there was a big push for a heartfelt performance of “God Bless The Child” from Shania Twain, so it’s something that I’ve seen happen a few times. And if I’m lucky enough to benefit from that, and if it would silence some of the critics who don’t think I have the chops for live performance, I’m quite willing to do that, even with all of my anxiety issues.
So you really want to silence the haters?
Yeah, of course I’m motivated to silence the haters. And the best way to do so is through success. I’m not adverse to making sure there is more material to record and release, and a lot of the songs I would be singing in the afternoon are ones I’d want to record for a studio album and have been working on in the home studio, but we’ve been waiting for the sales cycle of the previous label to finish before putting the finishing touches on the production so it sounds fresh and not tired and dated.
I just wanted to make sure that you were doing what you were supposed to do. We haven’t exactly been in touch much recently.
That’s true. I have been keeping rather busy back home. Once the studios finished being built in Oregon and Florida I went back and did plenty of recording there and started working with some local musicians to get the business off the ground of turning them into investment properties, but yes, that sort of thing has taken some time. I haven’t forgotten my day job, though, and I wanted to make sure that we had recorded some music that could be released. So far I have about fifteen tracks recorded and it looks like I might have ten more by the time I’m done.
So you’re going to do another double album?
It looks like that. I’ve been exploring the places where I have lived and how I spent my time and how I feel about being a rootless person in search of a home.
Do you think it’s something that other people will be able to relate to?
Absolutely. I think there are people who feel cut off from their roots and in search of a place where they can feel safe and loved, and those who do enjoy such a place for themselves can relate to others wanting that. My own story is pretty widely known and the drama about my previous label is something that people will likely read into it. This will give the fans a chance to give me a sense of belonging and to provide that sense of home for me as an artist, at least.
I think that’s a wise move. And you’ll be performing a lot of those songs live in the concert?
Yes, I would be performing those songs live and letting the fans know that they are hearing material from my upcoming album that I’ve been working on. I assume we’ll have a good group of musicians to work on it?
The same ones you’ve been performing with in the studio, if you like.
Yeah, I definitely get along with them. There are some cool cats there and it will be a pleasure to introduce them. I’ll work on what covers I’d like to add to it as well, to give the fans a sense of the familiar.
Did you have any covers in mind so we can clear them for release as soon as possible?
Yes, I was thinking of the following ones: “Living And Living Well” by George Strait, “I’m In A Hurry (And Don’t Know Why)” by Alabama, and “Seminole Wind” by John Anderson.
That’s a pretty unusual set of covers.
Yes, it is, but those songs will be a good fit for the first concert, which will have a lot of songs that relate to the course of my life. Of course, if the songs clear all of their concerns, we can make sure that everyone gets the royalties they are supposed to. I don’t suppose any of those people will object to me performing my own country covers of their songs. I would hope it would be seen as a sign of respect.
Do you plan on doing all of the covers together or separate?
I plan on sprinkling them throughout the concert in order to keep things fresh. Oh, and there’s one more song I’d want you to clear, and that is the poem “Seven Stars” from Irene Hunt’s Across Five Aprils novel.
Wait, the Civil War novel that kids often have to read?
Yes, that one. I read it, and one other novel of hers, as a kid myself.
You have a song version of that one to sing?
Yes, I plan on closing my concert with it.
That’s definitely something we will take into consideration. And what about the evening concert?
I’m doing to do pop songs, and that one will be easier because I’ll be singing most of the material from my first three studio albums except for the two country songs, and only the covers that showed up there that have already been approved. The only cover I’d like to add is a cover of “Goodnight My Angel” from Billy Joel at the very end.
Again, you want a sentimental closer?
Of course. I’m a sentimental person. Oh, and if you can clear “Somewhere Out There,” that would be good because I’d like to do that one too.
Do you have any duet partners yet?
No, but if we can get a vocalist who is willing to do both country and pop with me, she would definitely get some serious attention of her own.
Do you want someone established or an up and comer?
I’m always interested in giving a chance to someone who needs the attention, but again, they’re someone who will have to be willing to do plenty of rehearsals in Florida over the next few months.
I don’t think that going to Florida in the winter is going to be a hard sell, even to sing with you.
That’s very gallant of you to say so.
If we can find someone suitable, would you be willing to work with them on their own material?
You mean so that they could have a solo album of their own ready to go to take advantage of the attention they get from the concert?
Yes, we can work on that, and if they are willing to do an opening set to the afternoon concert, at least, that would give them a chance to perform in front of some fans and get in the dvd video as well, maybe even have a live ep of their material to release as well.
I like the way you think. That provides plenty of material for us to work with.
Good, I see the waiter coming back, so let’s get to eating.
We were definitely thrilled at the idea that he would be performing with us at our festival. We knew he grew up around us, so the fact that he was looking to do a big an splashy performance to introduce himself to a live country audience was something we were all looking forward to hearing. We all wanted this to succeed, for a variety of reasons. For one, it would be easy for us to get a supportive audience in order to hear someone from the area. For another, he had something to prove to the audience about performing live. And on top of that, he was a popular enough artist in general that we were happy to get a crossover audience. And the thought that it would be recorded and released that would put our name on the map was something that we were looking forward to as well. It was a win-win for everyone involved, that’s for sure.
The negotiations for the concert were complex, but since everyone wanted it to work, we were definitely interested in it. For one, the Strawberry Festival wanted to make sure that their name was on the project. And, as predicted, the demand was much greater than the Strawberry Festival fairgrounds itself could manage, so we had to hold it at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheater. So we did some video shooting to show footage of the festival as well as the venue so that everyone got the attention they wanted. We had the dates free to make it a special Strawberry Festival showcase and the concert sold a ton of tickets at a pretty high price. Everyone came out a winner here. The fans got to see someone who didn’t show up live very often but was a conscientious person who would do it right. The Strawberry Festival and MidFlorida Credit Union Amphiteater got their reputation on a national release that would go out and sell a bunch of copies, and the singer got his credibility as a live pop and country act who could perform live and do it well. And everyone involved got enough money to make it worth our while to put all of this together. And it was something we all wanted more of, that’s for sure.
It’s nice of you to pop in on our radio show again.
No problem. It’s nice to be here.
We don’t have much time so let’s make it brief. You’ve got a big concert here coming up.
That’s right. I’m going to be performing this Monday at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphiteater as part of a special Strawberry Festival showcase concert. Well, two concerts, actually, one at 3:00PM and the other at 7:30PM. The first concert will contain country songs and the second concert pop songs.
Both of those concerts are already sold out.
That’s right, but listeners who want to come to the concerts can still win some free tickets anyway.
What do they have to do to win a ticket?
When you hear one of my songs on the radio, be the 99th caller, and you will win a pair of tickets to see me perform in the afternoon concert.
That’s right. We’ve got two weeks until the concert, and we will be doing this every day until the concert begins. We have the only tickets you can get without mortgaging your trailer or selling your truck to buy them from scalpers, so listen to our station all day and when one of his songs plays, be the 99th caller to win your tickets.
We were glad to be able to work with him. For a shy and somewhat awkward guy, he was willing to work with others and he had a good relationship with the radio staff. We were all happy that he was willing to come in and help out with the promotions for the concert, and he did the meet and greets with the winners too. We could all see that he was a friendly and decent person even if he was terribly anxious. And because he was anxious and kind, we all wanted him to succeed, and the people who won the tickets were happy about getting their merch and about getting to meet someone and talk to him a bit. He went above and beyond when it came to making people feel welcome, and that really won over the listeners that we had, because people shared their stories about how it was like to talk to him and the attention he paid to making people feel as comfortable as possible. I think that being as awkward and uncomfortable as he was, he considered it particularly important to make others more comfortable, and that was something I really appreciated.