Brad Blackwell knows that performing at the Bijou Theatre is a big step up — and it's not just about the number of people coming to a show."People understand that," says Blackwell. "If they say, 'Well, what are you doing, you college graduate?' and you say, 'Playing music,' that doesn't mean a whole lot to a lot of people. But if you say, 'I played the Bluebird Cafe. I played the Bijou Theatre,' that means something to them. So people are starting to respond a little more."
Blackwell will perform at the Bijou for the first time on June 22. He'll be introduced by fan, friend and former University of Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer.
Blackwell says it's a fight to constantly play larger venues. He fought to get shows at the Wild Wing Cafe and fought to get a show at the Square Room and the Bluebird in Nashville.
"Then you get to the Bijou and then all of a sudden people want to do things for you," says Blackwell. "This Bijou show has been significantly easier than anything I've ever done."
He says something as simple as getting a business owner to leave a flyer up in his or her store is easier.
Blackwell just graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree in advertising, and he is ready to go full-throttle in pursuing his dream of music stardom. A native of Kingsport and a graduate of Dobyns-Bennett High School, Blackwell enrolled in UT three years ago and pursued his music career on the side. In 2010, he won Best Singer in the News Sentinel's 2010 East Tennessee's Best Reader's Poll, and in 2011 he released his second album, "Fresh."
While his sound is more along the lines of singer-songwriters like Dave Barnes and Matt Kearney, Blackwell says he's breaking into the country market:
"I love country music. I'm from East Tennessee. I have a country accent. That's not a fake thing. People who don't know what to call it will call it country."
He says when he and manager Jim Denton first started visiting Nashville they made a big mistake.
"People would say, 'What are you?' and we'd say 'Errr, well, we're sort of ...' and we'd already lost them. The meeting's over. Now when we go in and they say, 'What are you?' we say, 'We're country. We're different, but we're country.' That tightens the focus a little more and it gives them something to sink their teeth into. ... It's not standing by the railroad track in his flannel shirt country. It's a different thing, and country is moving in a different direction than it was before."
Denton, he says, has been a huge asset in his career. Denton is the co-author of the song "Rope the Moon," which was a big hit for John Michael Montgomery in 1994. Denton left Nashville a few years later, but his friends from the old days have moved up in the business. Blackwell says doors opened for him that would've taken years to crack himself. And, unlike a lot of young artists, Blackwell understands the business.
"It's a game within the game," he says. "I've grown to like it."
Blackwell says he's taken something away from every meeting he's had in Nashville, even if the executives are giving the absolute opposite advice.
"They can recognize the talent, but when it comes down to what makes a hit record you get to a level and it's all faith or luck or whatever. Take Eric Church; he's huge right now and no one would have anticipated that. I saw Eric Church five years ago playing at Southbound in the Old City. There were 50 people there, but I was sucked in. I've been telling people for four years, 'This guy is awesome.' I'd tell people in Nashville I was a huge Eric Church fan and they'd let it go by. Now everybody is talking about this Eric Church guy. Everybody loves him."
Church was confident in his work, and so is Blackwell.
"Perception is everything in music," says Blackwell. "If you tell somebody that you're a big shot, then they may believe you're a big shot. And you say, 'Listen, I'm worth 10 grand,' they may pay you 10 grand. You might be less talented than the guy who is playing Wild Wing Cafe next Tuesday and he's getting paid 150 bucks. But all of a sudden you have a name and you can say, 'Well, this is what I'm worth' and people are willing to pay it."
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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