published Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

Talent Show: Baylor School athlete sees future in performance

Baylor School student Bryce Cronan plays guitar and also plays for Baylor's lacrosse and football teams.
Baylor School student Bryce Cronan plays guitar and also plays for Baylor's lacrosse and football teams.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

CLAIM TO FAME

Bryce Cronan, 15, has been playing football and lacrosse since the third grade and now plays on the Baylor School junior-varsity teams for both sports. He is also a self-taught guitarist. He and his cousin formed a band called The Local Group.

ABOUT HIM

School: Rising 10th-grader at Baylor School.

Athletic idol: Brian Urlacher (linebacker with Chicago Bears).

Musical idol: Dave Matthews.

Favorite sports team: Kentucky Wildcats.

Favorite song to play: "Windows Are Rolled Down" by Amos Lee.

At 6 feet 3 inches, Bryce Cronan towered over the rest of the Baylor freshman class, and his broad frame made him a solid fit as a linebacker on the school's junior-varsity team.

When he starts singing, however, he shows a surprisingly gentle side:

"Let's just look up at the stars, ask ourselves who we used to be," he crooned in the opening lines to "Fun," the first song he wrote.

"I feel like floating down a summer stream. Won't you come and have some fun with me?"

The song, which he wrote about a year and a half ago, is a showcase for a relaxed, laid-back vocal style reminiscent of his main influences: Jack Johnson, Dave Matthews and John Mayer.

"We thought that was going to be a hit, but we trashed it after a while," Bryce said, grinning beneath a mop of wavy brown hair. "You've just got to have the right words that really mean something to you, that really make sense."

Music is a new addition to Bryce's life. Now 15, he will be starting in the 10th grade at Baylor next fall, but he first picked up the guitar when his parents gave him one as a graduation gift from elementary school.

Before that, athletics were the driving force in his life.

Bryce began playing basketball before he entered kindergarten at the Bright School. He stuck with it until he enrolled at Baylor in sixth grade, when he dropped it in favor of wrestling.

This year, he limited himself to two sports, lacrosse and football, both of which he has played since third grade.

Given his sport-minded family -- his older brother, Hayden, also wrestled and played football and lacrosse -- Bryce said involvement in athletics was all but a foregone conclusion.

Playing sports, especially football at a high school level, however, has had more far-reaching effects than he expected.

"Football ... showed me how to be on a team," he said. "It showed me what brotherhood is like."

Since he took up music, however, Bryce's time is being pulled equally in two directions. That anything, much less music, could compete with sports for his attention has been a shock, said his grandmother, Betsy Cronan.

Playing music makes Bryce a family anomaly, she explained.

"It totally shocked us. We were floored," Cronan said, laughing. "He always loved sports. The guitar thing was a surprise to all of us."

And he has covered that distance solo, without the aid of private lessons. Bryce taught himself to play by learning to read tablature and watching videos he found online. He started out slowly, learning Johnny Cash standards such as "Hurt" and "I Walk the Line."

Within a year, he and his cousin, Jay Martin, made their debut during an open-mike night at the Mudpie Restaurant (now Hill City Pizza) on Frazier Avenue. At the time, Bryce said he couldn't sing and almost retreated to the car in a case of nerves over his single line of backing vocals.

Over time, however, performing came more naturally. Since then, the pair have performed under the name The Local Group at venues all over town, including such venues as Mercatino Delicatessen, Tremont Tavern and the Hodgepodge arts and crafts show on Signal Mountain.

Bryce said his experience onstage has convinced him his destiny lies in musical performance, not the gridiron.

Still, he said, the perseverance he learned as an athlete has helped his music.

"Just like in football or lacrosse or any other sport, if you don't try, you're not going to be the best you can be," he said. "You can't take days off; you've got to go 100 percent, even when you don't want to.

"There have definitely been days I don't want to [play], but I think, 'Can't quit now. I've come pretty far. I can't give it up, gotta keep going.' "

TALENT SHOW

Do you know a child age 17 or younger with a precocious talent in academics, athletics or the arts? The Times Free Press is searching for children to feature in "Talent Show," which appears in the Life section on Tuesdays. To nominate a child as a possible subject of a future feature article, e-mail staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or call him at 423-757-6205.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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