Country Cool: Gary Allan kicks off Riverbend Festival

Country Cool: Gary Allan kicks off Riverbend Festival

June 6th, 2014 by Barry Courter in Life Entertainment

Country singer Gary Allan

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

POLL: Will you attend Riverbend this year?

TONIGHT'S SCHEDULE

Coke Stage

• 9:15 p.m. Gary Allan

Bud Light Stage

• 5:30 p.m. The Power Players Show Band

• 7 p.m. Jeff Austin of Yonder Mountain String Band

• 9:15 p.m. Silent Disco

Volkswagen Stage

• 5:45 p.m. Paul Hadfield & The McCoys

• 7:15 p.m. Project Illumination

TVFCU Stage

• 6 p.m. Celeste Kellogg

• 7:30 p.m. MidDay Farm Report

• 9 p.m. Lee Bain III & The Glory Fires

Unum Stage

• 6:15 p.m. Dave Walters Quartet featuring Kathy Tugman

• 7:45 p.m. Kelly McRae

IF YOU GO

What: Gary Allan.

When: 9:30 p.m. tonight.

Where: Coca-Cola Stage.

Admission: Riverbend 9-day wristband ($50); one-day wristband ($26).

Country star Gary Allan has a simple request of record label owners when it comes to his recording projects.

"Give me some money and let me make a record."

At least that's what he told one executive when asked if he needed anything during a recording session. Allan realizes that's not how things work for the most part, but it came awfully close on his last record, "Set You Free." He took advantage of the timing surrounding some changes at the top of the label to make an album the way he wanted.

"This last record was me having all the cards, and just doing what I want to do," he says. "I was able to tell them, 'All you have to do is like it.'"

Allan is the opening night headliner for this year's Riverbend Festival, and WUSY-FM 100.7 on-air personality Gator Harrison predicts fans will see an artist who walks it and talks it when it comes to his music.

"I think Gary Allan kind of defines country cool. He sings with such pain and passion and that's because he's lived what he sings," Harrison says. "He's got this swagger and this cult following, and he's one of those artists that transcends charts because when one of his songs connects with you, it just connects."

Allan has released 10 records since his debut in 1996 and had nearly two dozen hit singles, including "Her Man," "It Would Be You," "Smoke Rings in the Dark" and "Man to Man," his first No. 1. Other chart-toppers include "Tough Little Boys," "Nothing On but the Radio" and last year's "Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain)."

Allan, who writes, performs and produces his own music, prefers being in charge just because it's easier.

"I think it's my vision and when I have other people in there that can't see my vision, it never ends well," he says.

Despite the freedom, Allan says he is very much aware of the parameters he is working under, namely to record music that country music radio will like and play. It's a tough balancing act for any artist, but it's made somewhat easier by Allan's proven track record. It wasn't always that way.

"When I first got a record contract, [MCA Nashville executive] Bruce Hinton came in and said, 'Are you getting everything you want? Is there anything you want?' I said, "Yeah just give me some money and let me make a record.' He said it doesn't work that way.

"He was right, and I wasn't ready. I didn't understand how to fit into radio."

Fitting into country radio is not the same as making records that fit the format du jour, Allan notes. His songs are not filled with lyrics about girls, cars, sunshine and beaches, otherwise known as the "bro-country" sounds popularized by Florida Georgia Line.

"No, I can't try to fit into that," he says. "I try to stay in the format and still make a record I love. I have to do my thing, otherwise, if I make a record I didn't like and it didn't work well, I'd be like '--, I didn't like it either.'"

His songs are more personal, dealing with things like the suicide of his wife of three years in 2004. The two were at home with their blended family of six kids when she shot herself after asking him to get her a soft drink. She was chronically depressed, and allergies triggered severe migraines for her, which made the depression worse.

For a long time, Allan says, he couldn't write, but writing eventually helped him with his own depression following her death. These days, he spends his time touring with his band or doing acoustic sets whenever he can.

"Anything that keeps me thinking and twisted up."

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6354.