› What: CountryFest featuring Kane Brown and special guest Walker McGuire.
› When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2; gates open at 5:30 p.m.
› Where: Northwest Georgia Amphitheatre, 220 Catoosa Circle, Ringgold, Ga.
› Admission: $20.
› Website: www.us101country.com.
Online: Watch the “What Ifs” video featuring Kane Brown and Lauren Alaina at https://youtu.be/fM8V1XOI-14
The night before we spoke several weeks ago, country music singer Kane Brown did something that epitomizes how his life has changed in just two years. It took place before another sold-out show, which says a lot about how his life has changed in and of itself, but it was a fairly simple act of rebellion that encapsulates a new direction for Brown.
A couple of years ago, he was a 21-year-old, would-be singer who was writing a few songs here and there and recording himself singing those and covers by famous people on his phone and posting them to social-media sites. They made him an internet sensation, garnering hundreds of thousands of views, which eventually led to a recording contract.
Things were not easy for Brown growing up. He was raised primarily by his mother, and the family moved around quite a bit, going from North Georgia to Soddy-Daisy. Brown attended four schools during that time and at one point was living in a car with his mother and brother.
But here he was about to perform a show with Cole Swindell, Dierks Bentley and LoCash when he and LoCash decided to commandeer a golf cart and ride through the crowd.
"We stole some security hats and shirts, and rode out into the crowd," he said. "We looked back at the stage over the crowd, and I said, 'There are people who would pay thousands of dollars to get to go where we go backstage. We get to do it for free.'"
The point for Brown, who is currently on tour with Jason Aldean, was not just that he has a job that many people would envy, touring the country playing to huge crowds. It was that he was also having fun, tooling around in a "borrowed" cart. For him, it meant that he was relaxed enough, and comfortable enough with his place in life, that he wasn't worried about whether his dream was about to end.
He's learned a lot in just two years, but he said the biggest lesson he has learned has been the simplest.
"Man, I've learned the most crazy thing is, and I'm saying this with all honesty, is just to have fun," he said. And you hear it in his deep, very Southern voice. In past interviews, Brown has sounded weary, or tired. Today he is happy and excited to talk about the last two years.
"When I first came in, I was so nervous and unsure what to say or do," he said. "I didn't want to represent myself badly."
WUSY-FM 100.7 radio personality Bill "Dex" Poindexter has known Brown and his family for three generations. He said things have not always been easy for Brown, but "he sure has turned things around, hasn't he? I'm so proud for him.
"He's really misunderstood. A lot of people don't know it, but he is just really shy."
Poindexter said Brown gives fellow singer Lauren Alaina much of the credit for him being a successful singer. One of the four high schools Brown attended was Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe, which is where the two met during choir classes.
She noticed he would sit in the back of the room and wouldn't sing, according to Poindexter. He told her he didn't like to sing in front of people, but had signed up for the class to learn how to sing. She convinced him to sing for just her, and then she told him he had the gift and that people needed to hear him.
"He gives her a lot of the credit," Poindexter said.
She encouraged him to sing, and her appearances on "American Idol" gave him courage to pursue singing as a career, Brown said. He said having her there to sing and talk to over the years has meant a lot to him. The two recorded "What Ifs" last year, and the song has become a hit.
"It's been great," Brown said. "I'm super proud of her. It's really cool for both of us to be coming from such a small town. I trust Lauren, and it's just cool because she has always been my friend since seventh grade. Not best friends, but friends."
Brown said he is much more comfortable in who he is and what he expects of himself and the country music industry.
"It's not easy, but I'm learning. Part of it is surrounding myself with a bunch of good guys. I didn't know if I'd jumped in too early, but now it's like, nah, I can do it. I didn't know the boundaries before. Now I know I can have fun, and I know the right way to stay out of the way."
His current state of happiness could also have something to do with his recent engagement to Katelyn Jae and the fact that the couple recently traded in their two-room apartment and bought a five-bedroom house in Mount Juliet near Nashville.
"It's pretty great, especially since I've never really lived in a house of our own growing up," said the singer, who will recall some of those early trials when he travels to Washington, D.C., in September to speak at a congressional briefing on the affordable-housing crisis in the United States.
Brown released his first studio album on Dec. 2, and it became the best-selling debut for a country artist in the last two and half years. Earlier this week, he released a deluxe version of the self-titled album with four new tracks.
When we spoke, he was just finishing up the tracks.
"I've never been so excited about anything in my life," he said. "I think these could be a game-changer. They might be the next four singles, and I am really stoked about that."
He said he and producer Dann Huff became more comfortable with each other with time, and the new songs reflect that. He said at first Huff wanted him to sing in a higher key than he was used to, and he wasn't comfortable enough to speak up about it.
"We were way more comfortable around each other [for these tracks], and my voice is so much better."
Contact Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.