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Kane Brown grew up in North Georgia and Chattanooga. Tonight at Riverbend, he will play his first big show in town since his career took off last fall.
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Kane Brown, performing last week at the 12th Annual Stars for Second Harvest Benefit in Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, grew up in North Georgia and Chattanooga.

If you go

>› What: Kane Brown

› When: 8:15 tonight

› Where: Bud Light Stage

Singles

* “There Goes My Everything” (No. 27)

* Wide Open” (No. 34)

* “Excuses” (No. 36)

 

Like most young people growing up in the Chattanooga area, Kane Brown attended Riverbend with his friends. He liked hanging out, talking to girls and listening to the music. He also dreamed of one day being one of those performers.

That dream only intensified after his friend and former classmate Lauren Alaina finished as runner-up on "American Idol" in May 2011, then played the festival the following June.

"That really made me want to do it," he says.

The two now communicate daily, swapping words of encouragement and song lyrics, he says, and he credits her for encouraging him back in middle school choir to pursue singing. She was likely drawn to his voice, which had just started to change to the deep baritone he's known for today,

Brown gets his chance to have his own Riverbend moment tonight, thanks to some late maneuvering by Riverbend officials to make it happen. He's set to perform on the Bud Light Stage. Riverbend lengthened the time between the Coca-Cola Stage sets of bluegrass/folk band Trampled by Turtles and country singer Chris Young to accommodate Brown's set, which was added after the 2016 lineup was announced. Festival Executive Director Chip Baker says booking acts like Brown at this time is tricky but important.

"Twenty to 25 percent of our lineup is local acts, which we highly support, but not only is he local, he's on fire, so it's great for the festival, great for him and great for the community," Baker says.

Adding acts like Lauren Alaina and Brown so late is not simply a matter of making a few phone calls, he adds.

"It is a big deal and the biggest thing is that, for what we charge, $41 for nine days, and our budget, we have to be very smart with our purchases, so when the budget is gone, it's gone," Baker says. "But it is that important for us and I'm glad we did it."

Brown, who grew up in North Georgia and Chattanooga, says he has no idea who did what to make it happen, he's just glad it worked out.

"It's been my dream to play Riverbend and some people pulled some strings is all I know," Brown says. "I've really been wanting to come back and play for my hometown and to be able to do it at Riverbend is huge."

This past year has huge for Brown. A year ago he was an unknown who was recording himself singing on his cellphone, then posting the videos to social media sites. When hundreds, then thousands, then hundreds of thousands of people started viewing and clicking "like" on the videos, record labels took notice.

He signed with Sony Nashville last fall after being courted by literally every major label. He released a two EPs through digital downloads — "Closer" (released by him before being signed to Sony) and "Chapter 1" (released by Sony) — and is working on a full-length album due out in late summer/early fall. While he hasn't had that massive hit yet, he's cracked the Top 40 three times on Billboard's Country Charts — "There Goes My Everything," "Wide Open" and "Excuses." He is currently out on the road doing shows with Florida Georgia Line and Cole Swindell.

Going from the bars and small venues where he's been performing to suddenly standing in front of arena crowds has taken some getting used to, he admits.

"In the arenas, there are a crapload more people, but you can't see them," he says. "They turn the lights down and it's this black hole and it's just weird. All you hear is the screams."

Another thing he's found weird on this crazy train ride is dealing with the media, something he must do more and more. Not only is he fielding questions about his look, which features a good deal of tattoo ink and leads people to assume he's more into hip-hop than country, he's also discussin his lineage: His mother is white and his father is African-American and Cherokee.

"Yeah, they see the tattoos, but the biggest thing is my family," he says. "If you look at country music, I'm not what traditional country looks like."

But he is who he is, he says, and has no plans to change.

"I feel like I've gotten to where I am being who I am and it's still growing, so I'm not going to let anybody change me. Plus, if I was doing something that hurt somebody, that'd be different, but I'm not."

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

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