Friday, October 26, 2012

Exclusive DB Congress Interview: Wes Edwards-Story Behind Directing Dierks Bentley's Tip It On Back Video

Dierks Bentley (left) presents a plaque to video director Wes Edwards at the No. 1 party for "5-1-5-0" in Nashville on Aug. 30, 2012.  Photo Credit: Brian Tipton

Wes Edwards has been making films ever since he was 12 years old. He's been directing professionally for more than 10 years, working with everyone from multi-platinum recording artists. to children in the townships of South Africa.

Couple that with commercials, short films and nearly 50 music videos, including Dierks Bentley's "5-1-5-0" and "Tip It On Back," and you've got one talented dude who's vision and hard work results in a moving experience for the viewers that immediately connects them to the song.

We found each other on Twitter and Wes quickly agreed to contribute to the "Tip It On Back" story behind the video DB Congress Blogs  - Part One is below.  

How did you come up with the treatment story for TIOB? Is the video process collaborative or do you bring the vision to the table?

The treatment was fitting because I came up with it after a couple of drinks one night!

My parents had just sold our family farm in Kentucky and though it was the right thing to do for them, it was still weighing heavily on my mind.  The core idea came about when I was just listening to the song and I imagined the for sale sign at the farm falling over or "tipping back."  It was a really exciting moment because I knew that could be the final twist in the story to leave the audience with. 

The only thing I wrote down that night was: "On one level it’s a video about losing your inhibitions ... but in a deeper way, it’s about how losing your inhibitions makes you discover your priorities."  So with that image, I wrote the story of the young couple forced to sell, and how "tipping it on back" made the guy realize that he would do whatever it took to keep the farm.  

The for sale sign we made listed the farm at 276 acres - the same as our farm in Kentucky.  

How much ad-lib do you allow Dierks to do? Was the stage dive his idea?

Actually I think I brought up the stage diving the day before we shot in a text message to Dierks and he just said, "yeah let's try it!"

I let Dierks ad-lib as much as we can shoot.  Driving Big White through the mud on "5-1-5-0" was his idea, and all I had to do was get the cameras ready.  

Dierks is awesome to work with.  He has ideas but in the end he just wants a great video and defaults to what I think, so we are both free to try something and if it doesn't work we just scrap it and try something else.

Dierks is also great at speaking up right away if he doesn't like the vibe of something.  For example, when we first started shooting performance he thought the stage looked too clean, so we added some rugs, some equipment, and made it a little more messy.  It suddenly felt more authentic and the video was better for it.  I love working with Dierks because he actually cares about the end product.  He's reached a level of success where he could only be concerned with how much time he needs to be on set, but he actually cares about the quality of the video as a whole and that's what is really impressive after 18 videos.

Can you share a sample page of the script or do you just use an outline?

I just worked with a simple shot list on set.  Actually, it wasn't even a shot list, just an event list.  It looked like this:

- couple enters theater 
- couple orders beer 
- couple loosens up 
- dancing 


Obviously there is a lot more subtlety to the video but I've found that sometimes it's better to let things happen on set and not in an overwhelmingly long and detailed shot list. 

When we shot the scene of the couple first arriving at the venue and ordering a beer, it was a much more simple thing ... Order beer, get beer, exit.  Once we got on set I could see that the actors were expressing quite a lot through the expressions on their faces.  It became a way to say: they are upset, but they love each other and they are going to do their best to forget about everything and just have a good time.  And that's something that if I had just stuck to a shot list, wouldn't have been conveyed.

Had you planned to use the little boys as flash back or did (make up artist) Jenny Sue happen to have them on set?

We were going to find a little boy down there.  We found out Jenny Sue had a son so I said, great can you bring him?

Then I found out that she had two boys and that the younger boy LOVED "5-1-5-0" and I thought, we can't have this kid stay at home while his brother gets to be in a Dierks Bentley video, it'll ruin his life!   So I said, bring them both ... And she did.  Their names were Jack and Walker and they were awesome. 

Did you personally pick Jason and Sarah? If so, what sold you on them getting the part?

We didn't do regular auditions, I just brought people in and asked them questions on camera. It's more important to me that the person be comfortable and collaborative than just be able to "perform."

I had just seen Sarah and really liked her.  As she was leaving Jason came in next.  I also liked him but found out that he was moving the next week so if I wanted to pair him up with a girl this would be my only chance.  About a minute in to his interview I ran into the hall and yelled "get that Sarah girl back here!" 

My producer called her, she turned her car around and came in.  I put her and Jason together and it was magic.  They looked so comfortable together,  like they had known each other for years.  I auditioned a lot more people but they were my first choice from the moment I put them together.

You have done a ton of Jason Aldean videos. It's interesting that Jason's bassist, Tully Kennedy was a co-writer on Tip It On Back. How much insight did you get from the "Tip It On Back" songwriters to create the treatment? 

I've known Tully for years but had no idea he was a writer on the song until the day we wrapped the shoot.  He's a great guy and I hope the song does well for him.

Who has been your favorite artist to work with?

Well I can't pick favorites .... I love all the artists I work with.  I'll say that my two videos with Dierks have been extremely fulfilling.  Dierks is a very responsive artist who is awesome as a creative collaborator, and is just a pleasant down to earth person.   You really couldn't ask for more from an artist.

Editing seems to be a really long and tedious process. How long did it take after two days of filming TIOB?

I had the first cut within three days of getting back home.  I think we delivered about three weeks after wrap.  Editing is tedious but I have a love/hate relationship with it.  When you're on set you're always up against the clock.  Since I edit my own videos, the pressure of the clock goes away and I take the time to make it as perfect as it can be.  And though it can be tedious, it's worth it to get the cut just right.

Do you prefer music videos over commercials or short film? If so, why?

I love them all for different reasons.  

There is a lot of freedom in music videos and it's nice to write a concept and bring it to the screen.    It becomes the visual that people associate to the song, so there's something very fulfilling about that.

With commercials the concept is written by the ad agency, and it's nice to have the creative already written when I come aboard.  There are only 30 seconds to fill in a commercial so you have a lot more time on set to perfect the shots, which is refreshing after working on a lot of music videos where you have to just keep moving.

Short films are great fun.  I ultimately want to direct movies so short films are the closest to feature film-making for me. 

But I love it all. 

Thanks, Wes!  

Stay tuned for Part Two of the Behind the Scenes Exclusive Tip It On Back video interviews with the lead actors--Sarah and Jason!

DB Congress Chair (FL)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dierks & Miranda Unleash Locked & Reloaded Tour!

Bad Angel buddies, Dierks Bentley and Miranda Lambert unleashed dozens of tour dates to their fans yesterday.  The two are teaming up again, co-headlining what promises to be a "must see" show!


We're excited to announce that Dierks and Miranda Lambert will be heading out on tour together next year for the Miranda Lambert and Dierks Bentley: Locked & Reloaded Tour, which will kick-off on January 17th. Stay tuned to for all of the latest info on tickets and tour dates.

“Making music for our fans is the best job in the world,” said Miranda. “It’s especially great being able to take to that music on the road with someone I respect as an artist and human being. This will be a tour of ‘epic badassery,’” she laughed.

Dierks added, “Some of my favorite times on tour over the years were with Miranda and her crew. We have a lot in common musically and our fans do too. It's going to be a killer year.”

Dierks and Miranda last toured together in 2007!

We hope you're as pumped as we are!

Miranda posted cities on her website:

2013 Headline Tour Kicks-off January 17
Columbia, SC
Knoxville, TN
Roanoke, VA
Baltimore, MD
Reading, PA
Atlantic City, NJ (AC Boardwalk Hall) Jan. 26, 2013
Dekalb, IL
Dayton, OH
Huntington, WV
Ames, IA
Champaign, IL
E Lansing, MI
Rochester, NY
Albany, NY
Portland, ME
Wichita Falls, TX
Oklahoma City, OK
Kansas City, MO
Macon, GA
Jacksonville, FL
Estero, FL
Bossier City, LA
Springfield, MO
Tulsa, OK
Syracuse, NY
Hershey, PA
Uniondale, NY
San Diego, CA
Irvine, CA
Las Vegas, NV
Phoenix, AZ
Albuquerque, NM
Denver, CO

Stay tuned for dates and venues!  Pre sale for Atlantic City, NJ are today, October 24, 2012, on at 10 am eastern and on at 11 am eastern.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

CMA Close Up: Dierks Bentley

Dierks Bentley Returns to CMA Songwriters Series in New York

By Bob Doerschuk - 10/16/12 News Service (via email)

© 2012 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

On Sept. 6, former CMA intern Dierks Bentley renewed his ties to the organization during a visit to New York City. Midday was devoted to a visit to PS 103, the Hector Fontanez School, in the Bronx, where a CMA donation of $20,000 enabled the school to open a music program for students for the first time.

To commemorate this first outreach beyond the Nashville area of CMA’s Keep the Music Playing program, the artist shared his thoughts with an assembly of fourth-graders about the value of learning about music – and was delighted when they started singing along as he performed “5-1-5-0,” which they had rehearsed prior to his arrival.

“It’s a great honor to be a part of this, to get a bunch of musical instruments to the classroom so teachers for the first time can have music as an option for their curriculum,” he reflected while on his way out from Manhattan for this event. “I’m really excited to see how all the money that’s been raised through CMA is being used here.”

Hours after receiving his surprise serenade, Bentley was back in Manhattan to participate in that evening’s CMA Songwriters Series show at Joe’s Pub, along with Jim Beavers, Jaren Johnston and host Bob DiPiero. The atmosphere there was a bit different than at PS 103. Certainly the audience was older. But both of these CMA initiatives are about bringing music to people in ways they might not yet have experienced.

“The big goal tonight is just to represent Country Music and CMA, to show all the work that goes into Country Music and provide a wide spectrum of what it is,” Bentley said. “What makes Country Music great, what comes out of these writers’ nights, is the song. We pass along, hopefully, some great songs to people, whether they’re Country fans or not. If they weren’t Country fans before, hopefully they’ll walk out as new ones.”

Most who take part in the Songwriters Series work behind the scenes, writing words and music that singers might turn into hits. Usually, though, at least one participant is a high-profile performer too. For them, these shows provide an interesting contrast to their usual onstage presentations.

“It’s totally different,” Bentley acknowledged. “Before my live shows, I’ll be listening to the Foo Fighters or Van Halen at the loudest possible volume, jumping up and down, going crazy. You have to get ready to go out and fight. Tonight, it’ll be a laid-back hang with the guys. We’ll have some beers, laugh and catch up. Then we’ll go out onstage with that same vibe, sit down on our stools, tell some stories and have fun with the crowd.”

Some preparation is involved, but spontaneity characterizes most of what happens in the CMA Songwriters Series. “There are definitely no set lists,” Bentley said. “You keep some songs in the back of your head and pick what you’re going to do by feeding off the guy before you and setting up the guy after you. If the two songs before you are about whiskey or something depressing, you want to pick it up — or vice versa. That’s completely different from what I do every other day.”

A key goal is to introduce the unsung heroes of Music Row and spotlight their songs as examples of modern Country craftsmanship. But there are performance elements in this setting too, just as on an arena stage. “This is really Bob DiPiero’s thing,” Bentley said. “He’s the top — the Kenny Chesney of writers’ rounds. He can hold the audience in the palm of his hand. Guys like Bob and Rivers Rutherford, they just smoke me every time in these writers’ nights.”

Having played his share of writer nights at the Bluebird Cafe, Douglas Corner CafĂ© and elsewhere as a newcomer to Nashville in the mid ‘90s, Bentley more than holds his own in any live situation — including a roomful of young fans at PS 103. That experience stirred memories of his experiences with music education, at Phoenix Country Day School in Arizona.

“They didn’t have electric guitars in the school band,” he remembered. “So I wanted to play bass guitar, but a guy named Ryan Fox had already lined that up. So I had to go with the saxophone, which was definitely not my instrument of choice. But it ended up being great. I learned to read music and to play along with other people. It definitely planted a seed and showed me that music could be played rather than just listened to.

Bentley thought for a second and then laughed. “I should have brought that saxophone along and donated it today. It might have had more use than it’s getting now.”

Upcoming shows in the CMA Songwriters Series will include Oct. 24 at Joe’s Bar in Chicago and Oct. 25 at Joe’s Pub in New York City; both will feature DiPiero as host, with Kendell Marvel, Leslie Satcher and Sunny Sweeney at both shows. And on Wednesday, Oct. 31, the CMA Songwriters Series debuts at Nashville’s Marathon Music Works, with host DiPiero, Kristian Bush of Sugarland and Brantley Gilbert confirmed thus far.

For more information on the CMA Songwriters Series, visit

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Dierks Bentley's Miles and Music For Kids Makes 12,764 Miles of Memories

Although the threat of severe storms and winds forced Dierks Bentley to make a tough decision to cancel his seventh annual Miles and Music For Kids Charity Ride and concert last weekend in Nashville, our philanthropic DB Congress president still found a way to do "something" for a few hundred fans who had traveled many miles to raise money for sick kids.
"It was a tough call, but we had to make it for everyone's safety," said Bentley. "But, we still had so many fans in town who traveled, sometimes hundreds of miles to help support Vandy's Children's Hospital, I felt like we had to find a way to do something to thank them for their time and donations over the past seven years. We decided to run across the street (Hard Rock Cafe), invite anyone still hanging around and before we knew it, the place was packed out."
Turns out, "hundreds of miles" was more like thousands for DB Congress members, who made the annual trek again this year--to the tune of 12,764 total DRT  (Dierks Road Trip) miles.  We live and breathe Dierks's motto, 'Every Mile A Memory.'

On MM4K Eve (Saturday), DBC held session at Joe's Crab Shack, where 23 members from 10 states signed get well cards for the kids.  Now we know how Dierks must feel signing his autograph for hours on end!

Southern Biker Magazine owners Randy and Kristin Gracy joined us and helped sign cards.  They told us about 3,000 bikers had registered for the event!

Front: Sandra; Sitting: Janet, Ronna, Carrie, Sue, Harriet, Becky, Kathy; Standing: Alicia, Kristin, Emily, Ann, Randy, Kristin, Julie, David, Amanda, and Jane, Joe's Crab Schack, 10/13/12

A HUGE thanks to all who all came out tonight. So fun to see old friends and meet new ones. We gathered and signed a record 363 cards for the kids..amazing! And 206 of them included a db guitar pic. Thanks to those who brought cards and to those who mailed them as well. I'm sure Dierks is proud of his DBC. Ride on!! (Organizer, David Mattingly-KY) 
Sunday morning, we woke up to an overcast sky overlooking the Riverfront stage.  Heavy winds and all day rain storm news dampened our spirits as we followed the unfolding updates on DB's Twitter page:
"we have been watching the weather all week and unfortunately, not looking good. today's weather image... 
Have to postpone Miles & Music today bc of dangerous wind & storms moving into Nashville. Thx to all for ur support...
can't tell you all how disappointed i am and my team is about today. we have been looking forward to this day for a year... 
our fans came a long way to get here, and spent money to do so. and wanted to raise money for . thank you guys"

Then Dierks retweeted THE BIG 98 WSIX:

We were ready, but mother nature wasn't. :(  

Embedded image permalink 

We decided to take a ride out to the Harley Dealership anyway, to pick up our T-shirts, and David met the lady from the hospital to drop off the get well cards for the kids. To our surprise and delight, Dierks showed up!  He announced to a crowd of about a hundred he wanted to do something since the event was cancelled and invited everyone to the Hard Rock for an impromptu concert!

Eric Close (Rayna's husband, Teddy on TV's new show, "Nashville"), told me he was looking forward to meeting Dierks and he got his wish!  Later that day, he donated an autographed script for the auction.

Dierks and Eric Close at The Harley-Davidson Dealership, Columbia, TN 10-14-12, Photo Credit: Ronna Clark
Eric Close at The Hard Rock Cafe Nashville, 10-14-12, Photo Credit: Carrie Srebro

Since the Hard Rock only holds about 250 people, we left shortly after to drive the 40 miles back to downtown. We were shocked to already see about 70 people in line! But the Hard Rock Cafe went above and beyond trying to get as many people in the door as possible.  When the upstairs was full, they opened up the doors and let people onto the balcony and downstairs.  Although they couldn't see Dierks, they could hear him and watch on one of the many screens throughout the venue.

This was a first MM4K trip for DB Congress members, Harriett, Sandra, Becky, Janet.  Here are their favorite memories from the weekend:

"I DRT'd about 980 miles. My two favorite memories: first was hearing "Wish It Would Break" live for the first time and the second was standing at the dealership when a limo pulled up. Lots of people in the crowd assumed DB was going to get out of the limo, but the DBC reps were all thinking, "nope probably not how he would choose to travel there!" - Harriett Watkins (NC)

"I believe it was around 1250 miles. My favorite part was creepin' with Carrie and Kathy." -Sandra Grub (NC)

"My miles were 1370 and my favorite memory is asking Dierks about his "old new boots" he was wearing-he said they were from WWII with a man's last name written in them--you know Dierks and his love of old things, even us old fans--and him thanking me for asking because it is a great way to introduce the next song which happened to be one of my favorites, "My Last Name"  Second favorite memory being with all the DBC members at Joe's on Saturday night--feels like family whenever we are all together! - Becky Wierzbicki (DE)

"Total miles 1370. My favorite memories were being first in line at the Hard Rock and second, Dierks handing me a bottle of Bud light during the show." -Janet Lowe (NJ)

Here are more memories from DBC reps who make this an annual trip!

"Fav memory is "Wish It Would Break" for sure!!! Only 40 miles round trip! - Alicia Alarid (TN)

"884 miles. Creepin' w/carrie & Sandra." -Kathy Butler (IN)

"395 miles....walkin around town Sunday night with the Southern Drawl Band and a few other VIPs. Wished you guys could have heard them. (Didn't know about the Hard Rock)" - Randy Gracy-Southern Biker Magazine (TN)

"Won't be home until next week since I'm doing a GSLRT ("Great Southern Loop Road Trip"), but 1020 miles one way to Nashville. At least having a last minute "Plan B" mini-concert." - Jane Sumner (NY)

"Just a measley 400 miles. Memory, seeing 10 State Reps at the pre-party. Just a great weekend. Mood swings up and down capped off with a impromptu fan club like performance...smiles all the way home!" - David Mattingly (KY)

"700 miles. The hug and apology I got from D about the cancellation. He may have been more bummed than we were!" - Kristin Houghland (IN)

"About 550 round trip this time only because I went to Memphis on Sat. morning and then to Nashville and then home. (If didn't go to Memphis then only 380 round trip.) My fav part was probably going to the dealership because we hadn't been down there yet because we usually get in line at Riverfront. - Amanda Morris (MS)

"About 900 miles round trip for me and Sandra. I have 3 favorite memories: 1. Wish it Would Break after Alicia and I yelled for it. 2. Creepin with Kathy and Sandra (& showing Nashville to Sandra for the first time!), and 3. Making Amy feel like she was there. :)smile" - Carrie Srebro (NC)

"Drove 285 miles and just enjoyed my whole weekend. Met 2 new friends that made me laugh so much. My favorite part though was racing from the Harley bike shop to Hard Rock without killing us all. Dierks was awesome letting us know what was happening so we could be first in line." - Ann Tate (AL)

"About 400 miles round trip and hearing Dierks sing, "My Last Name" and "Wish It Would Break" and seeing James Otto at the dealership and the Hard Rock (where he sat about 15 ft away from me the whole time he was there) and getting to see Sheryl Crow for the first time." - Julie Griffin (IN)

"500 miles round trip. Getting my CW Magazine signed by Dierks at the dealership. He put a :(frown on it too after Miles & Music 2012. Just happy Amanda got to see him perform after trying to see him the third time this year. LCB cancelled, St. Louis show cancelled and M&M cancelled. Great concert made up for it though! - Debbie Hale (IL)

Dierks Bentley. Photo Credit: Ronna Clark

Dierks Bentley. Photo Credit: Carrie Srebro

Cassady Feasby and Sheryl Crow, Hard Rock Cafe Nashville, 10-14-12, Photo Credit: Ronna Clark

Brian Layson, Cassady Feasby, Dierks, Steve Misamore on drums, Sheryl Crow. Photo Credit: Ronna Clark

Carrie Srebro captured the Set List--Wish It Would Break & My Last Name are not listed--that's when he "stretched"
knowing Sheryl Crow was on her way!

When Sheryl Crow hit the stage she said, "I was with Dierks' wife Cassidy and our kids were playing together when we found out this was happening, I said, 'let's go down there and see what's happening'.  What can I say, I'm a jam whore.'"  Her first song was "If It Makes You Happy."

When Dierks introduced Sheryl and told the crowd, "Look at the smile on my band's faces!" he stepped side stage, but he couldn't hide his own smile either!

Dierks's smiling face watching Sheryl Crow perform
"I still can't believe Sheryl came by... she jumped in her car and came over the minute she heard it was happening."

After the show, Ricky Kelly, @TheHarleyGuy, presented items to bid on to further benefit Vandy's kids.  I think a DB signed motorcycle gas tank raised $3,000!

Ryan interviewed two of our 'shy' (not!) DB Congress Members, Sandra (NC) and Kathy (IN) and included them on this week's DBTV! I love when Dierks says he wanted to do something for his hard core fans!

Me? I flew in from Florida - 1440 round trip.  Favorite memory? How special Dierks made the fan club feel, and experiencing him sing "Wish It Would Break," a rare treat!

Every Mile A Memory...every song another sun down...out across the western sky...takes me back...

~Ronna Clark
DB Congress Chair

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Dierks Gains New Fans From 'Love For Levon' Benefit To Save The Barn

Levon Helm, a much loved individual in the music industry passed away in April 2012. He was probably most widely known as the drummer for The Band. Mr. Helm also owned a recording studio (the barn) in Woodstock New York, where since 2005 he held Midnight Rambles, where many musicians came to play with him.  More than anything, Levon wanted the music to continue. He wanted the barn to be host to artists from all walks of life, from all genres.

In order to keep the barn running and to honor Mr. Helm, the benefit concert, "Love for Levon" was held on October 3, 2012. Our DB Congress President (Dierks Bentley) was one of the musical luminaries asked to play at this event from extremely varied genres. Dierks told ABC News:
“When the opportunity came up, it was kind of a no brainer even though the schedule’s really pretty packed, I definitely wanted to squeeze that in and find a way to make that happen.”  
He added that he often listens to The Band on the tour bus and appreciated getting the chance to play.

Dierks played during the second half of the event. He was one of only five artists, including Eric Church, Roger Waters and Joe Walsh who performed two songs. He also brought with him his friends Jessie Alexander and Jon Randall to sing back up. The Levon Helm Band provided back up for every performer there that night. 

Dierks' first song was "Rocking Chair." 

The second was "Chest Fever" on which he was accompanied by Garth Hudson, The Band’s keyboardist. American Songwriter called it “one of the most surreal moments of the night.” 

The people sitting around me had no idea who this 'Dierks Bentley' was, but after his songs they only had praise for him as they told me: “that Dierks Bentley was very good,” “I will have to check him out,” and “He impressed me.”

Everyone came out for the finale. Dierks was grouped with Eric Church, Jon Randall and Ray LaMontange. As always, it seemed Dierks was having a fantastic time. Goofing around with friend Eric Church onstage, their good time was contagious. He tweeted a picture before hand.

"me and  hanging out during rehearsal for encore for . ridiculous line up of folks. " 

I always love a DB concert, but it's experiences like these that impress me and make me proud to be a DB Congress member.

~Tara Toro
DB Congress Rep (NY)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

DB Congress Rep, Randy Alan, Pursues The Country Music Dream!

One of our very own DB Congress members, Randy Alan (PA), recently won the amateur artist “Sing Your Heart Out for a Soldier” competition by submitting a video of himself singing the song “Lucky Me” by Helene Cronin.  As we told you before, getting the chance to talk with our president, Dierks Bentley, about his music really encouraged Randy to pursue his dream. 

The University of Pittsburgh senior happily shared his story and photos with us! Enjoy!

Back in the middle of June, I saw that Josh Turner was hosting a singing contest where you had to record yourself singing the song “Lucky Me” written by Helene Cronin for a chance to win $10,000, a $300 gift card, and a trip for two to Nashville to stay at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, and also a trip to a Tuesday night Grand Ole Opry show where the winner would be honored onstage with a giant check presented by Josh Turner and the Opry board members.

So after making the video and uploading it, I found out that I was  a top 10 finalist out of 26 potential videos. After a week of voting and judging by a panel of judges, I was crowned the winner. It was such an amazing achievement because I put so much work into this contest and it all paid off in the end.

So the trip to Nashville took place August 27 through 29, with the Opry show on the 28th on a Tuesday night. I decided to take my mother, Mary Shaffer, on the trip because I wanted her to be there to see me on the Opry stage for the first time in my life.

When we arrived in Nashville I already had our schedule mostly planned out of what we were going to be doing, since I’ve been to Nashville numerous times and knew my way around. I should say that the first day we were there (Monday), the highlight was going to the Fontanel Mansion (Barbara Mandrell’s house) and having a personal tour of the place that was put together by my great friends Ron Harman and Steven Whitson. 

Steven actually does the tours at the Fontanel Mansion. We explored the whole house with guitars and memorabilia from today’s country artists.  I even got to wear Kenny Chesney’s tour jacket that belonged to him, but one of the greatest honors was to be asked to play in one of the bedrooms, it might have actually been Barbara’s room. But sitting at the foot of the bed and playing the song I won the contest with for everyone in our tour was such an amazing honor that I will never forget.

Earlier in the day we went to lunch at the Opry Backstage Grill, where I was asked to play a song on the stage there. Usually an artist has to audition to play there but since I was going to be on the Opry they waived that requirement for me. All the staff there were so nice.  It's a great place to eat and I recommend it to anyone visiting that part of Nashville.

To cap the night off, Ron then took us down to the Country Music Hall of Fame (where he works) and invited us to An Intimate Evening With Eddie Stubbs, who was interviewing Jimmy Newman that night. The show is broadcast over WSM online weekly.

One individual that I was introduced to that night was Grand Ole Opry member Jan Howard. We sat together as we watched the interview taking place a few rows down on the stage, but between commercial breaks Jan would tell me stories of how she sang the background vocals on Johnny Cash songs (specifically “The Ring of Fire”), how she sang a duet with Bill Anderson that went to number 1, “For Loving You,” and also that she was the one who sang the demo tape for the Patsy Cline hit “I Fall to Pieces.”

Ron had showed her the video of me singing the song for the contest and she loved my voice and what I did with the song. One of the main pieces of advice she gave me was to “surround yourself with people you can trust.”

Randy and Jan Howard
After the interview, I was introduced to Eddie Stubbs and got to chat with him for bit, telling him about my career and how I am just finishing up college.   He said “that degree is an important thing, you are smart for getting your degree before coming down here.”  I also got chat with Jimmy Newman as well who told me that “you have a great smile. Keep on smiling every day because a smile is a contagious thing.”

Randy and Eddie Stubbs

Randy,  Jimmy Newman, and Mary Shaffer (Randy's mom)

After that my mother, Ron, Jan, Kelsey Hodges (DB Congress member), and my two cousins Brittany and Stephannie Cantrell (who came up from Mississippi to see me!), left and went to lower Broadway for a bit then headed back to the hotel to get some rest for the show the next day. Monday was an intense day since we started the day at 4 a.m. Eastern time and ended the day at 1 a.m. Central time.

Tuesday started off by going out to visit Richard’s and Southern, a family owned Merchandising Company who does all the merchandise for big name country artists such as Kenny Chesney, Luke Bryan and others.  They were the ones who made my t-shirts for my merchandise. Actually when we arrived they had just got done unloading Kenny’s merchandise from this year’s tour and were printing Luke Bryan and Justin Moore shirts.

The owners are great friends of mine and such nice people. So we took a tour of the place and met everyone that works there.  It was really nice to see the behind the scenes of what went into making my shirts as well as other country music artists. After that visit we headed back to Opryland to get ready for the show.

When we arrived at the Opry we were instructed to park in the back where the artists and backstage crew park. As we walked toward the entrance, we were greeted by an Opry staff member who was going to escort us into the backstage area and give us a little mini tour while the first act was going on. We got to check out every dressing room there, which had a different theme in each one.

I also was able to go out on stage while the stage crew was finishing setting up, and stand in the famous Opry Circle! As I touched the hardwood floor in the circle I thought about all the great country artists who are my heroes who stood in that circle. For an artist like me, that was an awesome experience that I won’t forget as well.

Backstage we ran into many people and artists, Johnny Lee, Thomas Rhett, Chris Young, and then I finally met Josh Turner. We went into one of the dressing rooms with Josh and got to talk for about 10 minutes. He was even nice enough to give my mom and I some CD’s, hats, and t-shirts. The one piece of advice Josh gave me was to “surround yourself with people you can trust and who will represent you in your career.”  He also signed a poster for me saying to “keep on singing!”

Josh Turner, Mary Shaffer, Randy Alan backstage at The Grand Ole Opry
After we chatted we then took some promotional photos for the Opry together and then he went to get ready for his set. So my mom and I went to our seats and watched Chris Young play for a bit, then as Josh was going on I was brought backstage again to go over what was going to happen for my award presentation.

In the process I had the privilege of meeting Pete Fisher, Grand Ole Opry VP and General Manager, who said, “We’ll be keeping an eye out for you in the near future,” and Bill Cody, who was announcing that night.

Once Josh was done with his third song, Bill then introduced me to the Opry crowd and I stood in the spotlight with Josh and Bill holding my check. Josh even held up my hand while the crowd was clapping. It was such an amazing feeling to be there on that stage with my family and friends watching. All I can say is I will never forget my first trip to Opry ever. What an experience and blessing from God it was. I met so many great people who believe in what I am doing.

Just before leaving on Wednesday, I was able to have lunch at the Opry Backstage Grill with Opry member Jeannie Seely who is from my hometown area of Northwest PA. Jeannie is known for her 1966 Grammy award-winning Country hit, "Don't Touch Me" along with many other numerous country hits. Getting the chance to sit down and talk with her was so refreshing. She is an amazing individual with a great perspective on life. To hear her stories of what she’s done and been through just blows me away. I was blessed to have a quote from Jeannie in a recent article about me where she said the following,

“His presence as a person renews all your faith in young people. He embraces the history of country music, and he can add to its future.”

As we were leaving, someone recognized Jeannie, but then also recognized me from the Opry show. They even saw me on TV when I was on The Singing Bee on CMT. We took some pictures with them and chatted for a bit, but I just thought that was really funny they recognized me and my name.

As I finish college up this year I’m excited about the next chapter of my life. My plans are to get a job in Nashville and make the move down there in the summer. I’ve met some remarkable people that have changed my life forever and made some lifelong friends who will be there for me as I make the transition to Music City.

When people ask me why I decided to pursue music, I just tell them what music did to me. Country music spoke to me throughout my life; when times were good and when they were tough.

I believe country music speaks from the heart and really is about things that everyone goes through in life. For me it was people like Dierks, Kenny, George, Tim, and countless others who changed my life through music. My goal is to change the lives of people with my music the way that all those artists changed mine.

Here's the video of Josh Turner presenting Randy with his check:

Randy is performing October 14 at the Conneaut Lake, PA.  You can check out his website here and follow him on Twitter @randyalan99.

Here's Randy's winning video: