By Gary Hermann
Brantley Gilbert burst onto the country music scene with his single “Country Must be Country Wide.” Since then, he had another single hit No. 1 and toured with both Eric Church and Toby Keith. Now Gilbert is bringing his first headlining tour, The Hell on Wheels Tour, to Memorial Coliseum. He promises a party.
Q: What’s it like to be on your first headlining tour?
A: It’s absolutely an awesome feeling. It feels like a lot of paid dues are payin’ off. It’s just a sense of accomplishment, and a goal I never thought I’d reach.
Q: What can the fans expect from your show?
A: It’s gonna to be a party. We will be wide open from the word “go” to the word “stop.” We’re gonna slow it down in the middle and play some slow stuff. It’s gonna rock.
Q: What would you say to people that might still be on the fence about whether they want to attend or not?
A: If you are on the fence, please get off of it. Jump off on my side. I’d like to say I can guarantee them a good time but, you know, it is a rockin’ show. We are workin’ our tails off. If nothin’ else it’d be nice to have the support, and I’d appreciate it.
Q: Do you know much about how many people are expected to be there?
A: I don’t what the exact number is, but it’s definitely more than we projected. We’re really excited about it.
Q: You were with Eric Church in Lexington last year. Can you talk about playing in Rupp?
A: Oh man, we had a ball in Lexington. We always have a ball in Kentucky, even when we were playing smaller venues. It’s always been a party. You guys have got some great fans. Everybody comes out looking for a good time and they treat us like family in Kentucky.
Q: How was the experience of touring with Eric Church?
A: The Church tour was great. Eric’s a great guy, great writer, great performer, great artist. We formed a friendship. I still talk to him to this day. We had the chance to write together. It was just an honor to be on a tour with another hard workin’ artist.
Q: Can you talk about being nominated for CMA New Artist of the Year?
A: You know, we’ve been nominated for awards in the past and anytime you get a nomination, it’s just an unbelievable feeling. Even if you don’t win, it’s just an honor to be a part of it. We had been so busy on and off the road, that Wednesday morning I forgot they were releasing the artists. I overslept that morning and woke up to tons of text messages.
Q: You’ve been nominated for a CMA for writing “Dirt Road Anthem.” How’s it different to be nominated as a performer?
A: As a writer it was an accomplishment, but as an artist, it’s a different animal. When you write and perform the song, it’s a bigger smile. I can tell you that much.
Q: What was it like for you so early in your career to have back-to-back No. 1 singles?
A: I still don’t think that one has hit me yet, to be completely honest. It was a crazy feeling. It happened so fast, man. It was a little bit overwhelming, to tell you the truth. It was such an honor.
Q: How are things different now that you are a big star and so recognizable?
A: I can honestly say that I know for a fact I’m the same guy. I’m no different from anybody else. If somebody recognizes me, we have a conversation. A lot has changed; I will say that. I don’t think it’s affected me personally. I’m still the same old boy.
Q: What was it like to tour with Toby Keith?
A: Toby’s pretty much a country legend and to share the stage with an artist like that — it’s a big honor. Plus the end of the tour present was well worth it. He gave me two twin 45’s with sequential serial numbers and my name engraved on the side.
Q: What projects are you working on right now?
A: We are stayin’ pretty busy with this tour. We’ve been writing a lot and goin’ through a lot of songs, getting ready to start pickin’ songs for this next record.
Q: What goals do you have left to accomplish as a country singer?
A: You know man, everything has happened so fast. We had this venue about 40 minutes from our hometown where the B-52s, R.E.M., Widespread Panic and bands like that started out in Athens, Ga. It’s called the Georgia Theatre. My goal was to sell that thing out. I sold it out when I was 19, and I thought I’d made it. Everything after that has been a gift, a bonus and a blessing in a way. We find ourselves making new goals everyday.